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It Really is a Nickel
May 10, 2011

I had an interesting experience at the Crystal Cafe on Friday.

It had to do with how closely people look at their coins and do they really see them.

I paid my $8.39 lunch bill.

I was due two quarters, a dime, a cent and a $1 bill as change for the $10 bill I tendered.

Since I order the restaurant’s equivalent of the blue plate special (three choices most days, two on some and four on Friday), I know the drill in my sleep.

So when I received the coins, sitting in my hand was a quarter, a nickel, a dime and a cent.

I asked the waitress if she had given me the correct change. Usually we joke around as I pay my bill, so she hesitated, wondering what the punch line was going to be. I held up the change in the palm of my hand and said, “Shouldn’t I get two quarters, a dime and a cent?”

She looked. The nickel happened to be the 2004 Keelboat nickel from the Lewis and Clark Westward Journey designs with the reverse with the design showing.

Now she is used to all the strange designs that appear on the reverses of quarters, but it was clear from her look that she didn’t recognize the nickel design, but because it was sitting next to the quarter in my hand, it clearly was not a quarter.

She looked at it closely when she took it from me and then threw it in the cash drawer and pulled out a quarter.

The nickel design changes since 2004 have clearly flown under the radar for most people. When someone who handles as much change as a Crystal Cafe waitress doesn’t at first realize that a nickel is a nickel, you know it is not encountered often or even at all.

Was the nickel sitting with quarters? It must have been because otherwise she would never have pulled it out of the drawer. That means another waitress didn’t realize what it was either – or maybe it was just an accident. Coins can bounce around a bit.

Either way, it has given me something to write about and proof that there is continued need for my annual Coin Digest book.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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