Cipher in a Hollow Nickel

It was a pleasant evening in Brooklyn that summer of 1953 and Jimmy Bozart, a delivery boy for the ‘Brooklyn Eagle’ newspaper, was collecting from his customers. One lady had only a one dollar bill and Jimmy didn’t have enough change. He went across the hall and found two ladies that together were able to give him change for the dollar. After he finished collecting, he noticed that one of the coins seemed to be different from the others. The coin, a nickel, felt lighter than usual. He dropped it on the sidewalk and it split apart. Inside the hollow nickel was a piece of microfilm about one-half inch square. The small square of film was filled with rows of numbers.

Hollow Nickel Cipher

Jimmy, realizing it was probably a secret code of some sort, turned it over to the police. The police suspected that the small piece of film with numbers on it had something to do with spies, so they sent it to the FBI, the government agency whose job it is to catch spies. The film was turned over to FBI cryptographers in Washington and agents began interviewing people in Jimmy’s neighborhood to see if they could find out where the hollow nickel had come from. Neither the cryptographers in Washington, nor the agents conducting the search in New York, were able to make any headway in determining what message had been placed on the microfilm or the origin of the hollow nickel. On and off from 1953 to 1957, many worked on the case but could make no headway. The only fact that could be determined was that the numbers had probably been typed using a typewriter of foreign manufacture. Several foreign intelligence agents, who had defected to the United States and other free countries were contacted. Not one had any idea about the microfilm or the nickel.

Page 17 from “SECRET CODE BREAKER II – A Cryptanalyst’s Handbook “