The Libbey Apollo Mission Glass Story

In the 1960s and 1970s, gas stations and other types of convenience stores often gave away promotional glasses featuring a wide array of popular subjects of the day: movie stars, superheroes and sports stars graced many releases. At the height of the Apollo program, Marathon Gas Stations offered a series of glasses featuring Apollo 11, 12, 13 and 14, plus a pitcher. The article below focuses on the glasses from Apollo 13 and 14. Thanks to Tony Boatright for allowing me to reprint it.

By Tony Boatright
Reprinted with permission

In addition to the two versions of the Apollo 11 glass (flag and moon), there are three versions of the Apollo 13 glass (four versions including a production error glass), and two versions of the Apollo 14 glass.

The first of three Apollo 13 glass versions is the one with Mattingly in the crew list, with a Lunar Module above the Moon with its descent engine firing on one side (this artwork was used again on one version of the Apollo 14 glass) and the 3-stallions artwork on the reverse side. These are very rare. I was assured by the son of a sales manager for Marathon Oil in the 1970s that these glasses never made it to the service stations for distribution. Libbey was able to recall them early enough after the crew change to ask all of the salesmen to return them in exchange for new glasses with Swigert's name. In the last twenty or so years, I've seen only four or five of the glasses on eBay or in other collectible venues.

Apollo 13 "Stallion" Libbey glasses with Mattingly listed

Apollo 13 "Stallion" Libbey glasses with Mattingly listed

Before Libbey could distribute an identical glass with the name change, the famous in-flight accident occurred. After the splashdown, Libbey quickly issued a second Apollo 13 version with "Safe Return To Earth" wording and the splashdown date above a simple lunar loop trajectory on one side and an actual halftone photo of the crew (Swigert's name, but Mattingly's image) on the reverse side. While this may have been in limited release following the splashdown, I have only ever seen one example of this glass (and bought it). Shortly afterwards, entirely new artwork for the Apollo 13 Safe Return glass was finished and the most common version (showing the damaged Service Module and a new lunar loop with Command Module parachute splashdown) was issued.

There is also a surprising production error version of this common Apollo 13 glass with the red and blue colors completely reversed. I consider this an error rather than a pre-production test because I don't seriously believe anyone wanted to see what red space and a dark blue damaged service module area looked like. I can only imagine how this happened in a era before computer-controlled manufacturing. I suspect that someone either mis-loaded paint tanks, switched paint hoses in the silkscreen machine, or made some other similar physical binary error during the manufacturing process. There's no way to know how many error glasses this may have produced (or how many survived) but, again, I've only ever seen one example (which I also bought). I have to wonder if this reverse paint error ever happened with any of the other Apollo glasses.

Apollo 13 Libbey glass - reverse ink error variant

Apollo 13 Libbey glass - reverse ink error variant

The two Apollo 14 glasses appear to be post-launch and post-mission versions. The first has artwork of the two astronauts working on the lunar surface with their "rickshaw" equipment carrier and has the launch date of January 31, 1971. This glass also uses the art of the LEM firing its descent engine from the first Apollo 13 glass that was never distributed. The second Apollo 14 glass shows Shepard hitting his famous golf shot and has the traditional astronaut emblem over the lunar surface with the LEM landing date of February 5, 1971. The first glass without the golf shot is the rarest, maybe only because the second glass was in distribution longer following the mission. Whenever I see boxed sets of Apollo 14 glasses (below), they are always the golf shot glass.

In addition to the basic Apollo set, there is a Libbey Neil Armstrong Musuem Official Opening glass in the same style as the Apollo series and dated July 1972.

There is also a pair of Libbey First Man On The Moon juice glasses with the famous Small Step quote: one marked Apollo 11 with Lunar Module art, and one with "Wapakoneta, Ohio – Home of Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong."

There are at least four variations of the Libbey Moonshot Tumbler/Shot Glass. In order of increasing rarity:

  1. "Liquid Fuel Red Line" around the top of the regular Moonshot tumbler
  2. "Liquid Fuel Red Line" around the top of the Harolds Moonshot tumbler (Custom made with the logo for Harolds Club casino in Reno, Nevada, and served with a special Man on the Moon plastic swizzle stick. The swizzle stick was a bit delicate and is very rare with an intact lunar astronaut.)
  3. "Neil A. Armstrong – Wapakoneta, Ohio" around the top of the regular Moonshot
  4. "Neil Armstrong Homecoming – Wapakoneta, Ohio Sept. 6, 1969" around the top of the regular Moonshot (very rare).

Oddly, the American flag appeared on the tumbler portion of the glass on all versions except the Harolds, where it moved (slightly larger) to the shot glass portion.

Since none of these premium glasses ever appeared in any of the Libbey annual glass catalogs (or any of the intermediate supplements that I could find), it's not easy to know if there are any other variations or unknown space-themed Libbey glasses from this era. It's obvious that the company was very interested in marketing the Apollo program, and they had a lot of in-house glass styles to pick from and print up, so it is always possible that another example may pop up.

Think you got a Neil Armstrong autograph cheap?

This is the kind of Armstrong autograph that sells on the cheap -- a bad fake.

This is the kind of Armstrong autograph that sells on the cheap -- a bad fake.

Never say never, but the odds of winning an authentic Neil Armstrong or Apollo 11 signed item for way below market value in an auction format are exceedingly low. There are way too many collectors and dealers looking for Armstrong and Apollo 11 and trolling eBay 24/7. They are not going to miss an authentic Armstrong and let it go for way below market value.

If it is in auction format, and you got it on the cheap, chances are you didn’t outsmart everyone else. Chances are it sold on the cheap because it’s a fake.

You can get a deal on the rare occasion a seller significantly underprices an item and lists it as a Buy-It-Now. Then again… there are lots of trained eyes watching and you would have to hit it shortly after it’s listed.

If it’s a low-priced Buy-It-Now and it’s been sitting there for a while… yep…  chances are it’s a fake.

This is why you may want to avoid stickers on your treasures...

The unsightly stain on this baseball is from the adhesive from an authentication sticker. This isn't a knock on those services... but it is a good reason to avoid putting stickers on your items -- especially vintage items! 

Zarelli Space Authentication does not place stickers on items. Because all of our Letters of Authenticity feature a large photo of the signature, and we do not issue "card COAs" that don't have photos, there is no need to place a sticker on an item.

In my experience, space collectors avoid official NASA lithos and photos that have stickers on the front. So, not only can it stain an item, it kills the desirability.

Neil Armstrong signed photo sells for $38,467 at RR Auction

In the Spring 2016 RR Auction Space Auction this Neil Armstrong signed photo sold for $38,467 with buyer's premium. This is an amazing result... and to my knowledge is, by far, the most ever paid for a single signed astronaut photograph. 

Neil Armstrong signed photo that sold for over $38,000

Neil Armstrong signed photo that sold for over $38,000

So, why so much?

In my opinion, this is the quintessential image of the space program... the moment Armstrong stepped off the ladder onto the moon's surface. And, it is signed perfectly with an Apollo 11 inscription.

There are only a few images of Neil Armstrong on the moon, and most were not readily available when he was freely signing autographs. Any lunar surface photo of Armstrong is uncommon.

Lastly, this photo came directly from the family of the former head of NASA's photo division, so it has strong provenance. In fact, an original of this photo would likely have only been available to someone inside NASA in the late 60s and early 70s.