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Gerald Tebben

Five Facts

Gerald Tebben

Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.

Coin World’s bloggers are not edited by Coin World’s editorial staff and blog posts reflect the views of the individual author.

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Archive for 'June 2016'

    Odd uses for coins: ​Hidden messages, hidden poison

    June 24, 2016 4:08 PM by

    A hollowed-out nickel stuffed with microfilm played a part in the prosecution of notorious Soviet spy Rudolf I. Abel.

    Abel used numerous nickels to conceal messages and microfilm that eventually found their way back to the Soviet Union. The coins were dropped at several locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn for retrieval by confederates for shipment to Russia.

    One of those nickels was apparently spent and flowed unnoticed through the channels of commerce until Jimmy Bozart, a 13-year-old paperboy, accidentally dropped it.

    Bozart collected 35 cents weekly from each of his Brooklyn Eagle customers. A pair of schoolteachers living in East Flatbush tipped him 15 cents on June 23, 1953. “You didn’t get too many 15-cent tips,” Bozart, recalled decades later.

    As he walked down the stairs from the sixth-floor apartment, he dropped the 50 cents. He found 45 cents of the 50 cents and kept hunting for the missing nickel when he discovered what he described as “the wafer-thin back of a Jefferson nickel.”

    He found the front of the 1948 coin a few feet away, with a tiny piece of microfilm inside.

    Bozart figured something was up and turned the coin over to police. Four years later, the FBI came calling, asking him to testify in the Abel espionage case.

    While Bozart was one of 68 witnesses, the coin story captured the public’s imagination. New York police rewarded him with a commendation. A citizen bought him an Oldsmobile as a reward.

    Abel, who died in 1971, was convicted of espionage and traded Feb. 10, 1962, for captured American U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers. The prisoner exchange was the basis for the 2015 Steven Spielberg film, Bridge of Spies.

    Powers, curiously, had a hollowed-out coin in his possession, too, when he was captured May 1, 1960, after his plane was shot down. A silver dollar he wore around his neck like a “good luck charm” had a CIA-issued, poison-laced injection pin inside.

    Powers decided not to use the poison pin, a move that many called cowardly at the time. In 2012 he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal for “exceptional loyalty” to America during his two years of captivity.

      Next: A wine-saving tip


    ​Odd uses for coins: Taking a bite out of coins

    June 20, 2016 10:24 AM by
    Teething is hell on babies, parents and grandparents. Coins, however, have provided a solution to the problem for centuries.

    Folklore remedies include tying a small silver coin, such as a dime, around a baby’s neck as an amulet or using a large silver coin as a teething ring.

    While the county child protection agency might frown on the practice, one recent posting on a genealogy website advised, “What you do is you put a hole in the top of it with an icepick, and then you put a fishing string through the hole, and tie it around their neck about midway where the Adam’s apple would be just a little lower then [sic] the Adam’s apple. Right where the windpipe or that indenture is in your throat. And leave it there until all teeth are in. Make sure you tie it up high enough where the child cannot put the dime in their mouth.”

    A holed 1780s Spanish real was found during excavations at a slave cabin at Virginia’s Poplar Forest. In a 2011 article in Northeast Historical Archaeology, researcher Lori Lee describe the piece: “It is heavily worn and bears two deep impressions that some dental experts have identified as probable teeth marks.”

    She notes, “Stephen McCray, born into slavery in Alabama, recounted to an interviewer in Oklahoma: ‘A dime was put ‘round a teething baby’s neck to make it tooth easy and it sho’ helped too.’ ”

    A.G. Heaton, who popularized collecting by Mint mark, complained about the practice in an August 1903 article in The Numismatist.

    “Many scarce silver pieces have been also bored to suspend in some way, either for teething infants or because their date happed to be that of someone’s birth or marriage,” he said.

    In 1955 ANA member L.A. Pettitt wrote about his budding collection of teething-ring dollars.

    He wrote, “Americans have always been practical people and in the early days when the time came for baby's teething ring, the big dollar with a hole and string came into use. The string looped around the baby's neck became a plaything and a practical teething ring for generations. At present, I have one of these dollars, an 1802 over 1 which came to me from a lady in Trenton who said it had been in her family since the early 1800s until she sold it to me. Two others, which came to me from Alex Kaptik of the Philadelphia Coin Club, are dated 1795 and 1799.

    “The latest acquisition with a string on it, an 1844 silver dollar, came from Lansdale, Pa., and had been used by the babies in this family for nearly 100 years. I love these old dollars and was prompted to collect them because of the prices of fine dollars of this era.”

    He concluded, “In looking at my four teething ring dollars my thoughts often turn to, ‘How many tiny teeth did these old dollars help to bring through?’ As they hang above my desk these coins bring many pleasant thoughts.”

     Next: Hidden messages, hidden poison

    ​Odd uses for coins: A numismatic ruler

    June 6, 2016 4:11 PM by

    Canadians must have been running short on rulers and weights in 1858 when the British colony decided that its cents should be an inch in diameter and weigh 1/100th of a pound.

    Issued in 1858 and 1859, Province of Canada cents featured Queen Victoria on the obverse and the denomination on the reverse.  

    The Journal of Education for Upper Canada reported in its 1858 edition, “The frontier counties will be saved a great deal of trouble by the introduction of this new coinage. Canadian cent pieces, which have been lately thrown off the British mint, possess a remarkable peculiarity. They are not only tokens of value, but also standards of weight and measure; 100 cents weigh exactly 1lb., and one cent measures 1 inch. Thus in the common transactions of life the buyer will have a ready check upon the dishonest dealer.”

    Despite their potential utility, the coins were not popular.

    Previously, Canadians had used heavier bank tokens. In Striking Impressions: The Royal Canadian Mint and Canadian Coinage, James Haxby wrote, “Two novel features of the Canadian decimal coinage proved to be great mistake. The new cent was expected to be a convenient tool as a weight and measure: its diameter was one inch (25.4 mm) and 100 coins weighted exactly one pound avoirdupois. But this was largely lost on a public who preferred the much heavier and more familiar copper bank tokens. It would be the mid-1870s before the entire coinage of 9.7 million cents could be put in circulation.”

    In 1876, when the newly created Dominion of Canada resumed cent production, the weight was increased to 1/80th of a pound – the same weight as a British half penny. Canada continued to produce large cents (first in British mints, later in the Royal Canadian Mint) until 1920, when it switched to smaller cents, the same size as United States cents.

    (U.S. small cents can be used, too, to make a reasonably accurate ruler. Line up 16 and you have a foot. The same coins stacked are within a hair’s width of an inch tall.)

      Next: Taking a bite out of coins