Last week Pete Smith asked, "Can anyone identify the mystery coin dealer sitting on the wing of a moving aircraft? Hint: He was a coin dealer after retiring as a stunt
pilot." The only response (and it was correct, of course), came from author Q. David Bowers, who kindly shared his notes on Kenneth L. Nichols. Pete Smith combined his own research with
Dave's notes and submitted this article. Thanks, everyone! -Editor
Kenneth L Nichols (1902-1974)
Kenneth L. Nichols was born in Victor, Colorado, on October 7, 1902. His father worked for the A. B. Bumstead Co. of Lesher Dollar fame. Ken joined the Navy at age 16 and served on submarines
including the U. S. S H-3. After World War I he took flight training and worked as a stunt pilot.
In 1924 he joined two others to form a Union of stunt pilots called “The Black Cats” to perform at air shows and do stunts for the movies. This group grew to be called “The 13 Black Cats.” They
wore a circular white patch with a black cat and the number 13. The group was somewhat fluid with pilots coming and going. Each of the pilots had a name with thirteen letters including “Fronty”
Nichols was co-pilot for Walter Waterman who won the Air Transport Race at the National Air Races in Cleveland in 1929. They flew in a Bach tri-motor. The company closed shortly after the
Nichols learned to ice skate and got a job with Sonia Henie’s Ice shows and later the Evelyn Chandler ice show. He learned to do tricks on a unicycle and a tricycle.
During World War II he worked for the U. S. Navy as an inspector at Lockheed.
Having survived the life of a stunt pilot and unicycle rider, Nichols took on management of the Cottage Waffle Shop on Balboa Island, California, with his son, Gene. They were coin
collectors and exhibitors who offered a few coins for sale at the counter of the waffle house. Later they became coin dealers with the firm of K & G Coins in Costa Mesa, California. With
assistance from Abe Kosoff, Ken and Gene helped establish a coin exhibit at the Newport Balboa Savings and Loan Association. In 1962 Ken was elected vice president of the Professional Numismatic
Coin dealer B. Max Mehl died in 1957. The company name was sold to George Justus who moved operations to Costa Mesa, California. In 1959 the officers for the company were K. L. Nichols, President;
Gene Nichols, Vice President, M. L. Justus, Secretary, and A. Kosoff, Treasurer. The Mehl name was used in advertisements through July of 1966.
Gene died of brain cancer in 1960 and Ken gradually retired from the coin business. He died of a heart attack in Laguna Hills, California on September 27, 1974.
Dave Bowers adds:
he regularly made the news in his younger days (before I knew him). He was a very warm, friendly guy!
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
NOTES FROM E-SYLUM READERS: DECEMBER 24, 2017 : Quick Quiz: Stunt Pilot Coin Dealer
Wayne Homren, Editor
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