By Wes Benson for PCGS ……
I am a professional oil painter. My interest in art and all things visual informs or dictates many of my numismatic acquisitions. I specifically purchase mint error coins based on their aesthetic appeal.
Certain mint errors are so unusual that, statistically, their production would be considered as improbable as holding a winning lottery ticket. Certain errors one would think simply don’t exist or couldn’t be possible. Yet, the world of error coins is replete with bizarre off-center strikes, flip-over double strikes, die caps, brockages, finned rims, and more.
But that’s not precisely what this story is about. This story is about an error coin that remains the harbinger of the Space Age.
This story begins with the Saturn V rocket. It’s about NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, the fulfillment of a proposed goal by President John F. Kennedy, and ultimately the firing of a cluster of five Rocketdyne F-1 engines assembled in a quincunx formation beneath the behemoth Saturn V, a three-stage rocket.
Though I know we’ve recently read of Chinese lunar news, I’m not writing to discuss the space-giddy era we live in. With the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announcing and conducting ever-greater feats, the promise of the privatization of spaceflight, dominated by SpaceX and Blue Origin, instead of looking into the future, I wanted to look back at the past, spurred in my mind by the discovery of a coin that singularly embodies our country’s and our species’ spacefaring roots.
Perhaps you expected a commemorative coin. This is not a commemorative coin. It was not created to celebrate the success of a mission or foster the dreams of the future. In fact, this coin was not even intentionally produced. The production of this spectacularly symbolic coin was a complete accident. This coin should never have been minted. This coin is so unusual that it recalls in one’s mind both the words of John F. Kennedy and of Neil Armstrong.
The “Moon Kennedy” is my nickname for an error coin I discovered and purchased through Heritage Auctions. It was one of these “gotta have it” scenarios. You may know what I mean. The “Moon Kennedy” I speak of here is a Kennedy half dollar with a dime-planchet indentation on the coin’s obverse. The unusual, centered indentation has an angled rim, angling away from the base of the indentation, like an impact crater.
Due to the fierce downward force with which it was struck, this rim appears to have a highly polished edge. It catches and reflects light, giving it a coronal aspect. Depending on the light source, or how the coin is held, it will produce the type of corona of light that would be seen during a full lunar eclipse. Or similarly, the corona of light that radiates from the circumference of a luminous full Moon…
As one who makes his living as an artist, I was blown away by the aesthetic appeal and profound symbolism of this particular 1969 Kennedy half dollar. To me, with 35 years of training in my field, and a natural sense for light, shape, and composition, I felt that this particular coin could be considered an actual work of art. This coin is indeed a work of art.
But this work of art didn’t require a team of sculptors, or artists and their notorious temperaments. It didn’t require angry boardroom deliberations. The coin was made completely by accident and embodies the height of the Space Age better than any commemorative Moon-landing coin I know of.
How on Earth does a dime planchet end up with a half dollar? This Kennedy half dollar has an indentation on its obverse of a dime planchet. The small planchets, such as dimes and “pennies”, have been known to get caught in crevices of the coin chutes. These metal chutes, like playground slides, deliver the planchets eventually to feeder fingers to be struck. Occasionally the lodged planchets would get dislodged (especially when struck by large, comparatively heavy, half dollar planchets), and interfere in the striking process.
It is, of course, the date of this unusual error that lends this coin its true significance. It was the year 1969 that NASA’s Apollo 11 mission and the United States of America fulfilled Kennedy’s promise of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to earth. Just like the literal circular edge of the indentation in the “Moon Kennedy”, the date below creates, figuratively, a perfect circle of symbolism.
You will notice as well that the indentation of the dime planchet did not create a flat surface. At the time of the strike, due to varying degrees of pressure based on the varying thicknesses of the dies, the powerful strike left a surface that undulates. It is wavy, pocked, resembling craters. The slabbed “Moon Kennedy”, when rolled in one’s hand, sparkles with light, not only resembling the Moon itself, craters on the moon, and its coronal glow, but it captivates one, just as the Moon captivates us, directly above the date 1969. How beautiful is that?
Wes Benson holds an art history degree from the University of Kansas, a Master’s degree in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and is a professional oil painter. He paints full time and, along with his love of science and natural history, is deeply involved with current paleontology. Spending a couple of weeks every summer digging up and prospecting for dinosaurs in Montana with a team from the University of Kansas, he likens finding a raptor tooth to being much like finding an unusual error coin.
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