On January 10, U.S. Mint Director David J. Ryder and the CEO of the Royal Australian Mint (RAM), Ross MacDiarmid, announced that their two mints would collaborate on a limited edition two-coin Proof set that would include a 2019-S U.S. Apollo 11 clad half dollar and a one-ounce silver $5 Proof Australian coin unique to the set.
Both coins would be struck in the concave/convex shape that is very popular with collectors, especially on coins about space and astronomy issues.
Unlike other world coins issued to mark the golden anniversary of the moon landing that have no direct connection to the issuing country, the Australian domed silver Proof coin developed for inclusion in the set puts into relief the unique role Australia played in the historic event on July 20, 1969.
As Director Ryder said in January:
This jointly–issued coin set magnificently symbolizes our long-standing alliance and friendship with Australia. Many Americans will remember listening for the critical reports from the tracking stations in Australia at Carnarvon, Honeysuckle Creek, Tidbinbilla and Parkes, as the Apollo 11 spacecraft traveled to, orbited and landed on the Moon.
Moreover, the RAM was the best mint for this project, given its extensive experience producing domed coins. It has been a key pioneer in creating collector coins of this shape, mainly on the astronomy theme, but it has also issued domed coins on cricket and the voyages of Captain Cook.
When the U.S. Mint was developing its first domed coins for the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame program, it consulted with officials from the RAM (as well as the French Mint) since they were the first to produce such coins and actually recreated planchets for the 2009 French astronomy coin and 2012 Australian Southern Crux issue as part of the process of developing those for the curved U.S. coins.
The set that includes the 2019 $5 Australian Apollo 11 coin and the American Proof clad half dollar went on sale at the RAM on May 6 with shipment planned for early June. The set comes in an acrylic display box and has a certificate of authenticity signed by U.S. Mint Director Ryder and RAM CEO MacDiarmid.
The reverse of the Australian coin depicts an Apollo 11 astronaut and footprints that lead to the lunar module, Eagle at Tranquility Base — with the Earth (in vivid color) visible in the sky — and inscriptions for 50th ANNIVERSARY OF THE LUNAR LANDING and the weight and fineness of .999.
The obverse features the Parkes telescope on a hill on the right, the Moon to the left, and a small effigy of Queen Elizabeth II in a circle below. In the background is text that appears to be from the mission report of the astronauts. The RAM was contacted for clarification on that but had not responded as of press time.
One element missing from the Australian coin is that the Apollo mission was an American achievement — perhaps simply by adding the American flag planted on the Moon by Armstrong and Aldrin as some other world coins on the event do — albeit one that benefited substantially from Australia and other U.S. allies such as Britain.
However, the coin’s inclusion in the set with a U.S. 2019 Apollo 11 half dollar is itself a good way of making that key point clear, and the two coins complement each other.
The silver coin in the set was also issued with a different finish, achieved by plating the coin with nickel (that creates the impression of darkness as the astronauts experienced on the Moon), that the RAM is selling separately from the set. Both the set and the single coin each have a 10,000 mintage.
There is also a one-ounce gold Proof that is domed but has no special finish or colorization and a mintage of 750 coins.
Australia has long been a vital partner of the U.S. in defense and intelligence matters. But not as well-known is the fact this partnership with Australia (which extends to collaboration on science and other areas) also resulted in 1969 in the country playing an important role in the Apollo mission.
When there was a last-minute problem with the American transmission of the first images of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface, Australian radio telescope tracking stations in New South Wales, in particular the CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, an independent Australian federal government agency for scientific research) Parkes facility — as well as those in Goldstone and Honeysuckle Creek — stepped in to address this problem.
Those stations, to this day, are some of the best of their kind in the world. They received and broadcast the critical eight first minutes of live footage that over half a billion people around the world saw. In addition, Australian scientists and engineers worked with NASA since the 1950s on other deep space programs.
This program — the first major numismatic partnership between the U.S. Mint and another mint — was an initiative called for by Director Ryder, who is a strong proponent of such collaborative efforts. The Mint recently announced a similar collaboration with the Royal Mint for the Mayflower 400th anniversary coin program.
Last October during the third annual U.S. Mint Numismatic Forum that brings together stakeholders in the numismatic industry, U.S. Mint Director David J. Ryder, who previously worked for a company that developed anti-counterfeiting features for British coins, discussed the importance of the U.S. Mint working in partnership with other world mints.
In a recent interview, Mr. Ryder said he is also developing programs with the Canadian, Italian, and Spanish mints. In the interview, which appeared in CoinWeek.com on March 20, Ryder said he is “a big supporter of some of these foreign mints, which the U.S. has a little to learn from. The Polish Mint has some beautiful products, some really beautiful stuff. We can use the Mint’s muscle and develop joint products. It is an important part of the Mint to try to create these types of relationships.”
Michael Olson, who first proposed the U.S. Apollo 11 commemorative program in 2014 when he served on the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, later served as lobbyist for the program as it made its way through the legislative process and today serves on the board of the Astronaut Memorial Foundation (that was one of the recipients of surcharges from sales of the American coins). He said:
The recently released Australian coins which commemorate the Apollo 11 moon landing are outstanding, as are the ones issued by the U.S. Mint. It is quite an honor for the United States to have other countries commemorating our achievement and the role they played in assisting us in reaching our goal of landing a man on the Moon. I commend Mint Director David Ryder for initiating the joint two-coin Apollo set with the Royal Australian Mint and hope that these types of partnerships will continue. As we near the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing in July, citizens of both countries should seriously consider obtaining these coins as a high quality, government-issued keepsake to pass down to future generations.
In the days since the RAM began taking orders for the Apollo set, there has been to date almost no coverage of it in the American numismatic media, as there was back on January and February when the product was first announced. Nor has the U.S. Mint made any announcement about the set or provided a link to the RAM’s website, as it said it would when the set was first announced in a January 10 press release. It is possible Mint officials plan to do so closer to the date the sets are expected to ship in early June, but with a mintage of 10,000 sets, they may be sold out by then.
Partnerships like the one that led to the issuance of the Apollo 11 set are essential for the future of the numismatics, especially for the U.S. Mint, because they can result in unique collectibles that appeal to American collectors and expose foreign collectors to U.S. Mint products. But to be successful, it is crucial that both the U.S. Mint and the foreign mints working with it promote the products, especially in the instance of a set like this that many American collectors are interested in but may not know is available to order from the RAM and coin dealers who carry their products.
Louis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing primarily in modern U.S. and world coins. His work has appeared in Coin World, CoinWeek, The Greysheet and CPG Market Review, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, FUN Topics, The Clarion and COINage, among other publications. His first coin-writing position was with Coin Update.
In 2015, his CoinWeek.com column, “The Coin Analyst,” received an award from the Numismatic Literary Guild for best website column. By 2017, he received an NLG award for best article in a non-numismatic publication with his “Liberty Centennial Designs,” which was published in Elemetal Direct. In October 2018 he received a literary award from the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN) for his article, “Lady Liberty: America’s Enduring Numismatic Motif,” that appeared in The Clarion in 2017.