American Numismatic Biographies author Pete Smith submitted this
article on Josh Tatum and the Racketeer Nickel. Thanks!
In the May 7, 2000, issue of The E-Sylum, I wrote,
I think it would be an interesting exercise for E-Sylum readers to try to come up with the first published reference to Tatum. I am still looking for that first reference.
When a new United States nickel coin was issued in 1883, there was no shortage of reporting in the papers. I have selected a few stories out of hundreds that were printed in 1883.
The Evening News (Emporia, KS) reported on February 14, 1883:
The banks here have received their first installment of the new nickel coin.
The Burlington (VT) Free Press carried an item on February 16, 1883:
Keep shy of half-eagles. You may get a gold-plated nickel.
The Weekly Public Ledger (Memphis, TN) printed on February 20, 1883:
Washington, February 11.-The objection of secret service men to the new five cent coin, which they claimed could be made to resemble a $5 gold piece by gilding has, it is reported, caused the Treasury Department to order an immediate suspension of further coinage by Mr. Snowden, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia.
The Semi-Weekly New Era of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, carried his item on February 24, 1883:
Col. Snowden, the Superintendent of the Mint, is credited on Wednesday of this sentiment regarding the new nickel coin:
They are good enough. What's the matter with them? The omission of the word ‘cents' does no harm. If any one is fool enough to take a gilded one for $5, let him suffer for his dumbness.
The Chicago Tribune reported on March 15, 1883:
This morning the police in Morgan City arrested a man named G. F. McCord, alias Mack, charged with having passed as $5 gold pieces a number of gilded new nickels.
Arkansas City (KS) Weekly Traveler of April 25, 1883 reported:
F. G. Mack, who at Morgan City, Mis., attempted to pass a new nickel as $5, was sentenced to five years at hard labor and to pay $1.000 fine.
The Burlington (VT) Free Press reported on March 28, 1883:
W. C. Woodward was arrested today on charge of passing gilded nickels for $5 gold pieces at St. Louis. Woodward knocked down two policemen and ran. He was fired at and finally caught. Woodward is a newspaper reporter.
The Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer reported for March 30, 1883:
As the Louisville and Nashville train was entering St. Louis, Woodward suddenly jumped past his custodian, dashed back through two passenger cars and jumped off the rear end of the train down an embankment. It was dark and Yost lost him among the freight cars which do there
The Daily American (Nashville, TN) of January 8, 1884, finished the story:
W. C. Woodward, the ex-Nashville journalist, gave himself up to the United States authorities here today… He was detained until information was received by telegraph to the effect that Woodward was no longer wanted in St, Louis, as the indictment against him had been found under a misapprehension of the facts.
In 1883 there were many reports about gold-plated nickels, some arrests, some convictions and some acquittals. The 1883 nickels without CENTS were hoarded in large numbers.
What About Josh Tatum?
Three people in the United States named Joshua Tatum were born before 1871.
Joshua Tatum (3/30/1800-12/6/1883) was a farmer living in Mississippi and fought for the Confederacy.
Joshua Tatum (1808- ) was a farmer in Cyprus Creek Township, North Carolina.
Joshua Young Tatum (1848-3/9/1898) was a farmer in Perry County, Tennessee.
There was no Josh Tatum in Boston in 1883. The story has been false since its first telling, whenever that was.
Some sources credit Maurice M. Gould with first telling the story in his syndicated column
Coin Roundup appearing in, among others, The Sioux City (IA) Journal of August 8, 1965. As with most articles written about Tatum, this is not correct.
An article by Eber Higgins in Garfield County News (Enid, OK) for June 22, 1962, tells a version of the Tatum story.
An article by Don Millsap in Grand Prairie (TX) Daily News of June 29, 1959, tells the Tatum story.
An article by Liana Spurrier in Coin Week of January 16, 2019, places the first reference to The Southwest Times (Pulaski, VA) of December 14, 1958, and a presentation by Miss Willie Long before the Southwest Numismatic Society.
Julia Casey found a May 22, 1955, article in the Dayton (OH) Daily News. There was an earlier article on May 1, 1955, in The Wichita (KS) Eagle, by Michael MacDougall. Interesting that he referred to the culprit as Joshua Tatum.
MacDougall's report was on an item found in a collection. It appears that he was repeating a story and not making one up. The original Josh Tatum source has still not been found.
If the Josh Tatum story did not appear in a newspaper, and does not show up in all the documents on the Newman Numismatic Portal, then where does it come from? I suspect it may have appeared in a popular non-numismatic magazine. I searched magazine databases through my local library but had no success. The truth is out there. Who will find it?
- - - - -
I was amused to see an ad for
Racketeer Nickels in The Daily Oklahoman for February 21, 1999. The coin illustrated is the 1883 with CENTS reverse. The ad notes that they will provide dates of their choice.
When I worked for a coin dealer we had a small bag of gold-washed Liberty Nickels in dates other than 1883. We considered them worthless.
Thanks, Pete! Keep searching, folks! Who will be the first to locate the missing source?
Coin image from:
Well worn Copper's Blog
To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
DON'T JOSH ME
WHO'S JOSHING WHO?
JOSH TATUM RACKETEER NICKEL REFERENCES PRIOR TO 1968
SEEKING (BUT NOT FINDING) JOSH TATUM
MORE ON JOSH TATUM AND THE NICKEL GYP GAME
Wayne Homren, Editor
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