What you see: A space-flown Apollo 17 Robbins medal owned by Dave Scott, commander of Apollo 15 and the seventh man to walk on the moon. RR Auction sold it in September 2016 for $68,750–a record for a Robbins medal.
The expert: Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction.
How did Scott get this Robbins medal? All astronauts had the opportunity to buy them. Dave Scott bought one for every Apollo mission, starting with Apollo 7. They’re a neat crossover between coin collecting and space flight memorabilia. These were meant for the astronauts–the general public couldn’t buy them. They had the mission logo on the front and their names [the names of the three crew members] struck on the back. They were great commemoratives.
Unlike stamps or flags, which are flat and light, silver medals have heft and weight. How did the Robbins company convince NASA to make room for several dozen medals on its Apollo spacecraft? I’m not familiar with the history of the decision. I do know it was a tradition of NASA to allow certain artifacts to be flown in space. NASA flew Robbins medals into the 1990s. It was a long tradition with the government and the astronauts.
What makes a Robbins medal valuable? Aside from being flown in space, having a letter of authenticity from an astronaut makes them extremely valuable. When Buzz Aldrin writes a letter saying, “I took this Robbins medal to the moon,” that adds value. The chain of custody matters.
If a space-flown Robbins medal lacks a letter of authenticity from an astronaut, is it still valuable? Yes. Each coin has a number stamped on its edge. We know which numbers flew [in space] and which did not. If it flew, it has value. With Dave, when he was on Apollo 15, he requested his to be number 15. Not only did he take a coin, he took a specific number because it related to the mission. I can’t imagine one more valuable.
How did Dave Scott snag the number 15 Robbins medal from the Apollo 17 series? Because he asked for it. Dave is a collector, so he understood what was neat and what made sense. These guys are engineers, they’re numbers guys.
That’s what I mean. There were two other guys on Apollo 15. How did Dave Scott claim the number 15 Apollo 17 Robbins medal for himself? Did he arm-wrestle them for it? Wrong. He was the mission commander. He outranked them. (Laughs)
How often do Robbins medals come up at auction? They appear at auction consistently, but the supply is limited and the price is going up. They’re becoming more commodified.
I understand the Robbins company struck 14-karat gold Robbins medals. How do they fit in here? They’re rarer and more desirable. They struck three to seven for each mission. All have serial numbers on them, and they were only available to the flight crew. They were made specifically to give to their wives.
Have any of the gold ones come to auction? One from Apollo 13 sold recently. We had one with a diamond in it from Apollo 11. They’re not giant coins–they’re smaller than a silver dollar, maybe a bit smaller. They’re beautiful.
Why are flown Apollo 17 medallions considered the most sought-after and difficult to obtain? Is it because of their limited numbers, or is it more than that? Only 80 Apollo 17 Robbins medals were flown. You can’t have a complete set of flown medals without Apollo 17. It was the last mission, and it’s rare. They come up once every couple of years, and we’re actively seeking them out. People are not willing to sell them.
This example has a third-party grade of MS67. Did the high grade drive the medal’s record price? It was in great condition, but I don’t know if the grade made a difference to the person who bought it. He needed it for his collection.
Dave Scott is still alive. Could you talk about what prompted him to consign back in September 2016? Why did he sell then? Most of the astronauts donated lots of material to universities, and a lot gave things to their children and grandchildren. There’s stuff left over that their families don’t want, and they want to get it into the hands of people who would want them. Dave Scott cares a lot. He’s got things that went to the moon, he’s in his eighties, and he’s a collector. He will write a whole dissertation about what it [a given piece he owned during his NASA career] meant. These things will be lost unless they’re documented and put in the hands of people. On a side note, Alan Shepard lived in Derry, New Hampshire. His family had a garage sale. Someone bought a bureau for $50, and in it was a letter he wrote to his parents, talking about being considered for the Mercury 7 selection program. We sold it for $106,000. These astronauts–if things are not documented and curated, they’ll be put on the curb, like [those countless mothers who infamously threw out their kids’] baseball cards. It happens! (Laughs)
What was the previous record for a flown Robbins medal? Was it an Apollo 11? We sold an Apollo 11 for $56,000. It was an interesting one, owned by a nephew of Neil Armstrong, but it wasn’t the previous record. In May 2013, we sold Gene Cernan’s Apollo 17 Robbins medal for $61,000. The Apollo 17, because it’s rarest, sold for more.
The September 2016 auction took place entirely online. When did you know you had a record? We realized it that night, and we put a press release out right away. We’re very proud every time we set a record.
How long do you think the record will stand? I don’t know, but records are made to be broken. With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 coming up, we may see a lot of excitement in the space collectibles market. The attention is going to be intense. I wouldn’t be surprised if we break the record in a year or two.
What else could challenge it? Maybe Neil Armstrong’s 14-karat gold Robbins medal? I don’t know if that’s ever going to come to market. If it did, it would have a pretty high estimate. It would be incredibly valuable, and it would break the record.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of RR Auction.
Livingston spoke to The Hot Bid in 2017 about a ring that Clyde Barrow made in prison to give to his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker.
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