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The Flipside with Robert R. Van Ryzin

Josh's Gold-Plated Nickel
May 12, 2008

In next week's episode of "Collecting Money," on Coin Chat Radio, I plan to do a piece about Josh Tatum and the 1883 Liberty Head nickel.

Tatum, a deaf mute, who reputedly gold-plated thousands of the first Liberty Head nickels and passed them as gold $5s, probably didn't exist. But Variety 1 1883 Liberty Head nickels were definitely plated by shysters and tendered as gold $5s. There are numerous contemporary newspaper reports of attempts to pass the coins as gold $5s. Today collectors call these coins Racketeer nickels.

A quick search of the New York Times archives turned up an 1883 story datelined from Baltimore of a jeweler who had a tray of gold-plated Liberty Head five-cent pieces in his store window that he was selling at 35 cents each. The jeweler claimed the coins were being sold as charms to wear on watch chains.

What made the plating of the coins attractive to fast-buck artists was that the first 1883 pieces carried only a Roman numeral "V" for the denomination. Once it became evident that this was leading to the plating and passing of the coins at 100 times their real face value, the Mint redesigned the coin by placing the word "CENTS" below the Roman numeral for five. These Variety 2 1883 coins actually bring stronger prices than the Variety 1 1883 coins.

My piece on Tatum, part of a segment called "Collecting Type and Beyond," can be listened to at The show will air beginning at 11 a.m. Central on Thursday, May 15th. It repeats on the main player at the top of each hour.

That show and previous installments of Coin Chat Radio's weekly "Collecting Money" show can also be accessed under the Archives tab at the site to play at your convenience or to download.

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About the Author
Robert R. Van Ryzin has been a coin collector for 30 years. He has served as editor of Krause Publications Coins and Coin Prices magazines since 1994. He joined the firm in 1986 after obtaining a master of fine arts degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Prior to becoming a magazine editor, he worked on World Coin News as a staff member and later served as managing editor of Numismatic News. Van Ryzin, whose specialty is U.S. coinage history, is also the award-winning author of the book Crime of 1873: The Comstock Connection (Krause Publications, 2001), as well as two earlier titles, Twisted Tails: Sifted Fact, Fantasy and Fiction from U.S. Coin History (Krause Publications, 1995) and Striking Impressions: A Visual Guide to Collecting U.S. Coins (Krause Publications, 1992).

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