When it comes to popular coins with interesting stories, there are few pieces that match the intrigue of this 1883 coin: the no-cents Liberty nickel.
However, during the first months of production, the 1883 Liberty Head nickel, a design which has a big Roman numeral ‘V’ on the reverse to symbolize five cents, lacked the words ‘FIVE CENTS.’
Unscrupulous individuals made the most of the opportunity, and the story begins…
The No-Cents ‘V’ Nickel Story
Nothing about the 1883 no-cents nickel is rare.
In fact, with a value of less than $10 in moderately worn grades, it’s among the cheapest dates from the first decade of the Liberty nickel series.
This 1883 coin draws a fair share of attention for being the first year of issue for the Liberty nickel series, but the most intriguing story behind the 1883 no-cents nickel has to do with how it became known as the ‘racketeer nickel.’
Because the first 1883 Liberty Head ‘V’ nickels did not contain the words ‘FIVE CENTS,’ and also because the coins are about the same diameter and look somewhat similar to the then-circulating $5 Liberty gold coin, some people took it upon themselves to gold-plate 1883 no-cents Liberty nickels and try to pass them off as $5 gold coins.
Apparently, this was a somewhat pervasive problem at the time and the United States Mint soon added ‘FIVE CENTS’ to the reverse of the coin under the ‘V’ to ward off any further counterfeiting attempts.
Josh Tatum, The Infamous Racketeer Nickel Gold-Plater: A True Story?
There has been a story circulating for some time that a person named Josh Tatum was one of the most notorious of the Liberty nickel gold platers.
It’s said he was a deaf mute who gold plated hundreds of 1883 nickels. He would go into a store to purchase items that were 5 cents or less and then pass off his gold-plated nickels to the cashier. Without saying a word, he would wait for the cashier to return his change and would usually get $4.95 in return.
Eventually, he was tried in a court of law for fraud. However, the charges were dismissed because he never actually asked for change and nobody could testify against him!
Is Josh Tatum Responsible for ‘Joshing You’?
Some attribute the saying "I’m just joshing you" (a phrase which means to fool or mess with somebody) to the story of Josh Tatum.
However, Merriam-Webster’s dictionary states "josh" (as meaning ‘to tease good-naturedly’ or ‘to engage in banter’ was first used around 1845.
So, did Josh Tatum really give rise to the expression meaning to ‘joke around’? Well, maybe not, but it certainly is a fun example of folk etymology!