Carving out a Niche

Have you ever seen a Buffalo nickel carved to look like a man wearing a hat, a train car, or a guy with a walking stick? How about a Morgan dollar transformed Collection into a skull. or a Kennedv half dollar turned into a Storm Trooper? If you have seen strange pieces like these, you may have wondered what they were, and if you haven’t seen one yet, I bet you’re curious now. These unique
pieces are called hobo nickels. Traditional hobo nickels were Buffalo nickels and featured a man in els, and they are an art form ated using rudimentary tools-a hat with a beard and shirt collar on
that’s been around since before
simple hammer and nail usually did
the obverse in place of the Indian
the Great Depression.
the trick. If those weren’t available, head. They might also have modified
In the early 20th century,
a rock, a pocketknife, or any sharp
the bison on the reverse to look like a
hobos (a 19th-centurv term
obiect would suffice. If the artist
traveling man or railroad car. Unfor-
describing a migratory worker wanted to add some color or toning
tunately, some antisemitic pieces
or a homeless drifter) carved
to a piece, they might carry the coin bear exaggerated noses and ears.
coins for various reasons, pre-
around in a tobacco tin for a few
While some contemporary carvers
dominantlv to trade them for
days-they used whatever they had choose to honor the history behind
necessities. Carvers were some-
around them to produce these in-
these coins by using traditional de-
times able to exchange their
credible works of art.
signs, many carve subjects like su-
coins for food, clothing, or
After the Great Depression perheroes, athletes, and popular
shelter for a night. Some
ended and people went back to
movie or TV characters.
people were even able to use work, many carvers continued to
Some artists enjoy traveling to
them to bribe train conduc-
make pieces and teach new artists, coin shows to give carving demon-
tors to let them catch a ride for
but the art form slowed. However, it strations and sell their work in per-
a short distance. Carving coins never died off completely, and it
son, while others stick to eBav and
also was a way to pass the time
was eventually repopularized by
social media. If you’re looking for
when hobos were bored and present-day carvers, who have traditional pieces, you can find them
couldn’t find work, and some
modernized the process.
at coin shows, on eBay, and in the
used them as a way to record
Several modern carvers choose to
Original Hobo Nickel Society’s an-
memories of people or places.
hand-carve their pieces using a
nual auction, held in January.
hammer and chisel, but most have
These coins are more than just in-
switched to specialized power tools, teresting works of art that require a
ZECHMAN carved the
pieces above using her
Airgraver power tool.
Not Actual Size
such as a mini, air-powered iack-
lot of time and skill-thev are also
hammer and steel bits. Many carvers
fascinating pieces of history that you
now use a jeweler’s vice to hold their can hold in your hands. Now that
coins and a microscope to help them you know the story behind hobo
carve fine details.
nickels, I hope you stop and take a
The designs of hobo nickels have
look the next time you see one sit-
been modernized too. Traditional
ting in a dealer’s case.
carvings were typically done on
Source –

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