The History of Space Collectibles
As a genre, collecting space material stems from a long fascination with space and history, perhaps starting with the first auction of space material in 1991, which featured items from Buzz Aldrin’s collection. From there, Superior Galleries became the leader in auctions of space collectibles, hosting a series of sales from 1993 to 2001, that collectors considered to be ground-breaking.
Space has long fascinated mankind –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. It was not for another few hundred years, until writers began imagining space in the modern context that the field developed further. Isaac Asimov led the pack with his incredible futuristic stories about space, beginning in 1951 with The Stars, Like Dust and Foundation, and continuing with dozens more.
Americans became fascinated with the study of space and assembled the world’s most advanced technical think tank – the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) – and the government agency – National Aeronautic Space Administration (NASA). These action spurred more fictions such as 2001, A Space Odyssey (Clarke, 1968) and A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Adams, 1979). The early work of NASA and JPL produced great books on the real thing: The Right Stuff (Wolfe); Apollo, The Race to the Moon (Cox); Magnicent Desolation (Buzz Aldrin); and, of course, The Theory of Everything (Hawking).
First generation space collector Gene Westerberg told us that the first 1991 auction was epic and that he and others expected more of the same. But that auction represented a unique opportunity for space collectors that hasn’t been repeated. There are many reasons for the lack of actual space-attained collectibles on the market since then. Primarily, the USA has been the leader in space exploration, followed by Russia and China, but that’s it. Only three countries on Earth are pursuing space exploration. NASA, JPL， and other agencies have clamped down on what is allowed onboard a space mission and what astronauts are allowed to keep personally, limiting what makes it into the collectibles marketplace. 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 process was the only authorized way to get stuff into space.
Astronauts had to identify their personal items to the chief, Deke Slayton, but this data has never been published. 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, who keep under lock and key things such as the first Mars Rover prototype. Eventually, Federal regulation followed that allowed astronauts to maintain ownership of some items.
At the top of the list for space collectibles are moon rocks or rocks from any planet. However, these are closely controlled by the United States and world governing bodies and are strictly illegal to own or possess.
Space Collectibles from Orbiting Spacecraft
Space collectibles became popular, and as moon rocks were not and never would be available, collectors needed other items to acquire. A world of space parts, commemorative articles and the like appeared on the market. Over the next few decades, this market expanded to include more personal articles from astronauts.
Despite the interest in space, no nation had undertaken to get public investment in 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 the three largest countries in the world, 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.
Then Russia shocked the world in the summer of 1957, launching Sputnik 1, the first orbiting satellite. The United State’s effort to respond with its own launch failed in December 1957, when the Vanguard exploded shortly after takeoff. In January 1958, the US 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 on 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. Their program achieved limited success. Everything changed in 1993, when Jiang Zemin was elected as President of the People’s Republic of China. Zemin recognized the need to modernize China and make it a world leader. His 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 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, 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.
The Space Collectible Series is Formed
Stephen Chow has been an advocate and supporter of the Chinese space program for many years. His tireless efforts to promote the China Space Foundation are driven by his belief that aerospace technology can improve Chinese society through high-tech innovation, education and culture.
Enclosed within the Shenzhou 1 during China’s first space mission was a box approximately one half foot long, filled items approved by the Chinese Space Agency and designed for future marketing. Stephen Chow was awarded the marketing and distribution rights of a unique set of stamps and coins that travelled to space orbit on the Shenzhou 1. Numerous ceremonies took place after the successful return of Shenzhou 1, and through print, radio and television interviews Chow was a focus of the private sector’s support for the Chinese space program.
Chow was and is the natural choice to promote the space program to the Chinese public. He believed in his country’s modernization program and the move to higher education. Interest in science and technology was booming in China, and Chow was part of it.
Stephen Chow (Chow Shu Tong) is the second son of Chow Chi Yuen, the founder of the Chow Tai Fook conglomerate, which consists, in part, of the New World Development Company (one of the largest land development companies in Asia) and the Chow Tai Fook jewelry business, the largest jewelry business in China. In 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 August 2000, Mr. Chow filmed a documentary of the space program and the public’s involvement and in 2001 sponsored a youth “space camp.” He received certifficates in 2011, offcially recognizing him as a Sponsor and Supporter of the China Space Foundation.
In 2009, the three Chow brothers established Fook Wing Tong to promote their father’s legacy as well as the field of space collectibles. Stephen was appointed as a director of the China Space Foundation in 2011 and 2012, the three brothers were also invited to the launch of Shenzhou 9; the first multiple-manned China space flight headed for the space station.
Chow later named the collectibles “ The Space Collectible Series”.
The FWT Space Collectibles - China’s First Spacecraft
The space collectibles that were sent up with China’s very first spaceship Shenzhou 1 formed the foundation of the FWT Space Collectible series. The Shenzhou 1 Cabin Collection was
stored in the cabin of Shenzhou 1, traveling into orbit in that first space ship in 1999. Returning to the Earth from space, each piece was examined and certified by the People’s Republic of China Beijing Notary Office. Each piece is government certiffied, individually serial numbered, and contains a unique code. Each piece has a Notary certificate examined and issued by the “Beijing Notary Public Office of the People’s Republic of China”. Each item was meticulously packaged to be used as a desk/table top ornament or decoration.
Coin from 1st Chinese Space Flight, 1999 (1986).
Launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) located in the Gobi desert, the Shenzhou 1 was the first unmanned launch of the Shenzhou spacecraft. The November 1999 launch of the Shenzhou 1 marked the beginning of China’s ambitious space program. By thefifth launch of the Shenzhou, the Chinese had successfully placed an astronaut (Yang Liwei) into orbit in 2003, a remarkable achievement as it occurred less than four years after the first launch of the Shenzhou 1 spacecraft. A very limited number of items carried aboard the first spacecraft are available as space memorabilia, including this 1986 China 1 Fen coin, meticulously preserved and tastefully displayed. 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, the coin includes a notarized certificate of authenticity indicating it is number 0198 of a total 4,000 sent into space. Do not miss the chance to add this historically significant coin to your collection.
BRILLIANT UNCIRCULATED. ............... $5000-$10,000
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