Update: Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet sold for $55,000.
What you see: Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet. She was the wife of Wally Schirra, who was an astronaut during the early days of the American space program. RR Auction estimates the charm bracelet at $45,000 to $55,000.
The expert: Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction.
How did this bracelet with space-flown charms come to exist? Wally Schirra, like most astronauts, would bring tokens and souvenirs into space for friends and family. Wally gave these charms to his wife, Jo, who created the charm bracelet.
Did all the spouses of the Mercury Seven astronauts receive or create bracelets with space-flown charms? No, not all of them assembled something like this. All the Gemini and Mercury astronauts were allowed to carry coins and other things on missions. The astronauts themselves had to buy them and distribute them as souvenirs.
What was astronaut Alan Shepard’s role in helping Jo Schirra create this bracelet with space-flown charms? He provided her with a piece of Freedom 7. He only went up briefly [15 minutes in all], so there were no souvenirs, but he brought her a piece of the cylinder assembly of the heat shield release mechanism from Freedom 7 and provided her a letter of authentication (LOA).
Was the Freedom 7 charm the first that Jo Schirra added to her space-flown charm bracelet? I don’t know the chronology of when she received it, but that’s the first mission [represented], for sure. She certainly got the others in chronological order.
When would she have started assembling the bracelet? At the start of Project Mercury, in 1958? More like 1961. Kennedy was president.
I’d like to talk about at least a few of the space-flown charms in more detail. I understand that one is made with a Liberty Bell 7 dime? Very famously, Gus Grissom brought Mercury dimes with him on his mission [Mercury-Redstone 4]. When he returned, he had to splash down, and the capsule almost sank. One of the things pulling him down was the two rolls of dimes. [Laughs]. These ones, he was able to keep in the pocket by his ankles.
…and one of the space-flown charms is a tiny Robbins medal? I didn’t know they made them that small. This was for the first manned Apollo mission. It was the first created–serial number one. Even if it was not flown, the serial number one makes it the first Robbins medal. But it was flown, and flown by Wally Schirra.
Wow. The astronauts had to buy these, and they were government workers, not making any money.
So the Robbins medals would have tried their budgets? I don’t know. I do know the gold ones were more expensive than the silver ones. Wally had to splurge on this to get it for his wife.
Not hugely expensive, but expensive enough to make them stop and think. Right. They couldn’t buy ’em all, and they couldn’t bring tons. There were not many made. There were 255 [space-flown] Apollo 7 Robbins medals in gold and silver.
There are nine space-flown charms on this bracelet: one for each of the six Mercury missions, one for Apollo 7, and one for Freedom 7. That makes eight. What does the ninth charm represent? It’s a flown 18k gold love medal by Lyonnais jeweler Alphonse Augis. It has a French phrase that translates to “More than yesterday, less than tomorrow.” Engraved on the back is “February 23”, which is the wedding anniversary of Wally and Jo. It’s a very, very personal love medal.
Who designed these charms? Jo Schirra? It was Cecelia “CeCe” Bibby, a famous graphic designer who painted logos on the Mercury capsules. She was the only other one who had a charm bracelet like this, and she donated it to the Smithsonian Institution.
Do all of the charms have inherent value? Yes. They’ve all flown in space, so they all have inherent value. And they’re relics of one of the great achievements of mankind.
Is this the first time Jo Schirra’s bracelet of space-flown charms has gone to auction? Yes.
I imagine that with Jo Schirra having passed in 2015, and the bracelet debuting at auction as a whole, that will help guard against it being broken into individual pieces in the future. Because it’s been kept together… it tells the story of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo 7. They’re all there, together, all the flights on one chain. It’s a remarkable artifact. We see individual charms come up, but to have these in a bracelet, gifts from an astronaut, lovingly placed on her wrist, it shows the closeness of the married couple.
What is Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet like in person? What eludes the camera? Like most charm bracelets, it’s not a gigantic piece to hold in your gloved hand. It’s cool to look at, but they’re small charms.
Do you have a favorite charm from the bracelet? We’ve worked with a lot of these guys. I knew them when they were alive. Design-wise, it’s the Sigma 7.
Did you try on Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet? No! [Laughs] No, no, no. It would be inappropriate.
Can you give me a notion of how it might feel on the wrist? It looks substantial. It is a bit substantial and clunky, but I don’t think it was difficult to wear on the wrist. It’s not overwhelming. It’s beautiful, a conversation starter.
Do we have any idea how often Jo Schirra wore this charm bracelet? Was it a daily-wear item, or did she save it for special occasions? I don’t know. I know it was lovingly given to her daughter, Suzanna, when Jo passed away. Her daughter is the consigner. You know from seeing films and reading books about the astronaut program that the wives would gather to watch the launches together. You can imagine Jo Schirra wearing this and with each successive launch, adding a charm. It represents the success of her husband launching into space.
What condition is Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet in? And does condition really matter when we’re talking about an item with such strong sentimental value? Typically, condition matters on coins and collectibles. This has an age patina, as you would expect. There’s a beauty about it in its natural state as a charm bracelet. As a historical piece, it stands on its own. It’s not for a coin collection. It would be a tragedy to take it apart and encapsulate it.
Have you ever had anything quite like Jo Schirra’s charm bracelet? Is there anything out there that’s even close? I’ve never really had anything like this, which covers the entire space program. It’s very, very unique. It’s greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s such a personal item. The Robbins medal does elevate it.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? Because of its uniqueness, and the way it was lovingly assembled. It tells the story of the Mercury program and Wally Schirra’s career. It’s all there on that bracelet.
Images are courtesy of RR Auction.
Bobby Livingston spoke to The Hot Bid previously about Dave Scott’s Apollo 17-flown Robbins medal, as well as the Bulova chronograph that Scott wore on the surface of the moon during Apollo 15. He also talked about a ring that Clyde Barrow made in prison to give to his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker.
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