Wacks Counterstamps

The Counterstamped Coins of Mel Wacks


By Mel Wacks NLG


Dedicated to the artistry and workmanship of Adam Cool


When I learned of the plans for NASA to land on Mars, something clicked. While Mars did not appear on any United States coin, another celestial object did – the Moon – on the reverse of the Bicentennial Eisenhower Dollars dated 1776-1976. And so I designed a counterstamp which was struck on 40% Silver Proof coins over the rugged surface of the moon, reading “VIKING I ON MARS JULY 20, 1976.”


mw1 Mars


Catalog MW1 “VIKING I ON MARS JULY 20, 1976


I also wanted to create PNC (Philatelic-Numismatic Cover), and where more appropriate could I have it cancelled than in Mars (Pennsylvania)? I contacted the postmaster there, and he indicated he would be happy to cancel covers on the day of the Mars landing. So envelopes were prepared with two 8˘ postage stamps – “Rise of the Spirit of Independence” and appropriately “United States in Space,” depicting the lunar landing vehicle on the moon with the earth and the sun above. They were sent to the Mars postmaster who carefully applied the cancellation reading “MARS, PA 16046 JUL 20 AM 1976,” and shipped back to me in a box (so they were not individually addressed). On the day of the Viking landing, I drove about 25 miles from my home in a Los Angeles suburb to the headquarters of JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) in Pasadena where I gained entrance with my Numismatic Literary Guild card and was able to obtain a press kit that included the first photo taken on Mars by the Rover. When I received the box of cancelled envelopes, I took them to a printer who added the historic first photo to each envelope. The back of each envelope was printed with a serial number, and “LIMITED EDITION of 1000.”




I then placed each counterstamped dollar into a hole in a thick card, placed the cards into the envelopes and sealed them. My records indicate that 500 were made.


mw1pnc Mars PNC




Considering the success of my first counterstamped coin, just a few months later I created another one. This was issued on Thanksgiving and appropriately honored the turkey. The coin chosen was the 1961 Proof Benjamin Franklin Silver Half Dollar. Why? Because Franklin had proposed that the national bird should be the turkey (the bald eagle won out). A turkey was counterstamped over the Liberty Bell (just to the left of the “winning” eagle).


mw2 Turkey

MW2 Turkey (Thanksgiving 1976)


A full color reproduction of John James Audubon’s engraving (1830) of a wild turkey is featured on the envelope, along with the following quote: “The turkey is a bird of courage and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who would presume to invade his farmland with a red coat on,” with the facsimile signature Benj. Franklin. The postage used was the 3˘ Wild Turkey Wildlife Conservation stamp and the 13˘ Bicentennial 1776-1976 stamp featuring a bust of Franklin. And, appropriately, the cancellation reads “TURKEY, TX 79261 NOV 25 PM 1976.” The back of each envelope was printed with a serial number, and “LIMITED EDITION of 500.” My records indicate a mintage of 200. (Picture mw2pnc)


mw2pnc Turkey PNC


MW2PNC Turkey (Thanksgiving 1976)


I was thrilled, along with millions of others around the world, when the Camp David Accords were signed by Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on September 17, 1978, following twelve days of secret negotiations at Camp David. The two agreements were signed at the White House, and were witnessed by United States President Jimmy Carter. The Accords led directly to the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, which among other things, established full diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt, and contained about 50 normalization agreements covering a variety of issues, including economic and cultural matters, designed to enhance peace between the two countries..



While I was watching this historic event on television I was inspired to commemorate it. And I immediately thought of counterstamping “Peace” Silver Dollars (that were issued beginning in 1921 to celebrate the end of World War I). I believe that it was Ed McClung who had created the first two counterstamped coins, and so I asked him to do the Camp David counterstamp. I gave him dozens of uncirculated 1922 and 1923 Peace Dollars to use for prototypes. But he had problems. The design that I requested was more complex than the first two counterstamps, inscribed “CAMP DAVID PEACE SUMMIT SEPT. 5-17, 1978” and featuring the peace symbol, the names of the participants and appropriate symbols: BEGIN + Star of David, SADAT + Crescent, and CARTER + 5-Pointed Star. He was unable to make a bold counterstamp, even after reaming off an area and stamping it.


mw3trial Camp David (McClung) 



And so I asked someone else to give it a try – Adam Cool, who had created a number of counterstamped coins for the American Israel Numismatic Association. Adam was successful, so we photographed it and sent out press releases a relatively short time after the event had occurred.


mw3 Camp David



The press release and a picture was featured in the coin column of the Sunday New York Times– and then all hell broke loose!  In a few days the mailman started bringing piles of envelopes with orders. This continued day after day, and within a relatively short time the entire authorized mintage of 1,000 pieces was sold. These coins are actively collected, appear periodically on ebay, and the “Camp David” counterstamp is featured in the newly published “A Guide Book of Peace Dollars” by Roger Burdette.


UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) proclaimed 1979 as the International Year of the Child. The proclamation was signed on January 1, 1979 by United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, and was intended to draw attention to problems that affected children throughout the world, including malnutrition and lack of access to education. I decided this would be my next project, and based the design on Leonardo da Vinci’s 1505 drawing of a fetus in utero. The limited issue of 1,000 “Baby Dollars” were counterstamped on various uncirculated 1972-7 Eisenhower Clad Dollars. The die was cancelled after the issue sold out.



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