Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Not only was the 1976 Face on Mars photo a farce, the 1990 stamp set was a scam

The Smithsonian Institution takes a look back at NASA’s 1976 Viking Orbiter Mission and the infamous aerial photograph it shot of the "Face" in the Cydonia region on Mars. Despite NASA’s insistence that the photo depicted nothing more than natural geological features, a small group of individuals believed that the geological features in the photo formed a face. Richard C. Hoagland theorized that the face was part of the ruins of a civilization constructed by intelligent extraterrestrial aliens. He even wrote a nearly-bestselling "nonfiction" book about it: The Monuments of Mars: A City of the Edge of Forever (1987, 5th edition, 2002).

In the wake of the publication of The Monuments of Mars came mail-order millionaire and philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein, his 1990 $135 "Face on Mars" stamp set issued through the West African government of Sierra Leone, and gullible collectors who bid the price of the set up into the thousands of dollars. Here are a few links to get you started on reading about this clever scam:

“Feinstein's universe: Alan Shawn Feinstein: You know the name, but do you know how he made his money?” a lengthy 2004 article in The Providence Journal that provides insight into Feinstein’s character.

“Face on Mars investors saw only red ink,” a lengthy but excellent article in the May/June 2006 issue of The Texas Philatelist: The Journal of the Texas Philatelic Association.

• A July 2009 eBay testimonial from “one of the idiots” who bought the stamp set.

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