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1930s & Earlier / 1883 No-Cents Nickels
In 1883, the United States unveiled its new 'Liberty Head' five-cent piece. Conmen immediately sensed an opportunity: Because the reverse bore the Roman numeral 'V' without the word 'cents,' it looked very much like the widely circulated five-dollar gold piece. Crooks simply painted the nickels gold and passed them off as five-dollar coins. To combat this practise, a few months later the mint issued a revised variety of 1883 nickels--these ones bearing the word 'cents' beneath the V. (That design lasted until the Liberty Head nickel was replaced by the buffalo nickel in 1913.) According to numismatic lore, a deaf mute named Josh Tatum was among the most prolific perpetrators of fraud with gold-painted no-cents nickels. He supposedly escaped conviction because he could not ask shopkeepers for change; he merely accepted what was given to him. This is where the verb 'to josh' is said to have originated.