What are Hobo Nickels?

Hobo Nickel

Hobo Nickels

Hobo Nickels are small pieces of art (sculptures) made from carving (traditionally) Buffalo Nickel coins. The term is actually generic and applies to any coin that is carved to produce a new image. The technique has been used over the centuries with many different coins.

The term Hobo Nickel came from the practice started in 1913 when the buffalo nickel coin was first issued in the United States of America. The coin is a good base for a small piece of carving: it is a nice size for a low denomination coin, the metal (25% nickel/75% copper) is fairly soft, and the images (Indian head and Buffalo) were large enough to alter easily.

Buffalo Nickel to Hobo Nickel
Using a standard Buffalo Nickel (attribution: National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History) an artist can carve/engrave a new image on the coin.

A Hobo was a man who liked to travel around America, wondering from town to town and looking for casual jobs. The Hobo was generally a law-abiding man who was willing to work hard to maintain an independent life. They were not tramps or beggars.

Altering nickel coins became associated with hobos. It was a portable hobby, it passed the time and there was maybe a chance of selling good artwork. Carving tools are basic and could be made from nails, penknives or other bits of metal.

Hobo Nickel Designs

Typical altered coins depicted bearded men in hats or skeleton skulls but over the years many sophisticated designs have been produced. Many artists tended to leave the date of the coin and the words ‘Liberty’ still showing on the altered coin.

Buffalo Hobo Nickels attrib-Danthoms
Hobo Nickels (image by Danthoms)

Some of the hobo nickels were outstanding pieces of art. The big name in hobo nickel carving is George Washington “Bo” Hughes. Bo was born about 1900 and was mentored by another great artist, Bert Weigand.

Prices

Most hobo nickels are fairly low priced. Good example original coins from the classic age may be $50 to a few hundred dollars, but some of Bo Hughes’s coins have commanded 5-figure dollar amounts.

The buffalo nickel was replaced in 1938 by the Jefferson nickel. Many artists continued although the modern artist now had the advantage of power tools and other technologies. Much of the early work (like Bo’s) has been copied and it can be difficult for the non-expert to tell the difference between an original and a copy.

These days hobo nickels may be mass produced (pressed like a coin blank) and are available for $5-10.

If you want an original hobo nickel carving, whether by a modern artist or one from the original era then my advice would be to buy from a reputable dealer or the artist themselves.


UK On eBay UK:
1916 Hobo Nickel Naked Girl with Two Elves in the Woods
£3.50 (0 Bids)
End Date: Sunday Jul-22-2018 11:24:34 BST
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Water Wings S1719 Ike Hobo Nickel Pinup Colored & Engraved by Luis A Ortiz
£26.51 (1 Bid)
End Date: Wednesday Jul-18-2018 4:37:10 BST
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1935 (D) mint ~ Hand Carved Original Hobo Nickel OOAK! ~ "Uncle Shorty"
£7.57 (0 Bids)
End Date: Friday Jul-20-2018 0:55:45 BST
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1927 (S) mint Hand Carved Original Hobo Nickel ~ "Uncle Happy" FELLER
£7.57 (0 Bids)
End Date: Friday Jul-20-2018 0:00:06 BST
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Hobo Nickel, Miniature Metal Carving, Demon
£30.30
End Date: Monday Aug-13-2018 17:49:19 BST
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Hobo Nickel, Miniature Metal Carving, Skull
£30.30
End Date: Monday Aug-13-2018 17:46:50 BST
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Hobo Nickel (1934) Set of Skulls with Skeleton Bison
£3.50 (0 Bids)
End Date: Saturday Jul-21-2018 16:26:39 BST
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1937 Hobo Nickel Two Elves Having Sex
£3.50 (0 Bids)
End Date: Saturday Jul-21-2018 16:25:21 BST
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USA On eBay USA:
Hobo Nickel Sun/Moon front, 1937D Five Cents Cow Zombie back.
$5.99
End Date: Sunday Jul-22-2018 11:42:16 PDT
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"HOBO NICKEL" STAY CALM Dollar Bill by Naes Snave
$9.95
End Date: Tuesday Aug-14-2018 10:43:58 PDT
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1936 Ford Convertible with 24k Gold inlay headlights Hobo Nickel by tmaher
$8.95 (0 Bids)
End Date: Sunday Jul-22-2018 5:29:31 PDT
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EISENHOWER HUMAN SKULL Hand-Engraved HOBO NICKEL Real Dollar Coin by JOHN HUGHEY
$475.00
End Date: Wednesday Jul-18-2018 1:41:41 PDT
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hobo nickel
$100.00 (0 Bids)
End Date: Wednesday Jul-25-2018 0:37:08 PDT
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HOBO NICKEL EAGLE HEAD OBVERSE, 1937-D 3 LEGGED BUFFALO REVERSE TOKEN
$5.00 (0 Bids)
End Date: Saturday Jul-21-2018 21:23:14 PDT
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Hobo kennedy half. Nixon
$1.00 (0 Bids)
End Date: Tuesday Jul-17-2018 21:20:03 PDT
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Skull & Roses S1641 Ike Hobo Nickel Colored & Engraved by Luis A Ortiz
$35.00 (0 Bids)
End Date: Tuesday Jul-24-2018 20:38:27 PDT
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