Adair County News, February 14, 1906

Professor Ballard's Mysterious Nickel

Prof. A.H. Ballard, has in his possession, a nickel dated 1883 different from any other issue of that denomination that has ever come under his observation. Furthermore, he has never met a person who has seen a nickel like it. it has a milled edge like a silver coin and the word "cents" is off. It there is a person in the county who has a nickel like it, Prof. Ballard would like for it to be presented.

[Professor Ballard's nickel was the product of a rather egregious mental lapse on the part of the U.S. Mint and the resulting unscrupulous "entrepreneurship" on the part of at least one individual. The story is thus:

In 1883 the Mint changed the five-cent piece to what in now known as the Liberty Head design, familiarly known as the "V" nickel because of the large Roman symbol for "five" on the reverse. Unfortunately, this "V" was the only designation of the value of the coin. The first of these coins had hardly left the Mint when at least one fellow discovered a way to make a quick buck; or, more precisely, a quick $4.95.

Since only the large "V" represented the value on this coin, it took little effort for those of such a bent to "mill" the edge (like the dimes and quarters of today), then plate the coins with a thin layer of gold, and pass them off as quarter-eagle (five dollar) gold coins, not at all difficult considering the minuscule difference in diameter of nickels and quarter-eagles -- about 16-thousandths of an inch.

The Mint quickly realized the fatal flaw in the coin and did a hasty redesign of the reverse to include the words "five cents" on the nickels produced later in 1883 and thereafter, but still today, sixscore and five years later, the earlier version is known as the racketeer nickel. Most likely, the gold plating on the example held by Prof. Ballard had worn off or flaked off.]