World_Coin_Nut's Blog

14 Oct 2020

Ballooning and Numismatics

Medals | World_Coin_Nut

Unmanned hot air balloons are popular in Chinese history. Zhuge Liang of the Shu Han kingdom, ca. AD 220–280, used airborne lanterns for military signaling. These lanterns are known as Chinese lanterns.

The first documented balloon flight in Europe was by priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão. On August 8, 1709, in Lisbon, he managed to lift a small balloon made of paper full of hot air about four meters in front of King John V and the Portuguese court.

Some important dates in ballooning history:

June 5th, 1783 – The Montgolfier brothers first demonstrated an unmanned hot air balloon.

September 19th, 1783 – The same balloon was used to lift a sheep, duck, and chicken. It rose to 1,500 feet and traveled roughly 3 kilometers before safely landing. The demonstration was performed for King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette.

October 19th, 1783 – First tethered flight with humans.

November 21st, 1783 – King Louis XVI had decreed that condemned criminals would be the first human passengers by scientists Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and Marquis François d'Arlandes successfully petitioned for the honor. It was a paper balloon with live fire in a sling beneath it. They traveled over 7 kilometers in 25 minutes and landed despite having plenty of fuel to continue on. (Talk about bravery....or stupidity, you decide)

August 23rd, 1783 – Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers created the first successful filled hydrogen balloon.

August 27th, 1783 – The same gentlemen as above launched the balloon in Paris on the future site of the Eiffel Tower. Benjamin Franklin was among the many onlookers. The balloon flew for 45 minutes traveling around 21 kilometers before coming to ground in Gonesse and was destroyed by the terrified locals.
Picture #1
December 1st, 1783 – Same guys again launched the first manned hydrogen balloon. It traveled for over 2 hours covering about 36 kilometers.

January 7th, 1785 – Jean-Pierre Blanchard becomes the first person to cross the English Channel in a balloon.

May, 1785 – First aircraft disaster. A balloon in Ireland crashed in Tullamore causing about 100 houses to burn down.

January 10th, 1793 – First manned flight in America. The takeoff was witnessed by George Washington.

From the 1790’s on gas balloons became the most common type.

1852 – Henri Giffard was the pilot of the first steerable balloon. Aka Dirigible. It was powered by a steam engine…. that sounds like a terrible idea. Fortunately, (IMO) it was too slow to be practical.

1898 – Alberto Dumont piloted the first untethered balloon powered by an internal combustion engine.

July 3rd, 2002 – Steve Fossett piloted a non-stop around the world hot air balloon flight.

In addition, there was wide military use of balloons up to about 1870. Even Napoleon III made use of observation balloons.

So, what does this have to do with numismatics? A recent acquisition at my LCS made me want to dig into the history of hot air balloons, dirigibles, airships, and similar forms of transportation.

Picture #2
Obverse: City view of Paris and Giffard's Hot Air Balloon at the Word Exhibition 1878. Below in 2 lines: "PANORAMA DE PARIS 1878"​Reverse: 6 lines: "SOUVENIR DE MON ASCENSION DANS LE GRAND BALLON CAPTIV A VAPEUR DE MR HENRI GIFFARD". Button 16.​Medallist: C. (Charles) Trotin, 1833 Paris - ?
Ex. Karl Stephens, Lost Dutchman Rare Coins​

This gilt bronze medal is in fantastic condition. Obviously, it has been well cared for in the past. It even came with its hanger bar and part of the ribbon that it originally hung on. It came with an old envelope from Karl Stephens. It’s not my first balloon related piece. Last year I had picked up one of the German 5 Mark Zeppelin coins after a long search for the “right” one.

Picture #3
Obverse: Eagle, denomination below​Reverse: Zeppelin across globe, date below
Subject: Graf Zeppelin Flight​Composition: Silver​Fineness: 0.5000
Weight: 25.0000g
Diameter: 37mm​

With a little searching, you will see that there is a wide variety of balloon related coins, medals, and tokens available on the market and most can be picked up for a very modest price. Below are a few more of my favorites that fit the theme.

Picture #4
Great Britain ca. 1907​Balloon School Royal Engineers​
Picture #5
GERMANY: AE medal 1924, Kaiser-451​Weight: 28.17g
Diameter: 40mm​
Bronze medal for the Crossing of the Atlantic by the LZ 126 dirigible by Mayer and Wilhelm, bust with cap right with GRAF FERDINAND V. ZEPPELIN - * 8.JULI 1838 + 8.MÄRZ 1917 around // Mercury holding airship aloft above waves with AMERIKAFAHRT DES L.Z. 126OKT.1924/ Dr.ECKENER,Kd.u26MANN above and " Vorm. - 11.N m." below, matte antiqued finishPicture #6By Glöckler ad Weltfahrt d. Airship "Graf Zeppelin". Kaiser 511​Obverse: Brb. Zeppelin, Eckener u.Dürr l.
Reverse: Globe with d. registered stations and dates of the travel route.
Edge lettering: 'PREUSS.STAATSMÜNZE.SILBER 900 FEIN'.​Weight: 24.91 g​Diameter: 36mm
Picture #7
Wilhelm II bronze "Count Von Zeppelin Berlin Flight" ca. 1909
Kienast-47. by K. Goetz.
Issued for the long-distance trips of the Zeppelin airships.
Obverse: GRAF FERDINAND VON ZEPPELIN His bust facing, head half to right
Reverse: Airship in clouds with rising sun flying right, above nude child seated inscribing commemorative plaque.
Weight: 128.8

Picture #8
The full obverse of the 1st medal show loop and hanger.
Picture #9
Envelope from Karl Stephens
Sources: Wikipedia and my head.
One thought that kept popping into my head was that there wasn't much improvement in balloon technology between ancient China and 1783. Part of it must have been not having the technology to make a vessel large enough to hold enough volume of hot air to lift a person. I didn't mention it but those guys in November of 1783 were in the paper industry which was still pretty young at that point. They had the raw materials available to create the balloon. Up to that point in history, what else could have been used?



Level 5

Fascinating medals! Love the history as well. The Chinese empire has always interested me. Cheers, NM


Level 5

Oh WCN you have done it again! These medals are just incredible. Thanks for the awesome pictures and history on some of these great pieces. Later!

I would have loved to see a blimp floating about in the 20th century.


Level 6

Great blog. I love seeing blimps. I used to live near Moffett Field. At the time it was a US Naval base. They have three huge hangers, one really huge hanger, that kept blimps in them. They were used for sub searching. The blimps were replaced bu P-3 Orion planes. It was fun seeing those giant things quietly float by. The biggest hanger needed two locomotive engines to open the doors. I loved open house. Thanks.


Level 6

Very informative blog. Nice medals


Level 5

Medals are fantastic. Makes me want to find them and purchase. Ive never been up in a balloon or dirigible. Great blog. I will be looking for balloon coins and medals now. The dirigible medals will be my next quest !

I. R. Bama

Level 5

Really great blog. I enjoyed the history and the medals too.

It's Mokie

Level 6

Thank You WCN, Loved the Blog and really loved the medals and Graf Zeppelin coin.


Level 7

What great medals. I have seen the zeppellin medals befor. What a great part of history. And what beautiful medals. Every one is telling us a story and there great. From the very begging to the largest the Hindenburg. All the information band research in happy to say I will be happy to read this wonderful blog again. Thanks for all your work.

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