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Looks Like a Pickle
By Fred Reed, Coins Magazine
December 05, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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The item shown this time is called a “wooden nickel,” but it is unlike any wooden nickel I ever saw. It looks like a pickle, and is flexible. I’ve seen it described by others as “cloth.” Well it’s harder than cloth and bends. So go figure.

I bought it at the recent Memphis International Paper Money show because it was so unique, and I wanted to find out about it. It also bore the name of a gentleman who I knew a long time ago. This column is what I’ve learned. Reading it won’t make you rich, but might help you pass a few enjoyable minutes in your otherwise busy day.

Ostensibly it celebrates the 72nd Annual Watermelon Day at Rocky Ford, Colo., “always first Thursday in September.” We can see that it was issued by the Arkansas Valley Coin Club, and was redeemable at “the Club’s temporary office at Don’s Men’s Store up to and including Sept. 1, 1949.

The Arkansas Valley Fair bills itself as “the oldest continuous fair in the state of Colorado.” However, somewhere along line since this watermelon nickel was issued “always first Thursday in September” has changed to “always” during “the second full week in August.”

The most recent celebration of this event, the 136th Arkansas Valley Fair, was held Aug. 14-18, 2013 at the Rocky Ford Fairgrounds. Watermelon Day was Saturday, Aug. 17. Other special days were “Silver Day” on Wednesday, “Kid’s Day” on Thursday, “Parade Day” on Friday, and “Challenge Day” on Sunday.

Rocky Ford is located in southeastern Colorado, alongside the old Santa Fe Trail, now U.S. Highway 50. The region is a prime agricultural area, famous for its watermelon and cantaloupe.

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The fair began in 1878. Not surprisingly watermelon grower G.W. Swink originated the Watermelon Day celebration. “My crop for this year being very bountiful, I decided to invite all the people in the surrounding territory to partake in my crop,” Swink recalled.

“The country then being thinly settled the crowd was quite small, not more than 25 persons being present, and they being mostly from La Junta coming in a Santa Fe Caboose. I cut the melons on the grain door of a boxcar,” he continued. “Only one wagonload was required to feed the crowd and give all they wanted to carry home.”

The following year, 50 people showed up to eat Swink’s melons and cart more melons home for subsequent repasts. In 1880 the crowd doubled once again to about 100 souls. As the crowds grew in subsequent years, the festivities were moved to Swink’s store adjacent to the Santa Fe tracks.

Crowds continued to grow. In 1885, other agricultural produce was added to the repast, but Swink insisted on cutting all melons himself. In 1886 the crowd was so large that Swink had to call for help in cutting melons to serve attendees.

As the popularity of Rocky Ford melons increased, Swink commenced shipping produce to eastern markets. At first these shipments were not profitable, but in time Rocky Ford claimed the title “Melon Capital of the world,” and its melons became standards in the better hotels of Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago.

By mid-20th century, when this melon nickel was issued, sales of melon seeds accounted for more dollars in the local economy than the fruit itself.

Did I mention that the melon nickel bends? Herman L. Boraker was the club president at the time and E.C. Trechter, secretary-treasurer.

I knew Mr. Boraker as a check collector years ago. In 1984, he issued a 24.3mm white metal personal token with incuse lettering, “Herman L. Boraker / Rocky Ford / Colorado / 1934-1984 / 50 Years of Numismatic Enjoyment // Collector of Checks From / All Colorado Banks / and / All Kinds / of / Rocky Ford / Memorabilia.”

Boraker contributed articles to the Checklist put out by the American Society of Check Collectors, the ANA journal The Numismatist, and the Society of Paper Money Collectors’ Paper Money. Boraker served as a member of the Rocky Ford Centennial Committee in 1977. In May 1998 he received an ANA Presidential Award. He passed away Nov. 10, 2002.

If you desire additional information about this interesting item, in 1998 Boraker penned a 28-page pamphlet Arkansas Valley Coin Club 50th Anniversary. He no doubt treats of this emission therein.

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