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Much loved story helps hype nickel hoard

A hoard of 297 1883 Liberty Head nickels without “Cents” on the reverse will be sold as one lot at the Central States Numismatic Society convention by Heritage Auctions in late April.

The firm’s sale will stretch from April 25 to April 30 in Schaumburg, Ill.

Stored in a canvas bag from the New York Lead Company, the coins are accompanied by a handwritten note dated Oct. 21, 1889.

There is no way to know whether the coins were assembled by a coin collctor or a hoarder attracted by the rumors surrounding the coins' issuance.

Because the nickel was approximately the size of a $5 gold piece, it supposedly was gold plated and passed at that higher value.

It has been nicknamed the Racketeer nickel in consequence.

The legend of Josh Tatum has been told by generations of collectors.

It is still a popular story even though it has been debunked.

The intreprid Tatum supposedly could not speak or hear.

He simply handed gold-plated coins to cashiers in payment for items costing less than five cents.

If the change he got back was for a $5 gold piece, he was enriched without ever falsely claiming the nickel had a higher value.

Collectors still love the story.

Who wouldn’t?

I was so enthralled by it when I was a kid that the first time I encountered one of these nickels, I seriously overpaid to buy it. It wasn't even gold plated. Such is a power of a good story.

Will there be eager bidders on this hoard in April? I expect so.

It doesn’t hurt that the coins are all high grade.

The potential buyers in April will be much smarter about it than I was years ago.

The Mint in 1883 reacted quickly to the problem.

The “No Cents” design was introduced at the end of January, and its “With Cents” replacement arrived before the end of June.

The story of the Racketeer nickel obviously enthralled the individual who assembled the hoard.

Heritage reports the hoard surfaced in New England in 2009 – another great story for collectors to tell and retell.

“The consignor wants to present the cache as it was originally discovered: Inside the original canvas sack which was found untouched since the late 1880s,” said Greg Rohan, president of Heritage Auctions.

“Most of the coins grade Uncirculated to Choice Uncirculated.”

If you can’t attend the sale of these coins in person, go online to

Buzz blogger Dave Harper won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog for the third time in 2017 . He is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."

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