Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A PEEK UNDER THE HOOD

A few weeks ago, I made note of my having had my head examined - specifically, an MRI imaging of the Elissonian Noggin, in order to uncover the source of certain mysterious, ahh, discomfort that I call The Bear. (Discomfort being a nice way of describing the sensation of suddenly having a hot ice pick shoved into your jaw.)

Well, there’s always a Good News/Bad News aspect of this sort of Voyage of Discovery. The good news is that my problem is not structural - no weird malformations, no tumors, nothing that isn’t where it’s supposed to be. The bad news is, it’s almost certainly a condition that I will have to live with, since it’s One Of Those Things That Never Fucking Goes Away Permanently. But there is more good news, and that is that there are medications to treat it that usually work. Hooray for me!

Looking at your Skull-Innards, though... that’s an experience that encapsulates both good news and bad news all within itself. On the one hand, it’s nice to know that there actually is a brain stuffed into my often seemingly empty noggin: I always envision the neurologist shining a penlight into one ear and having the beam pass right through to the other. On the other hand, there’s something weirdly recursive about looking at your own Thinky-Meat. It’s like seeing your True Essence in a mirror, a view most of us are not quite prepared for.

An MRI, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, is an imaging technology that allows you to look at thin sections of your body without the inconvenience and discomfort of strapping you to a deli meat slicer. As we looked at the computer screen in the neurologist’s office - look, there’s the base of your spinal cord! - there’s your cerebellum! - I wondered whether I had lived down South long enough to have grown an antebellum. And I was pleased to hear the doctor say, “Your brain looks really good for someone your age.” That is, of course, a left-handed compliment, yet I was happy to hear it despite thinking, “It may look good, but it works like a chunk of Emmenthal’s finest.” Her comment reminded me of an old cartoon I had seen years ago, from the Princeton Tiger, our campus humor magazine:

So for those who can stand to look, I present below the Brainpan d’Elisson for your delectation... a peek under the hood, if you will.

Why, it’s either Elisson’s brain or a Rorschach ink-blot card!
The resemblance between this image and a slice of headcheese is more than just a little disconcerting, innit?

Friday, July 8, 2016

THE ENEMY


Pogo. ©1971 Walt Kelly.

This strip was Walt Kelly’s famous salute to Earth Day on its first anniversary. It seems to be more appropriate than ever in these fractious times.

Monday, July 4, 2016

BARREL O’ CRACKERS

I speak, of course, of Cracker Barrel Restaurant, a chain that has grown into a roadside standby from its humble origins in Lebanon, Tennessee back in 1969. There are over six hundred of them now, scattered across forty-two states; but in our little corner of the world they are especially thick on the ground.

I always call it “Crapper Barrel.” Or sometimes “Cracker Beebish,” for no discernible reason except to amuse myself. Fact is, we will inevitably stop there at least once on any given Road Trip... for while we never eat at any of its numerous local outlets, we find it to be a pleasant enough alternative to the typical roadside fast-food selections. 

Several weeks ago, as we worked our way northward to visit the Mistress of Sarcasm in her new digs, we stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel near Roanoke, Virginia. 

A quick inspection of the dining room revealed why “Cracker Barrel” is such a well selected name for the place: The clientele could very well be described as a Barrel o’ Crackers. Elderly white folks were thick on the ground... many of them thick in the middle as well. It put me in mind of a cafeteria dining room at The Villages, packed with hungry Q-Tips.

As with all CB’s the walls were festooned with miscellaneous memorabilia. Old Timey Shit. Cracked, stained photographs of people long dead, washboards, superannuated advertising posters shilling for defunct products. I had a passing vision of the Cracker Barrel of the Future, decorated with old X-Boxes, iPad cases, framed photos of Steve Jobs and Bono, and microwave oven doors. Hello Kitty could even make an appearance, right alongside Darth Vader. 

With difficulty, I resisted the temptation to play with the dopey Golf Tee game while we waited for our luncheon selection to arrive. You know the one I’m talking about: you start out with fourteen golf tees arranged in a triangular pattern in a block with fifteen holes. By jumping one tee over the other (it must have an empty hole to land in) and removing the tee you jumped over, the skilled player (“Sweet Genius”) can finish with but a single tee remaining. I usually end up with a forest of tees still standing, which puts me somewhere between “Shit-for-Brains” and “Spent Too Much Time Chewing on the Stupid Loaf.”


Chicken fried chicken, a somewhat redundantly named menu offering.

Our entrées arrived, and I salted mine with a flourish. Mmmmm... chicken livers, dipped in batter and fried until they are the consistency of bluestone gravel. Dee, meanwhile, had ordered the pepper trout - always a good choice - and she munched merrily away.

On the way out, we ignored the massive display of knick-knacks and Semi-Obsolete Confections as I paid. The tariff was reasonable as usual, a little north of what you’d pay at a fast-food outlet but not excessive given the table service. Appetites comfortably sated, we eased ourselves into the car to continue our trek.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

FUN WITH THE BUN


The diminutive Man-Bun Fedora, latest fashion trend. [Image credit: Capitol Hill Seattle Blog.]

I’ve been around the block a few times... if by “been around the block” you mean “taken a ride around the Sun.” More than a few times, in fact. Which means I’ve seen fashion trends come and go, come and go.

In the fullness of time, I have seen tie widths go from narrow to ridiculously wide, back to narrow again. Now that I rarely wear ties, they seem to have settled at a reasonable width somewhere between the extremes.

Trousers, AKA pantaloons, AKA pants, have had pleats sometimes, sometimes not. Their legs have flared anywhere from not at all to the ridiculous bell-bottoms of the early 1970’s; their waists have done everything from hugging the hips to threatening an assault on the Adam’s apple.

Having survived the 1970’s, a decade that fairly bristled with fashion faux pas - leisure suits, platform shoes, Qiana shirts open to the navel - there are no horrors at the haberdasher’s that I cannot handle. (No, I never owned a leisure suit, thanks Gawd.)

This, though - this might just send me over the edge. Yes, the tiny-ass fedora - just big enough to perch atop a Man-Bun - is now, apparently, a Thing.

I have not seen one of these out in the Real World yet, but it’s just a matter of time. It is, I suppose, the natural progression of things. Just as a few experimental tokes of weed after the high school prom inevitably lead down the slippery slope to jamming a spike full of China White into the veins between your toes (all the other blood vessels having already been rendered nonfunctional by overuse), so does wearing a beard and a wooden bow tie lead one to wearing a miniature Panama hat atop one’s Bro-Pony.

Happily, despite my love of headgear, I am safe from this newest Fashion Fad. Even were I interested in cultivating a Man-Bun, my headly foliage is so diminishèd from its former luxuriant state that there is no point to it. Why, even were a miniaturized colander available, I could not provide a topknot worth perching it upon.

Of course, guys, if you just gotta have one of these ridiculous little hats, there’s another head upon which you could wear it. I leave that to my Esteemed Readers’ perfervid imaginations.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

THE ATHLETIC APHORIST: A 100-WORD GROANER

With a running start, she jumped onto the slender handrail and slid twenty feet, then vaulted over a low stone wall, landing on her hands. Maintaining a perfect handstand all the way, she made it down two flights of concrete steps.

“You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think!” she exclaimed.

Reaching the bottom, she dismounted by cartwheeling her way to a ten-foot drop onto an eight inch wide wall. Sticking the landing, she quipped, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”

Nobody combined movement and wit quite like Dorothy Parkour.

Monday, June 20, 2016

YOU OUGHTA GO HAVE YOUR HEAD EXAMINED

People have been telling me that for years, but I finally did.

Ever wonder what the inside of your head looks like? Sure you have. And now, thanks to the miracle of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, I’ll get to do just that.

Having an MRI scan of your head is a fascinating process. If you are of a meditative turn of mind, it can be quite pleasant, lying motionless for about an hour (give or take) with your head in a confined space and with a dissonant orchestra of metallic hammering, zizzing, humming, and thumping assaulting your ears. It’s like listening to Eric Satie performing a concert on acid, with a guest appearance by Kraftwerk.

If you have any amount of claustrophobia, the experience is probably something like the seventh circle of Hell... but thankfully, I don’t suffer from that particular problem. What I do suffer from is The Bear - inexplicable, lancinating pain in my jaw - that is apparently not caused by dental issues or (as far as I know) TMJ. I’m hoping that a peek at the insides of my skull will provide a clue as to what is causing those mysterious jolts.


The only thing missing in this vintage 1960’s Anacin ad is a hot icepick to the jaw.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

IN A BROWN STUDY

I walked into a Hershey bar
And ordered up a shot
I thought they’d serve me whiskey, but
Hot chocolate’s what I got

The first thing you notice is the color scheme. It’s brown, of course... and it is everywhere.

It is as though a rabid UPS-crazed mob of painters had run amok through the town, shambling and gibbering, slopping paint over each stick of wood, every speck of masonry while the incessant chant of “What can brown do for yoooouuuu?” echoed in the streets.

The town, of course, is Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Hershey was named (in a fit of unwarranted modesty, no doubt) for its founder, one Milton S. Hershey, who built a world-spanning chocolate business beginning in the waning years of the nineteenth century. Milton was a visionary who believed in exploiting a happy, well educated, conveniently located workforce, an unusually progressive attitude for the time. He built a school for orphans that continues to operate unto this very day, funded by a stream of profits from the chocolate company.

In turn, research conducted at the Milton Hershey School has been a boon to the Hershey Company. The skilled genetic engineers that first honed their talents on enhancements to the notoriously finicky cacao tree eventually directed their efforts towards subtle modifications to the human genome, with the infamous Oompa-Loompa labor force being the result. The orange-skinned gnomes who toil in the chocolate works are not, as popular opinion holds, slaves: Technically, they are indentured servants to the corporation, working off the price of their “genetic enhancements.” Their coloration makes them easy to spot should any attempt an escape.


“Sepia... wouldn’t want to be ya.”

Hershey has plenty of activities and amusements for vacationing families. There’s the Hershey World of Chocolate, a hands-on experience that offers nothing less than a total immersion in the world of chocolate manufacturing, where (for a modest fee) visitors are able to work alongside a team of Oompa-Loompas as they crank out the day’s quota of Hershey products. There’s The Hershey Story (pictured above), a museum featuring an Olympic-sized swimming pool of tepid semisweet chocolate. There is Hersheypark, a chocolatized version of Six Flags featuring thrill rides and similar attractions. There are also world-class restaurants and golf courses available, for those who have had their fill of Brown Goods.

And it’s easy enough to get there. Just fly or drive to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and head east for thirteen miles on the Hershey Highway.

*N. B. - The above post is mostly bullshit, but the bit about Milton Hershey creating a school for orphans is no joke. The Milton Hershey School is funded with 30% of the Company’s annual profits and thus has a sizeable trust fund with which to educate its population of some ~2,000 students. Admission is no longer restricted to orphans, but the school’s mission is to serve lower-income families: It is cost-free. As the School puts it, “We believe all children deserve the very best education regardless of their financial circumstances. A family’s income should not determine a child’s outcome.” Amen to that.

CHOPPED: A 100-WORD STORY


Chef “Not Ready for Food Network.”

The Chef was sweating bullets.

It was his debut appearance on “Chopped.” He had barely squeaked through the appetizer round and was now in the midst of preparing an entrée that had to include lima beans, prune juice, capuchin meat, and duck schmaltz. The meat, he knew, would make a good fritter, but how could he make it memorable? Only seven minutes remained...

Aha! Inspiration!

He dashed to the pantry for one critical ingredient, then set to work.

Later, the judges would credit his victory to his bold choice of breading for the capuchin fritters: He had pankoed the monkey.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

YIDDISH OR ELVISH? (A QUIZ)

This is yanked from the pages of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, where it was first published. For some inexplicable reason, you won’t find it there any more, given that it was taken down sometime after its original posting in or around early April, 2004. (I figure it’s OK to republish it here, since I’m the guy who wrote it.)

Thanks to my old friend Karen Wise, who rescued it from oblivion.

Elvish or Yiddish?

1. A Elbereth Gilthoniel
2. Lorelindorenan
3. Geyin D'rerd Dort'n
4. Mellon
5. Parma Eldalamberon
6. Quenya
7. Keyneyin Hara
8. Malach Hamavis
9. Glorfindel
10. Osmon Hatgelt Furtmon
11. Arwen Undomiel
12. Chaim Schmiel
13. Elavil

Answers:
Elvish: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11
Yiddish: 3, 7, 8, 10, 12
Mood-Altering Prescription Medication: 13

Saturday, May 28, 2016

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DADDY

Ivories
Eli plays the piano in this photo taken in 2009.

Today is Dad’s ninety-first birthday. Alas, he is no longer here to celebrate it with us... and yet he will always be with me.

I cannot play the trumpet or piano like he did. But I can still tell some of his jokes, almost (but not quite) as well as he did.

In our tradition, birthdays - especially those of departed family and friends - are not nearly as important as their Yahrzeits, the anniversaries of their departures. Perhaps that is because a person is a blank slate at birth, and the full measure of their accomplishments is only known after they pass.

And yet we still like birthdays, don’t we? It’s got to be for more than just the cake.

Happy birthday, Daddy. I miss you.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

THESE ARE WORDS THAT GO TOGETHER WELL. WAIT, NO.

Said words being “Toilet Python.” 

Every once in a while, you see a news story that goes beyond the normal definition of “cringeworthy”: something so horrific that it is the stuff of future nightmares.

That aptly describes a recent (and apparently all-too-true) incident in which a Thai fellow was attacked by a python while copping a squat. It’s bad enough to be attacked by a python under any circumstances, although I suspect that the likelihood of such an attack taking place is higher within a 90 km radius of Bangkok than it is, say, here in east Cobb County, Georgia... but what makes this attack especially horrendous is that the snake slithered up through the plumbing and attached itself to the fellow’s John Thomas.

Reflect on that, Esteemed Readers. You’re minding your own business, squatting over the Thai version of a Porcelain Throne, preparing to crimp off a length. Drop the kids off at the pool. Lay a bit of cable. (You get the idea.) Perhaps you’re reading the sports section of the Krungthep Daily Post... or maybe the business section. Hmmm. The baht is up 3%, King Bhumibol seems to be recovering from a mysterious infection...

And all of a sudden there’s a fucking 13-foot-long Burmese python clamped onto your Membrum Virile with the same jaws, presumably, that he uses to swallow entire goats. Even worse, he is not in any hurry to let go.

I am happy to report that both man and snake survived the ordeal - at least, according to the news reports - although it’s very likely that the gentleman will have an entirely justifiable paranoia regarding ever going to the bathroom again. And so, also, will pretty much anyone who hears about this story.

Oops.

A story this strange and perverse deserves a sonnet. Here you go:

One day a Man was squatting on the Loo
A Day like any Other, in swelt’ring Heat
He’d tried and tried to drop a Number Two
And so he strained, Hand clasped upon his Meat.

Just then, a Serpent slithered through the Pipes:
A mighty Python, huge of Girth and Length;
Seeing there a Sausage, with snakely Jaws it bites,
Bearing down with all its vaunted Strength!


O Agony! Excruciating Pain!
A massive Serpent chomping on his Member.
A Scene so fright’ning, once seared upon my Brain,
Alas, I would forget - yet must remember.


Forevermore, lest Snakes should bite my Dick,
I pee whilst standing up, and that right quick!




Tuesday, May 24, 2016

ON HUMOR AND HUMOR MAGAZINES

Mad #1
Mad #1, October 1952. Is it a coincidence that Mad and I arrived on the planet bearing the same birthdate?

My formative years included a regular dose of Mad Magazine’s inspired foolishness. After having seen a few copies in the hands of some of my more disreputable classmates, I bought my first Mad in April of 1962 at the ripe old age of nine. It provided hours of entertainment as my mother, brother, and I took the 25-hour train ride on the Atlantic Coast Line’s Miami Special from Penn Station (the old Penn Station) to south Florida.

I didn’t miss a single issue until it was almost time to receive my college degree. I still have ’em: All those old copies of Mad - along with many others - reside in the bowels of Chez Elisson.

The first issue of Mad I ever
bought: June 1962.
It was not obvious to me at first, but Mad was a kind of distillate of Jewish humor and thinking. It was humor that, while itself not of the Borscht Belt (the resorts in the Catskill Mountains that catered to a Jewish clientele and where many famous comedians cut their humor-teeth), understood the Borscht Belt. Nietszche observed that when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you: so the comic sensibilities of a whole generation of tummlers were reflected in Mad’s pages. Not all of its writers and artists were Jewish, but it seemed like even the non-Jews had absorbed a certain degree of Yiddishkeit. There were so many Yiddish words and phrases sprinkled in - like poppyseeds on a challah - that sometimes I would be mystified even as my parents would crack up. (A fake travelogue about the fictional town of Gournish, Illinois, for example, is funnier when you know that goornisht means “absolutely nothing” in Yiddish.)

Halvah. Farshimmelt. Furshlugginer.

As I got older, I continued to buy my monthly copies of Mad, but by the time I got to college there was a new kid in Humortown: the National Lampoon.

This infamous January 1973 NatLamp
resides in the Elisson archives.
The Lampoon was a completely different animal. Spun off from the Harvard Lampoon in 1970 by several of that school’s alumni, its humorous sensibility was entirely different. It was WASP Ivy League humor. Its parodies had layers of chucklestuff that could only be teased out with difficulty... unless you were widely read. And it was seasoned with a liberal application of tasty, tasty ribaldry - something that Mad entirely lacked.

It was just the thing to appeal to a young man coming of age in the early 1970’s. The National Lampoon was like a college humor rag gone mainstream - because that is, in fact, exactly what it was.

I myself was involved in that world for a time, gradually getting involved with the Princeton Tiger - our own attempt to bring Teh Funny to a semi-sophisticated college audience. Starting as a contributing artist, I managed to work my way up to chairman of the magazine.

The two disparate worlds of Mad - old-school Jewish humor - and my newer Ivy League college humor sensibilities collided one evening as I traipsed from dormitory to dormitory, hawking copies of the latest Tiger Mag. One of my customers (to my delighted surprise) turned out to be one George Woodbridge, Jr., whose father had been one of “the usual gang of idiots” illustrating Mad magazine since the early 1950’s.

Princeton Tiger, September 1972.
Art by Yours Truly.

The Tiger - at least, in the early 1970’s - was not in the league of either the NatLamp or Mad, although it could boast of having had numerous well-known alumni in its ranks over the years: Booth Tarkington, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John McPhee, Michael Witte, Henry Martin, Henry Payne, and Chip Deffaa among them. And here’s a little-known factoid for you: the first published appearance of the limerick that begins “There once was a man from Nantucket...” was in a 1902 copy of the Tiger.

It is, alas, the clean version, the one that goes as follows...

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.   
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man

And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

[The ribald version with which most of us are familiar may predate this, but its earliest publishing date was in 1927.]

A couple of years ago, Dee and I were strolling around the Princeton campus during my 40th Reunion weekend, and we managed to get to the Tiger offices just in time to catch the very tail end of an open house. I may have been among the older alumni stopping by that day (who knows?), but I was pleased to see that, among the numerous old magazine covers festooning the walls of the offices, several of my creations were included. That seemed to impress the staffers.

“Wow, you did some of those covers? You must be really fucking old!
They asked me if I had any advice for them, and indeed I had.

“You probably feel sometimes that you are nought but a collection of geeks and nerds. Highly intelligent geeks and nerds, but here you are, working on the Tiger. Am I right?

“But here’s the thing. Yesterday evening at our Class Dinner, I saw a lot of people that hadn’t seen me in years... and plenty of people who didn’t know me very well when we were students here. But the funny thing is, almost everyone who knew me - even marginally - remembered that I had been involved with the Tiger. ‘Oh, yeah, I know you - you were with the Tiger Mag!’

“Here it is, forty years down the road, and the majority of people in our class who remember my name don’t remember what my major was, or whether I was graduated with honors, or how I did on that problem set that kept me up two nights in a row, or what grade I got on my Orgo midterm, my Thermo final, or my thesis... but, by Gawd, they remember that I worked on the Tiger Mag. So think about that the next time you’re busting your asses to meet a deadline. This - this stuff right here - is how you will be remembered.”

I tried to ignore that the floor of the office was covered with hundreds of unopened condom packages as we beat (you should excuse the expression) a moderately hasty retreat.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

HUNGARY? NO, I JUST ATE (AGAIN)

The trip that folks consider best
Is when they visit Budapest.
I find that I have often wished
One day to have been Budapished.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

FOREVER YOUNG



Alan Young (1919-2016). Requiescat in pace.

I was saddened to hear that Alan Young, who will be remembered by many for his turn as straight man to a talking horse on Mr. Ed, the iconic early 1960’s sitcom, has passed away at the age of 96.

A prolific actor, Alan Young first came to my attention in The Time Machine, in which he played the inventor’s steadfast friend David Filby... as well as Filby’s son adult James in scenes taking place 17 and 66 years after the inventor embarks on his journey into the future. Young, whose role in George Pal’s 1960 film was expanded considerably from a brief appearance in H G. Wells’s novel, would play Filby again in 1993 in a mini-sequel entitled Time Machine: The Journey Back in which both he and Rod Taylor reprised their roles from thirty-three years prior. And Young even scored a cameo appearance as a flower shop owner in the 2002 remake of The Time Machine, a film mainly noteworthy for having been directed by Simon Wells, the great-grandson of the original novel’s author. (In a bizarre coincidence, when Young reported for costume fitting, he was given the same shirt collar he had worn in the 1960 film(!))

Despite having had a lengthy and productive career, the role that comes to mind when people mention Alan Young is (of course, or course) that of Wilbur Post, the owner of the uniquely verbose horse Mr. Ed. At least, it comes to mind for people of a certain age, the series having been aired from 1961-66. It is a testament to Young’s considerable self-confidence as an actor that he was willing to play second banana to the ’ponymously titular Mr. Ed. Whether Wilbur Post owned Ed or vice-versa is a bit of an unresolved matter, however, because the horse often seemed to have more intellectual wattage than his bemused owner - the only one who ever heard Ed speak. It is worth examining whether Wilbur was the victim of an unusually vivid type of hallucination, but that would consume far too much of my time.

And yet... although my time is so eminently valuable, it is nevertheless true that I had, at one point long ago, taken it upon myself to translate the Mr. Ed theme song into several foreign languages. I am here to report that it seems to work best in English... unless one takes the lyrical rather than the (semi) literal route.

Thus, by way of an elegy, I shall take the liberty of reprinting here (below the fold) my work of some twenty-five years past, the Ed Variations. May they serve to sing the late, lamented Mr. Young to his eternal rest, where he will be Forever Young. Ave atque vale!

Monday, May 16, 2016

A COMPLETELY USELESS FACT


1866 Shield nickel... the first US five-cent coin struck from base metal. [Photo: PCGS.]

Here’s a completely useless fact that was brought to my attention today: The United States cupronickel five-cent piece - the coin we all know and love as the “nickel” - is 150 years old today, having first been produced May 16, 1866.

The five-cent nickel wasn’t the first coin that bore that sobriquet, however. That would have been the three-cent cupronickel coin, first issued in 1865 as an alternative to the silver three-cent pieces that had virtually disappeared thanks to hoarding during the Civil War (variously known here as “the War of Northern Aggression” or “The Late Unpleasantness.” Those silver 3¢ pieces were tiny-ass coins, popularly called “fishscales” for obvious reasons. The three-cent nickel was more manageable, although the denomination had more to do with postage rates and was not a good fit with the country’s decimal coinage system.

The five-cent nickel was also not our country’s first five-cent coin. The Mint had been producing silver half-dimes for circulation since 1794, but like their (even more) diminutive three-cent cousins, the little silver coins were thin on the ground during and after the war. The half-dime would stick around until 1873, by which time the nickel version of that denomination had caught on solidly.

The original design for the nickel five-cent coin was rather boring, featuring a shield on the obverse and a numeral 5 on the reverse. It also bore the legend “In God We Trust” - the second US issue to do so - a consequence of the national religious fervor that had accompanied the war.

In 1883, the Shield was replaced by Charles Barber’s Liberty Head design, which featured a dowdy Lady Liberty on the obverse and a large V on the reverse to indicate the denomination. Unfortunately, Barber had not included the word “cents” anywhere on the coin, and what with the nickel being about the size of a five-dollar gold coin, it was not long before enterprising criminals took to gold-plating the new nickels and passing them off on unsuspecting rubes as five-dollar coins. By mid-year, the Mint had had Barber redesign the coin to add the denomination.

1913 Type 1 Indian Head nickel
Proof 1913 Type 1 Indian Head nickel... one of the most beautiful examples of US coinage. [Photo: PCGS.]

Fast forward thirty years to 1913, when the Indian Head nickel (AKA the “buffalo nickel” on account of the bison on the coin’s reverse) replaced the Liberty Head design. It, in turn, was replaced in 1938 by the Jefferson nickel.

Our five-cent nickel has been made of an alloy of 75% copper and 25% nickel since its inception, the sole exception being during World War II, when an alternative alloy of 56% copper, 35% silver and 9% manganese was substituted due to nickel having been a critical material. These “war nickels” circulated until 1965, when the elimination of silver coinage created an incentive for people to hoard any money that had actual precious metal in it.

If you want a real nickel nickel, though, you have to go to Canada, where for many years five-cent coins were produced with a composition of 99.9% nickel. American-style cupronickel was only used from 1982 until 2001: Since then, the Canadian nickel has been made of steel with a thin copper-nickel plating. And that brings us to another (almost) useless fact... most (but not all) Canadian nickels will stick to a magnet. Aren’t you glad you asked?