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.
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Odd uses for coins: Hidden messages, hidden poison
Low-tech malware: A hollowed-out 1948 Jefferson 5-cent coin with a tiny piece of microfilm inside was accidentally paid (on June 23, 1953, in the midst of the cold war) as a tip to a paper carrier. When the paper boy dropped the coin, it split, revealing its contents and casting deep suspicion on the customer. Similarly altered coins have carried other harmful content.
A hollowed-out nickel stuffed with microfilm played a part in the prosecution of notorious Soviet spy
Jimmy Bozart, a
“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