Skip to main content

Nickel: The Devil and the details.

The word nickel derives from the German word Kupfernickel, which translates roughly as “Devil’s copper”.  It got that name because once in the Middle Ages, German miners found a large strike of what they thought was pure copper, but turned out to be more of a copper-nickel mixture.  This happens more frequently than you might think.  (Nickel deposits often seem more like silver, at first.)  Nickel wasn’t useless, and there was plenty of copper in the mixture, which made refining the two metals very difficult.  The extra work to make their strike economically viable reduced the value of their find, so the miners understandably cursed it, attributing the find to Nick, a mischievous sprite from German mining mythology: Nickel.  It’s from this association that in English, the Devil came to be sometimes known as Old Nick.

That old devil, Nickel (artist’s rendering—no photo available).

Refining copper and nickel is a lot easier with modern technology.  Nickel is used in a lot of alloys, and sometimes in its pure form.  In the United States, the silver half dime coin was discontinued in 1883 and replaced with a physically larger coin that was 75% copper and only 25% nickel, also worth five cents.  This new coin, despite being mostly copper, was dubbed the nickel.  The design of the coin has changed a few times since 1883, but its metallic composition has remained the same.  The Canadian five-cent piece came along later, and it was also called a nickel.  This made more sense, since the Canadian piece actually was 99% nickel.  It remained that way until 1981, when Canadian nickels adopted the same alloy of the US coin.  Canadian nickels today are mostly nickel-plated steel, but no one feels the need to change the name.


Popular posts from this blog

The Edge of Money

Most coins minted in the world today are round.  This is how it’s been for most of history.  But if you look at the edges of most coins of most countries today, you might have noticed they’re covered with even ridges.  The ridges don’t seem to add much to the aesthetic appeal of the coins, but they persist on every one of them.  But why are they there?
If you’ve noticed the ridges, you might have noticed that in the countries where they’re used, they don’t appear on every coin.  In the United States, the two lowest denominated coins—the penny and the nickel—don’t have ridges.  (The nickel’s five-cent predecessor, the half dime, which was minted until 1883, did have ridges.  The penny never did.)  This is no accident.  The ridges appear on the edges of the larger coins to prevent an ancient problem: shaving.
Coins have long been made of various metals like copper, nickel, tin, lead, iron and magnesium, to name a few, but the really valuable ones were traditionally made of silver or go…

Genesis I

The King James Bible was written in 1605, which means that there had previously been centuries of Bible writing and rewriting.  King James' version is one of the more famous, but it certainly wasn't the first, and it certainly wasn't the last.  There have been many others who have tried their hands at rewriting the Bible since then—telling the same story, only with different words.  Since the copyright has almost certainly lapsed by now, I figure I might as well take a crack at it.  Here's Genesis I.