The thing about gold, is that mankind has been entranced and seduced by it through all the ages. For a change of pace, I thought I’d offer a couple stories about the seamy side of gold:
About 2300 years ago, King Hiero of Syracuse had a problem. He had given his goldsmith a substantial amount of gold to make him a crown. But Hiero was suspicious that his goldsmith had cheated him, and not used all of the gold supplied. So what is a king to do?
Hiero asked for help from one of his smartest subjects, Archimedes. Archimedes studied the situation. Upon inspection, the crown did weigh the right amount. But how could he know if the crown contained all of the gold supplied by King Hiero? This was more of a puzzler.
Archimedes considered this problem and, like many of us, he did his best thinking while bathing. While Archimedes was in the tub, the solution flashed into his mind. “Eureka,” he exclaimed! And reportedly he went running naked through the streets of Syracuse in his excitement. For you see, watching the water in his tub, Archimedes had gleaned the concept of volume and displacement.
Archimedes knew that Hiero’s crown was the right weight. But with volumetric displacement, the density of an object could also be calculated. Sure enough Archimedes, according to legend, proved that the goldsmith had kept some of the gold, and had mixed in some silver of the same weight.
In 1883 the U.S. Mint issued a new 5-cent coin with the head of Liberty and a Roman “V” meaning “5” on the reverse. Many people thought that the coin was an error since in didn’t have the word “cents” anywhere on it. This was big news so most people knew about it and consequently many of the “no cents” variety were saved as collectors’ items.
The lack of the word “cents” also created an opportunity for the unscrupulous. The coins were gold plated and reeds were cut into the edge by hand (nickels have a plain edge) and they were passed off as 5-dollar gold coins.
A story is told about Josh Tatum, a deaf man who would take his gold plated coin to the cigar stand and purchase a 5-cent cigar. He would then lay his gold coin on the counter and quickly leave with his $4.95 change. After many successes he was finally apprehended, and thereafter the phrase “Don’t Josh me”, was coined.
In 1933 when the dollar was taken off the gold standard the scam was thought to be no longer viable, but a Dallas gem dealer recently bought some gold coins as an investment and upon closer investigation discovered he had been “Joshed”. Sure enough, among his gold coins was a gold plated 1883 “no cents” Liberty Head nickel.
I want to thank the Albuquerque Coin Club for bringing this story to my attention, and providing these images.
Curious or suspicious about the authenticity of some gold you may have? You might be interested in some of the gold testing supplies offered at riogrande.com.