Hobo Nickel

Hobo Nickels

The hobo nickel is a sculptural art form involving the creative modification of small-denomination coins, essentially resulting in miniature bas reliefs. The nickel, because of its size, thickness, and relative softness, was a favored coin for this purpose. Due to its low cost and portability, this medium was particularly popular among hobos, hence the name. Common hobo nickels sell for $5 or $10, and rarer or more desirable coins sell for hundreds of dollars.

Beginning in the 1750s, the most common form of coin alteration was the ‘potty coin,’ a US Seated Liberty modified to look like lady liberty on the commode. This time period was also the heyday of love tokens, smoothed and monogrammed coins given as gifts. They were often mounted on pins or incorporated into bracelets and necklaces.

When the Indian Head or Buffalo nickel was introduced in 1913, it became popular among coin engravers. The big Indian head was a radical departure from previous designs, and would not be seen on any subsequent coins. The large, thick profile gave the artists a larger template to work on, and allowed for finer detail.

Many talented coin engravers, as well as newcomers, started creating hobo nickels in 1913, when the buffalo nickel entered circulation. This accounts for the quality and variety of engraving styles found on carved 1913 nickels. More classic old hobo nickels were made from 1913-dated nickels than any other pre-1930s date. The preeminent engravers of hobo nickels in this time period are Bertram Wiegand, known almost exclusively as Bert, and his student George Washington Hughes, known as Bo.

Modern and style and subject matter are more ethnically and socially diverse, and some new artists use power engravers, vibrating tools, and felt marker pens to add color.

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