Featured History of Ballooning

Discussion in 'World Coins' started by Chris B, Oct 13, 2020.

  1. Chris B

    Chris B Supporter! Supporter

    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 ballsy)

    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.

    balloon 01.jpg

    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.

    France 1878 07.jpg

    Obverse: City view of Paris and Giffard's Hot Air Balloon at the Word Exhibition 1878. Below in 2 lines: "PANORAMA DE PARIS 1878"

    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.


    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.

    GB 1907 03.jpg

    Great Britain ca. 1907
    Balloon School Royal Engineers​


    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. 126 OKT.1924 / Dr.ECKENER,Kd.u26 MANN above and " Vorm. - 11.N m." below, matte antiqued finish


    By 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

    Keinast 47 05.jpg
    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

    France 1878 01.jpg
    France 1878 08.jpg

    sources: Wikipedia and my head
    goossen, alurid, Cachecoins and 10 others like this.
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. willieboyd2

    willieboyd2 First Class Poster

    Excellent article!

    Here's my contribution, a Franklin D. Roosevelt presidential political token with the US Capitol and a dirigible on the reverse.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt "Lucky Tillicum" Coin - US Capitol and Dirigible
    Brass, 32 mm, 12.86 gm

    Franklin D. Roosevelt facing left.
    United States Capitol building and Dirigible flying

    The dirigible is probably the US Navy rigid airship USS Akron which was built by the Goodyear-Zeppelin company and launched in 1931.

  4. Randy Abercrombie

    Randy Abercrombie Supporter! Supporter

    Great article and even better coins. Only balloon ride I ever took landed my wife and I on the front page of the newspaper. Not one of my more memorable stunts.
    Seattlite86 and Chris B like this.
  5. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & avid numismatist Moderator

    Chris B likes this.
  6. TuckHard

    TuckHard Well-Known Member

    Very neat thread and I love to see the various pieces you have. One question sticks out to me; what happened in the ~1500 years between the appearance in China and the display in front of the Portuguese court? Was there much use or advancements in East Asia (or elsewhere) of balloon technology during this time or did it mostly fulfil its known purpose of signaling and progress stalled?

    I looked through my odd metals and tokens and found no balloons. I did find, however, another niche aerial transport vehicle.
    2019 (Circa) Game Token Scheels Combined.jpg
  7. PaddyB

    PaddyB Eccentric enthusiast

  8. Chris B

    Chris B Supporter! Supporter

    I had a similar thought. 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?
  9. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes?

    I have nothing to add to this thread except to say, that was a fascinating article and really cool coins!
    Chris B likes this.
  10. Jaelus

    Jaelus The Hungarian Antiquarian Supporter

    Very nice.

    There's an exceptional exhibit of the early history of hot air balloons at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum https://airandspace.si.edu/udvar-hazy-center. It's in the wing off to the side and a level above the space shuttle Discovery. This is local to me so I've seen this exhibit many times and it's always enjoyable. They have many medals and tokens on display as part of the exhibit, as well as medals and tokens in their Charles Lindbergh exhibit.
    GeorgeM and Chris B like this.
  11. beaver96

    beaver96 Well-Known Member

  12. Chris B

    Chris B Supporter! Supporter

    I used to live on MD's Eastern Shore so the Smithsonian was an easy day trip. Never made it there as much as I wanted to though. I don't recall that exhibit but will look for it whenever we make it back.
    Seattlite86 likes this.
  13. GeorgeM

    GeorgeM Well-Known Member

    The zeppelin tokens have been something I've pursued for a while (especially after a gold 1929 commemorative fell into my lap when I paid top dollar for the medal in silver - only to find out after the auction ended that it was actually a 2-piece lot).

    I highly recommend the book Dr. Eckener's Dream Machine for an engrossing read about the first round-the-world flight.
    Chris B likes this.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page