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The E-Sylum: Volume 3, Number 19, May 7, 2000, Article 11


Regarding the story of Josh Tatum, Carl C. Honore writes:

"I have published some information with Mike Hodder's help in my upcoming book "The Life and Times of the Liberty Nickel" on the origin of the term "to Josh". Apparently the author Henry Wheeler Shaw wrote some works before 1880 under the nom de plume Josh Billings. One of these was "Josh Billings's Farmer's Almanac". Another was "Josh Billing's Sayings"; from these to "Josh" someone could have emerged.

This is not to say that Josh Tatum didn't exist. He possibly did and Mike mentioned that there may even be a photograph of him someplace. It's just that the term is probably more likely to have come from the former source."

On the same topic NBS Board member Pete Smith writes:

"For a long time I have suspected that the Josh Tatum story was more fancy than fact and have sought confirmation, one way or another. I was excited when I viewed the "History, Money in Your Hands" video distributed by the ANA since it included a picture of Tatum. I asked James Taylor about the source of that picture. He admitted that it was an error and the picture was really someone else.

A few years ago we had a file clerk working for us who returned to law school. He did quite well in law school and was editor of the law review. I gave him the story of Tatum and asked him to do a search of legal sources looking for confirmation of the Tatum story. He was not able to find anything. One problem, known from other examples, is that most old records have not been converted to searchable forms. I think it would be an interesting exercise for E-Sylum readers to try to come up with the first published reference to Tatum. If he existed, and if there was a trial, there would be references in local (Boston?) papers from the era."

Back to Josh Billings:

the New York Public Library catalog ( lists several titles between 1865 and 1880, and the following entry is found at the Electric Library (

Billings, Josh

1818-85, American humorist; b. Lanesboro, Mass. His popular, humorous sketches in rural dialect appeared annually in the Farmer's Allminax (1869-80).

There are several web sites that cite quotes from the Billings works. Here are a few:

Always live within your income, even if you have to borrow money to do so.

Don't ever prophesy; for if you prophesy wrong, nobody will forget it; and if you prophesy right, nobody will remember it.

In youth we run into difficulties. In old age difficulties run into us.

Wayne Homren, Editor

Google NBS ( Web

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