The History of Space Collectibles
As a genre, collecting space material stems from a long fascination with space and history – just look at places like Stonehenge, where mankind not only studied stars and time, but also acted upon it. Advanced thought on space began with the Renaissance when Galileo and Isaac Newton forged new frontiers. Americans became fascinated with the study of space and assembled the world’s most advanced technical think tank – the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) – and government agency – National Aeronautic Space Administration (NASA).
The collecting of space-related items perhaps started with the first auction of space material in 1991, which featured items from Buzz Aldrin’s collection. However, opportunities to acquire such collectibles are nearly as rare as the items themselves. There are many reasons for the lack of actual space-attained collectibles on the market. Primarily, the USA has been the leader in space exploration, followed by Russia and China – only three countries are pursuing space exploration. At the top of the list for space collectibles are moon rocks or rocks from any planet. However, these are closely controlled and are strictly illegal to own. NASA, JPL and other agencies have clamped down on what is allowed onboard a space mission and what astronauts are allowed to keep. In the early days, each astronaut was allowed a personal preference kit (PPK) that weighed less than two pounds. Each moon astronaut had two, one for taking to the surface of the moon, the other to stay in the vehicle. This was the only authorized way to get stuff into space.
Astronauts had to identify their personal items and anything that comes up for sale today requires a note from the astronaut to assure authenticity. Some of the agencies never allowed anything out at all, including JPL. Eventually Federal regulation followed that allowed astronauts to maintain ownership of some items.
Space collectibles became popular, and as moon rocks were not and never would be available, collectors gravitated toward other items, including space parts, commemorative articles and the like that appeared on the market over the next few decades. Yet despite the interest in space, no nation had undertaken to get the public invested the space programs – until the Chinese in 1999. The United States had issued stamps through the US Postal Service commemorating the various space flights and these were an immediate success. But no government had convinced the public to put their pocket books on the line in the name of space science until the Chinese effort.
The World Looks to Space
The beginning of the “Cold War” saw tremendous competition between China, Russia and the United States. Each had advanced scientific programs investigating different aspects of space flight, from satellites to manned spacecraft, most or all of which was in complete secret. In the summer of 1957, Russia launched Sputnik 1, the first orbiting satellite. In January 1958, the United States successfully launched Explorer I and later that year, NASA was formed as the governing body for the USA’s space program. China also announced the formation of their space agency in 1958.
The USA formed the Mercury program in 1959, with the goal of manned orbital flights. But once again, Russia beat them to the punch, putting Yuri Gagarin into space aboard the Vostok 1 in April 1961. The USA followed a month later when Alan Shepard became the first American in space. John Glenn took three orbits around the earth in 1962, and by 1963 the Russians and Americans had put six men in space. The ultimate race was to the Moon, achieved July 20, 1969, with Apollo 11 and astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins in a flight the world will never forget.
The China Space Program
China announced to the world that they were starting a space program in 1958, but the program achieved limited success. Everything changed in 1993, when Jiang Zemin was elected as President of the People’s Republic of China. Zemin’s years in office (1993-2003) were marked by growth and reform. He became one of the first Chinese leaders to reach out to Russia and the United States marking a transition in Chinese society.
The Shenzhou 1, China’s first space flight, was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on November 20, 1999, and returned 21 hours later, landing safely in an autonomous region of Central Inner Mongolia. The flight symbolized a major breakthrough in Chinese aerospace technology, and is often considered the most important milestone in Chinese space history. Two years later, their first manned spacecraft, the Shenzhou 5, successfully orbited 14 times. In 2008 came the first Chinese spacewalk, and in 2012 the Chinese sent three astronauts to their own space lab for ten days.
Today, China’s space program spends upwards of $2 billion per year and makes the world news regularly. “China’s space program is showing the same kind of explosive growth as its economy,” according to Astronomy Professor Chris Impey of the University of Arizona in an interview with Terry Gross of National Public Radio, published by the Business Insider, June 16, 2015. Impey further stated that the Chinese have become more innovative, with well-trained, ambitious young engineers. They plan to have men on the Moon by 2022.
Stephen Chow and the Space Collectible Series
Enclosed within the Shenzhou 1 during China’s first space mission, was an approximately half foot box of items, approved by the Chinese Space Agency and designed for future marketing. Stephen Chow was awarded the marketing and distribution rights of this unique set of stamps and coins that travelled to space orbit on the Shenzhou 1. Stephen Chow was and is the natural choice to promote the space program to the Chinese public. He has been an advocate and supporter of the Chinese space program for many years, driven by his belief that aerospace technology can improve Chinese society through high-tech innovation, education and culture.
Stephen Chow (Chow Shu Tong) is the second son of Chow Chi Yuen, the founder of the Chow Tai Fook conglomerate. In the first years of the China Space Foundation Chow was instrumental in the press campaign for the support of the program and in developing educational opportunities for youth in the space program. In 2009, the three Chow brothers established Fook Wing Tong to promote their father’s legacy and the field of space collectibles. Stephen was appointed as a director of the China Space Foundation in 2011, and in 2012 the three brothers were invited to the launch of Shenzhou 9, the first multiple-manned China space flight headed for the space station. In 2013, Stephen Chow received certificates officially recognizing him as a Sponsor and Supporter of the China Space Foundation.
The FWT Space Collectibles from China’s First Spacecraft
The space collectibles that were sent up with China’s very first spaceship Shenzhou 1 in 1999 formed the foundation of the FWT Space Collectible series. The items to be offered in the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio December Hong Kong auction include a set of 20 and 100 Fen stamps and 20 and 100 Fen stamp sheets, all of which are Mint State. Also to be offered is a brilliant Uncirculated 1986 China 1 Fen coin and a nut that was used to assemble the instrument case on the Shenzhou 1. The nut is now encased in an attractive leaded crystal globe trophy with engravings by authorities attesting to its authenticity. All pieces traveled into space aboard China’s first spaceship and were removed from the capsule upon its return from space under the supervision of the Beijing Notary Public Office of The People’s Republic of China. All items are accompanied by notarized certificates of authenticity.
The Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio Hong Kong auction will be held December 8-9, 2015, at the Mira Hong Kong. For more information or to view the entire auction online, visit StacksBowers.com.
About Stack’s Bowers Galleries
Stack’s Bowers Galleries conducts live, Internet and specialized auctions of rare U.S. and world coins and currency and ancient coins, as well as direct sales through retail and wholesale channels. The company’s 80-year legacy includes the cataloging and sale of many of the most valuable United States coin and currency collections to ever cross an auction block — The John J. Ford, Jr. Collection, The D. Brent Pogue Collection, The Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection, The Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection, The Norweb Collection, The Cardinal Collection and The Battle Born Collection — to name just a few. World coin and currency collections include The Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection of World Gold Coins, The Kroisos Collection, The Alicia and Sidney Belzberg Collection, The Wa She Wong Collection, The Guia Collection, The Thos. H. Law Collection, and The Robert O. Ebert Collection.
Topping off this amazing numismatic history is the inclusion of the world record for the highest price ever realized at auction for a rare coin, the 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar graded Specimen-66 (PCGS) that realized over $10 million, part of their sale of the famed Cardinal Collection. The company is headquartered in Irvine, California, with offices in New York, Wolfeboro, Hong Kong, and Paris. Stack’s Bowers Galleries is an Official Auctioneer for several important numismatic conventions, including American Numismatic Association events, the New York International Numismatic Convention, the Professional Numismatists Guild New York Invitational, the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Spring, Summer and Winter Expos, and its April, August and December Hong Kong Auctions.