Although it means that the collectibles on display are out of reach, true space memorabilia fans are always delighted to hear of a major collection, such as that of Michael P Wright being displayed.
Now, another great collection with a fascinating theme has been opened to the public for the first time: the virtual Jefferson Space Museum – an online experience that explores the unique history of the world’s largest and most complete collection of space flown U.S. $2 bills.
Spanning the history of U.S. manned space flight from Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, the collection includes bills that have also flown on the International Space Station and aboard the Ansari X-Prize winning flights of SpaceShipeOne!
The collection has been put together over the past decade by flown space artifact collector and enthusiast Richard Jurek, and it consists of 8 bills which have flown on 11 historic space flights – with one bill having flown three times, including having landed on the moon during Apollo 17.
“This collection combines three of my favorite hobby interests,” said Jurek, the curator and owner of the Jefferson Space Museum and collection.
“Growing up in the 70’s, I was into numismatics and autograph collecting. And with Apollo and Skylab, the Star Wars movies, and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, space has always been an interest. With this collection, I can combine all three hobby interests in one.”
Since the first American space flights in the 1950’s, astronauts, ground support crews – and even a few cosmonauts on the other side! – some times carried or sent U.S. $2 bills into the deep, black void of space during many historic missions.
They took or sent these symbols of home as mementos, good luck charms, or simply favors for family or friends. For the astronauts, some have even suggested they took the bills in homage to the fighter pilot tradition of the “short snorter.”
Whilst many would associate John F Kennedy or Richard Nixon with the space race, this brings another President into play.
“Whatever their reason, they have made Thomas Jefferson a sort of honorary, accidental astronaut,” said Jurek. “As a collector of space flown artifacts from the golden age of space exploration – particularly Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo — I began to notice the appearance of the $2 bills in space memorabilia auctions at the beginning of this century.
"So I began acquiring them — from estates, from collectors, and directly from the astronauts themselves. Before long, these bills formed a discrete and important sub-genre of my collection, and worthy of their own focus ...and thus, the Jefferson Space Museum was born.”
Key for inclusion in the museum is a bill’s iron-clad flight and ownership provenance (either directly from the astronaut or cosmonaut who flew the bill, or a bill that was flown and inventoried by serial number in an official capacity), and detailed flight certification records that are endorsed and signed by the astronaut (or cosmonaut) for that particular bill and trip.
This virtual Jefferson Space Museum represents a sub-set of Jurek’s overall space artifact collection, and it is the largest and most complete collection of its kind in the world.
The collection has gained international press attention, and has been profiled in Autograph Magazine, the Society of Paper Money Collector's Journal, The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association's monthly publication, and as the feature cover story of Paper Money Values magazine (February 2010).
Currency collectors (numismatists and notaphilists) value their items based on an item’s condition and rarity. Since these bills have traveled many millions of miles, at great speeds and within great and varied temperatures, some exhibit a great deal of wear. Some were folded and tucked into space suit pockets, or wrapped onto spacecraft wiring, or even kept in wallets for good luck! And others are pristine and near mint in condition.
“As for rarity, one has to consider the available “population” or number of a given bill from a given mission,” explains Jurek. “Many of these bills are of very small and limited populations – they are either a population of 5, or 10, or 50 such bills flown. And a couple of bills are absolutely unique — the only such $2 bill flown on that mission.”