WINS and the Henning Nickel

“WINS and the Henning Nickel” by Jack Topping

[20 May 2019]

Recently published exclusively for the World Internet Numismatic Society, JET Numismatics Editor Jack Topping authored a short piece on the infamous Henning Nickel for the World Internet Numismatic Society (“WINS”) Newsletter. The Henning Nickel, which is known throughout the numismatic world as one of the most historic Jefferson Nickel counterfeits of the 20th century, was among four member submitted articles for the current issue.

Jack’s article can be found here on the WINS Newsletter page.

The World Internet Numismatic Society (“WINS”) is an online-only international numismatic club open to anyone interested in the hobby. The WINS motto, “The Internet focal point for the ‘Hobby of Kings’ ” is aptly named after the royal moniker given to numismatics.

Anyone interested in joining the World Internet Numismatic Society should see their membership page here for more information.


Rushing Through Panama: The Story of William J. Topping

WJT Jet copy

“Rushing Through Panama: The Story of William J. Topping” by Jack Topping.

[10 September 2018]

Of all the years in American history, the year of 1849 reflects the possibility of adventure and the prospects of prosperity more than any other. The main event of that decade was the California Gold Rush, which was the mass movement of citizens across the United States seeking gold throughout the California area. Among the thousands of brave souls deciding to travel for their share of riches, one of them was a younger gentleman named William Jones Topping from New York. The son of Stephen H. Topping, a War of 1812 veteran, William was born in Bridgehampton, New York in 1817 to a family rich in American history, specifically in the Long Island and Connecticut areas.

William was employed as a whaler in the Sag Harbor region of New York in his twenties and thirties. As a naturally adventurous soul, he was determined to take fate into his own hands and follow the footsteps of many Americans before him headed to California. Traveling across the world to vast lands such as the “Sandwich Islands” as a whaler, he kept extensive records on his personal feelings, health and surroundings in letters home to his family in New York. These letters, spanning from 1845 to his Gold Rush journey in 1849, were preserved and passed down from generation to generation in his family.

The letters William wrote provided a necessary and vital look into daily life on such a rigorous journey. Although spelling and grammar may have changed over the course of the past few centuries, his letters are composed gracefully and with a clear purpose. While he may have considered his letters to be educational in nature in 1849, the historical and educational content he provided is now more valuable than ever in 2018.

Like many of the individuals who decided to make the trek, William made it clear that going to California was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was a chance to truly provide for himself and his family, a chance to break the status quo, and a chance to fully control his future. As the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service wrote in their program about the Gold Rush, they explain how the society William lived in was “increasingly based on wage labor”, and that the “idea that a person could alter his destiny by collecting gold off the ground proved irresistible”. For William, his “wage labor” situation was the overpopulated whaling industry on Long Island, and that an adventure to California to find a new career in gold mining was the “irresistible” opportunity he so craved.

In a letter dated 15 December 1849 sent to his brother, Abraham, William discusses his situation on board a steamer over capacity headed to Panama, the native Panamanian population, and the prevalence of American currency in Panama itself. What this letter provides is an interesting look into the “intermission” of the overall journey, with sailing the Atlantic and then the Pacific acting as the “main features” of the voyage. To the modern collector, many realize the historical association or significance a coin can have. For the Gold Rush era, the emphasis on coinage from that time period is mostly reflected with the name of the event itself: Gold. Fractional, Territorial or U.S. Assay Office gold coins from the 1840’s and 1850’s are a hallmark of that era, yet the coins or currency used by travelers getting to California in that time period are often overlooked, in terms of historical significance.

“Dear Brother” he began to write. “I wrote to you from Havana giving you an account of my voyage up to that time we arrived there on the 19th and sailed on the 20th giving the passengers time to go on shore to take a strole.” He further added in his introduction, “There was a great deal of grumbling among the passengers about being transferred to the FALCON as she had about 250 passengers of her own from New Orleans and then taking 300 more of us made a perfect ham on board.”

William’s writing, while completely nonchalant and easy going in his opening, further describes his whereabouts and traveling situation up until his encounter with the native population of Panama. He points out how the Panamanian people were thrilled with and preferred American coins and currency over Spanish currency. “The natives are very friendly. They would lay down mats in the huts and charge you a dime for lodging and furnish you with hot coffee for a half a dime a cup” he wrote.  He further pointed out, “Dimes and half dimes are their favorite coin and they will take it in preference to a Spanish shilling. I can readily believe that there are more dimes in circulation on the Istmuth than there is in the City of New York.”

Although he never specified the particular variety or dates of the coins he carried, it is most likely he had different denominations of the U.S. Seated Liberty coins, such as Seated Liberty half dimes ($0.05), Seated Liberty dimes ($0.10), Seated Liberty quarters ($0.25), Seated Liberty half dollars ($0.50), and Seated Liberty dollars ($1.00). As for the Spanish shilling William mentioned, he most likely was referencing the Spanish real, a type of silver coin very popular in North and Central America, including the United States. Up until the Coinage Act of 1857 went into effect, foreign coins such as the Spanish real (commonly called the Spanish “pillar dollar”) or Mexican issued currency were considered legal tender in the United States. 

It is possible the native Panamanian population preferred American coins due to the fineness and weight of the silver content over Spanish coinage. According to William, the Panamanian hosts even preferred American gold Eagles over other gold coins, and traded them for other American coins, saying, “They exchange American gold here at what they call 10 per cent. They will give you 11 dollars for an Eagle at the rate of eight dimes to the dollar and that is the best you can do.”

Towards the end of his letter he said his farewells, offered up thanks to his siblings for continued correspondence, and signed off saying, “Give me all the particulars about G. (most likely his wife Julia Georgette) and Charley (his young son). Thanks, my dear sister for your kind letter and I hope I shall profit by it. I never discovered until I arrived here”, further adding, “Kiss that dear boy and tell him it is for me. My love to you all and your esteem shall never be forgot. Your most affectionate, W. J. Topping.”

Shortly thereafter William added a particularly interesting postscriptum, or P.S., about the muddy terrain, saying, “P.S. In crossing the Istmuth I came up up with an old woman, 60 years old. Her son was with her and she was up to her knees in mud half the time but took it all in good part.” He went on to write his last few words, “After that I did not complain about the road. Huzza for California, I shall write again at the first opportunity.”

Unfortunately, William was never able to write to his family again. For the last few weeks of December, William contracted Malaria while in Panama and never recovered. He died on January 1st, 1850 and was buried at sea in the Pacific. Although he never made it to California, his willingness to sacrifice everything in order to achieve his goal was totally and wholly unwavering. Like many of the men, women, children and families that took part in the hardships of Gold Rush migration, William J. Topping experienced those difficulties first hand. In the end, William will be remembered as an individual of great strength. He was someone who accepted the dangers of this voyage without hesitation, all in the name of providing a better future for his family in the present, and for his family in generations to come.


The full transcription of William J. Topping’s December 15, 1849 letter as well as scans of the original document can be found here, exclusively on JET Numismatics.

Note: William J. Topping is the fourth great grandfather of author and JET Numismatics editor Jack Topping.

Transcription of William J. Topping’s Panama Letter, December 15, 1849

Editor’s note: This transcription was first transcribed in the 1960’s by Charles E. Topping, Sr. This second edition was electronically transcribed by Jack Topping and includes spelling and grammatical corrections from errors found in the first edition. Certain words or sentences (including spelling and grammar errors) are preserved as found in the original document. All four scans of the original document are provided here exclusively on JET Numismatics for the first time in a digital format at the bottom of the page. This transcription was published on 10 September 2018.


PANAMA- Dec. 15, 1849

Dear Brother-

I wrote to you from Havana giving you an account of my voyage up to that time we arrived there on the 19th and sailed on the 20th giving the passengers time to go on shore to take a strole. There was a great deal of grumbling among the passengers about being transferred to the FALCON as she had about 250 passengers of her own from New Orleans and then taking 300 more of us made a perfect ham on board but however we got thru it very well and landed in CHAGRES on the 25th of NOV. but I would recommend all persons coming this way to pay the odd 16 dollars and take the other line of steamers. I stopped at CHAGRES three days as the canoes had gone up the river with passengers of the Alabama of New Orleans and the Crescent City. Board at Chagres was one dollar per meal and 50 cents for lodging. Mr. Moore who I spoke of in my other letter found an old acquaintance in the Capt. of the small steamer which takes the passengers ashore from the steamship. He invited us to sleep on board while we remained in CHAGRES and by buying my bread and meat from the natives I made out to live quite reasonable. On the 28th ten of us hired a canoe for $10.00 apiece and started up the river and arrived at CRUSSES on the 1st of December being 3 days going up which is about average passage though they come down in one day.

The current runs down here about 4 to 7 knots and the scenery on the river excels anything I have ever seen regards to beauty. We stop every night on the river, there being small settlements on the banks of the the river all the way up. The natives are very friendly. They would lay down mats in the huts and charge you a dime for lodging and furnish you with hot coffee for a half a dime a cup. Dimes and half dimes are their favorite coin and they will take it in preference to a Spanish shilling. I can readily believe that there are more dimes in circulation on the Istmuth than there is in the City of New York. They exchange American gold here at what they call 10 per cent. They will give you 11 dollars for an Eagle at the rate of eight dimes to the dollar and that is the best you can do but as dimes is as good as shillings here it does very well. Dimes is the money to bring out to spend on the Istmuth but for passage to San Fran you must pay American currency.

To go on with my journey, on the 2nd of Dec. we hired some natives to take our baggage across to Panama which they do on their backs. Many of them will take 150 pounds on their backs and walk to Panama with as little exertion as one of us light. I paid my man 8 dollars to take my trunk over which is with what 10 dollars up the river brings my passage to 18 dollars their currency which is much less than I expected. We left CRUSSES at 12 M and arrived at Panama the next day at 3 P.M. and it beats all roads that I ever walked on I assure you, but still not so bad as I expected to find it from the description the Californians gave of it. I must go back to CHAGRES again to tell you about the Californians that were waiting there for the steamer to sail on their way home. They told all kinds of stories, some good and some bad. One would tell you to go ahead and one would say if he had a brother he would sooner see him die than go to California, and so it is, one will speak in the highest praise and another will run it down to the lowest mark. At all events they frightened about 50 so  they went back on the steamer they came on. The question was asked me several times, are you going back, my answer was not so long as I can go ahead.

The next day after my arrival in Panama, I was so lame that I could hardly get about but a day or two made things all right again. Since then I have had a turn of diareah which I soon drove out with a dose of Brandreth pills and my health is now good. The first day I got here I put up at the America Hotel. The next day a company of us hired a room for which we pay one dime each per day and each man finds himself so it costs us about 4 dimes per day to live. There is not the least chance of us getting away from here in a steamer as steerage tickets in the steamers sell for 400 dollars and run as high as 700 dollars. All that are sold here are brought here by passengers who sell them and go on by sailing vessel of which there is a number here at present. The price is 200 and 175 dollars in the steerage and the prospect is that the price will go higher if the rush continues. I have bought my ticket on the ship Charleston of New York for 175 dollars.

I tried to get a chance to work my passage up but it was no use as there were about 1300 passengers here when we arrived and the FALCON’s swollen into 1800 though they are thinning out fast now as there has 4 vessels sailed since I arrived and 4 more to sail this month which will take all that have the means and want to go. There are a good many here who have gambled their money away and are now penniless. It is carried on here to a great extent. My ship sails the first of January and will probably get there in March and the Californians all agree in saying that you ought not to get there before that time. If I had known as much as before I left as I do now I should have gone by the way of Cape Horn.

I have got a job at COOPERING which will last me, I think until I got away, making water casks for the ships at 3 dollars per day. I commenced yesterday on them. I was talking to a gentleman yesterday from California who was there all last summer. He arrived here 2 months ago, bought a vessel, filled her with passengers and sent her to California. He said that it is the only place in the world where a laboring man gets paid for his labor and with health and industry is sure to do well. That is the opinion of many that I have talked to while others say to the contrary so all I have to do is to go on and see for myself. I will expect to find 2 or 3 letters at San Francisco when I arrive there next March. Give me all the particulars about G. and Charley. Thanks, my dear sister for your kind letter and I hope I shall profit by it. I never discovered until I arrived here. Kiss that dear boy and tell him it is for me. My love to you all and your esteem shall never be forgot,

Your most affectionate

W. J. Topping

P.S. In crossing the Istmuth I came up up with an old woman, 60 years old. Her son was with her and she was up to her knees in mud half the time but took it all in good part. After that I did not complain about the road. Huzza for California, I shall write again at the first opportunity.

WICK – I think you had better wait until you hear from me after I get to my journeys end and then you will have something you can depend on.

(Editor’s Note: “G.” was probably his wife, Julia Georgette. “Charley” was his son, Charles Washburn Topping. “Wick” was his brother in law, Wickham Isaacs.)



App Review: “Lookzee”

“App Review: Lookzee” is an official iOS app review by Jack Topping for JET Numismatics. This review was completed on an Apple iOS device, for Apple products. All images and other copyrighted material displayed in this review were used with consent from the Lookzee development team.


[3 July 2018]

The scenario: You are in a public place, such as a grocery store, shopping mall, or park. You look at the ground and something catches your eye: some kind of coin, but you’re not quite sure what it is. After spending a disproportionate amount of time browsing the Internet for clues, you admit defeat. Frustrated at the lack of answers on what you’ve found, you’re not sure where to look next.

This is where Lookzee comes in. A personal favorite, shockingly free to use, and a pinnacle in coin identification.

Although the app is still in development, it deserves praise for a smooth and well built process. Currently, it identifies basic United States coins such as wheat cents, Jefferson and Buffalo nickels, Roosevelt and Mercury dimes, and Washington quarters. The speed of analysis, photo identification and image formatting shows the immense potential for this app once it reaches a fully developed state. The goal in one year’s time, according to the Lookzee team, is to “have several more coins identified”. Even though it seems like a daunting task to eventually code many different modern and circulating American coins into a streamlined process, the development team led by Tim Rathjen have proved themselves up to the challenge. In short: It is my belief that this app, once fully complete, will change the way coins are identified in the modern, digital era.

After downloading the free app in the Apple App Store, you’re first greeted with the login screen. Although account registration is optional, it is recommended in order to share your coins with other collectors in the app. After registering and confirming your email, you are greeted with full access to all three bottom tabs: “Me”, “Analyze”, and “Social”.

Under the “Me” tab, your complete collection is stored in one place. After snapping two photos of your coin, a result is made in regards to the the coin’s identification, and you have the option to save that coin to this folder. As such, your collection will be empty by default after registering for the first time.

To begin the identification process, simply tap on “Capture A Coin” under the “Me” tab, or hit the “Analyze” tab, and accept Lookzee’s request to use your camera. The interface is simple, straightforward and clean. Capture images of the obverse (front) and the reverse (back) of the coin, and you’re good to go.

After a few seconds of analysis, the app will churn out the “Results” page, as seen below. In my test, I used a circulated 1989-P Washington Quarter, one of the currently accepted and recognized coins. On the first try, it correctly identified that it was indeed, a “USA Washington Quarter”. In addition to correctly identifying the coin with lightning speeds, the “Results” page immediately formats the obverse and reverse images of your coin in a properly oriented, zoomed fashion, akin to professional coin photographs with the iconic and crisp black background.


After analysis is complete, there are five options for you to choose from: “Capture another coin”, to re-take your photographs should it return as unidentified, “Re-Orient Coin” to simply rotate the image of the coin, “Open in Chat” to discuss your coin with others on the Lookzee forum (under the “Social” tab at the bottom), “Share Coin” which gives you the option of sharing your findings through iMessage, Mail, and other social media apps, and lastly, “Save to collection”, which stores this coin under the “Me” tab for quick and easy reference.

In addition to being a leader in mobile coin identification, the app also focuses heavily on the numismatic community. Through the “Social” tab, members can post pictures, ask questions, and engage in overall friendly discussion, and receive related Lookzee notifications. According to the Lookzee team, they are looking to expand the social and communal aspect of the app just as much as their coin identification and analysis program, saying, “The team is looking forward to more people posting with Lookzee. The social/forum part is growing now and we are excited to see users helping one another. It’s really about community and are super happy to see it growing”. Although the “Social” tab is an online feature, the analysis and coin identification process does not need an internet connection.

Personally, I can see the app bridging the very growing gap between our technologically obsessed society and the “Hobby of Kings”. Contrary to the belief of some, it does not replace or compete with Google Images- it complements it. It’s not a replacement to in depth research, it’s simply another tool in the numismatic “toolbox”, right alongside various guidebooks and other related literature. With the added bonus of a community of collectors, all sharing their thoughts and participating in the quest for knowledge makes the Lookzee app well rounded and very desirable to any collector. The app (and the team behind it) deserve much praise for a quality product that is only going to get better with time. I am eager to see what kind of additions will be added and what kind of improvements will be made. Until then, I recommend using the app for the social aspect, to engage in their community of collectors, to gain additional insight, and to share your collection with others. In the end: I am very pleased with the app as it is today, but I am even more excited for what’s to come.


Special thanks to the Lookzee development team for their contributions to this review.


To download Lookzee on iOS, click here.

To download Lookzee on the Google Play Store, click here.


The Magic of Metal Detecting

“The Magic of Metal Detecting” by Jack Topping.

[2 May 2018]

By definition, a metal detector is “a device that gives an audible or visual signal when its search head comes close to a metallic object”. While this definition would be obvious to some, the intricacies in the art of metal detecting extends far beyond common knowledge. Often times, modern society will sigh or groan upon hearing “metal detector”, alluding to a different kind of device, specifically those tall, clunky machines found in airports or other buildings for security screenings. For those individuals who prefer the handheld apparatus, the chances of a spectacular find truly depends on the target location. These locations, such as a search through the woods or a quick stroll on the beach, can reveal items including building nails, bottle caps, military ordinance, and most importantly, coins. While not every search results in buried treasure, the thrill of the hunt reveals the true magic and mystery of metal detecting.

To discuss this fascinating topic, I spoke with a member of one of YouTube’s most popular coin hunting and metal detecting duos, known as The Silverslingers, who together have hundreds of thousands of combined views, more than 16,000 subscribers, and an endless supply of creative content on their social media platforms. Having extensive metal detecting experience, this team previously found exciting pieces of American history on their journeys across New England, including an 1789 George Washington Inaugural button, an 1857 Flying Eagle cent, various historic jewelry, vintage toys, and more.

Similar to the ways coin roll hunters notice a “diamond in the rough” so to speak, there is a level of shock and awe after any significant numismatic discovery on the metal detecting field. “When I first uncover a coin out in the field, I gasp and hold my breath” said one of The Silverslingers, further adding, “Sometimes I see just a rim peeking out, or the outline of something round in the dirt. Then I think ‘please be in good shape!’ I carefully pluck it out, hoping it’s either an old copper coin (like a Large Cent or King George), or an old silver (like a seated dime or a trime, for example). Those moments of anticipation are so precious!”

In addition to making discoveries out in the field, determining what those discoveries actually are is part of the adventure as well. Through numismatic education, the spark of interest and thirst for knowledge can strike anyone, not just subterranean searchers like The Silverslingers. In our exclusive interview, The Silverslingers discussed that first spark of curiosity and interest, saying, “Before I started detecting, I knew nothing about coins. Literally, nothing. I remember finding my first Large Cent. I was so blown away and spent hours pouring over coin books and, of course, Google. And while I am no expert by any means, I am now pretty good at identifying our coin finds, even the ones that are mostly corroded.” As for getting started, the detecting duo had advice for anyone interested in thrill of the hunt, saying, “I would tell [those interested] to invest in a decent machine. It doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but it should be decent. White’s Electronics, the manufacturer I field test for, has an excellent entry to mid level detector in the $300-$400 dollar range, for example.”

While the positives in metal detecting are far reaching, the negatives do come at a price. The Silverslingers biggest pet peeves include other boastful individuals in the metal detecting field, saying, “My biggest pet peeve would be people with high-end, expensive detectors looking down on people who don’t swing a machine that equals their mortgage payment. I have seen people with entry-level detectors find amazing treasures, and quite a few coins and relics in my collection were found with a detector that cost less than 500 dollars. There are two secrets to this hobby: know your machine and know it VERY well, and find a good location.”

All in all, the opportunities for metal detecting enthusiasts extends far and wide. While not every outing results in amazing numismatic discoveries, the thrill, or “magic” of metal detecting makes all the difference in the end.


Many thanks to The Silverslingers for their contribution to this article.

April Updates Galore

“April Updates Galore” by Jack Topping.

[9 April 2018]

First announced today on Twitter, JET Numismatics will be going through some website and posting reforms. These changes include:

  • Website Announcements
  • A new, strict posting schedule and other announcements
  • Increased social media posting

All of these changes, including release of the long awaited article “The Magic of Metal Detecting” featuring commentary from The Silverslingers, take effect beginning May 1st, 2018. 

These are exciting times, and as a result, the number of posts on JET Numismatics as well as social media posts in the meantime will decrease. However, the Instagram and Twitter pages will feature more creative content, including photographs and detailed graphics during and after these May changes, while Facebook will continue to grow as an announcement platform for JET Numismatics.

Finally, as a way to kick off the updates to come in a few weeks time, the domain for JET Numismatics has been finally secured. Going forward, “” will be the home of JET Numismatics, instead of the “.wordpress” URL addition.

Overall, I am excited to announce these changes, and I look forward to seeing everyone here on May 1st to see the new face of JET Numismatics.

Facebook’s Close-Knit Coin Communities

“Facebook’s Close-Knit Coin Communities” by Jack Topping.

[13 February 2018]

3,852 members and counting. This ever increasing membership number is just one example of many Facebook groups dedicated to numismatics. “All American Coin Collectors” as it’s known, is a unique yet relatable group of numismatic beginners, experts, photographers, journalists, and everyone else between. Besides a mutual bond over money, the group is comprised of total strangers, all part of Facebook’s 2.2 billion person platform, as of 2017.

This massive group of people, all welcomed into groups like All American Coin Collectors, allows for “the hobby of kings” to now become “the hobby of the people” through education, recurring passion and group-reinforced interest. Becoming a springboard of inspiration, communities like these gives an outlet of discovery for the daughter who discovered her grandfather’s hidden attic coin stash, or the seasoned collector looking to discuss various topics.

Despite the name being “All American”, the group is a melting pot of different cultures and currencies spanning across the globe. The best part is, this deeply elaborate community is just one among hundreds of others. Some deal with U.S. wheat cents, while others focus on error coins. All in all, there isn’t a group that won’t explore your niche- numismatics related or not. If for some surprising reason there isn’t, you and your Facebook account has the power to start it instantaneously.

Being a member in all of the aforementioned groups, as well as a moderator for one of them, gives me a front row view on the organizational structure of such communities. Upon joining these public groups this past November, I was feeling the “stranger danger” when engaging with individuals all around the world. After time passed, I grew to be in favor of commenting on questions, liking various posts, and overall actually being a part of the group I considered myself to be a member of.

After being appointed a moderator in one of the groups, I got used to the idea of taking a bigger role in trying to be a problem solver, or someone knowledgeable enough to assist others. Regardless of managing groups, it has been a humbling experience learning not only more about the hobby, but in understanding how to contribute something meaningful back to others around me. In other words, if I deeply value my time, why wouldn’t I expect the same for my fellow members who are reading what I post or comment? I imagine other members who spend their time in these groups are there to learn, be inspired, or be a part of the larger conversation, not to waste time.

It is amazing to see how much of an impact these online coin groups have, especially on Facebook, the “News Feed” platform many times filled with mind numbing frivolities. Besides those only interested in buying or selling coins through these groups for the sake of profit, I continue to believe the groups are one of many ways our hobby will continue to remain relevant in today’s digitally dominant society.

For transparency purposes, there were no endorsements or sponsorships of any kind by the groups listed above for the comments made in this article.