Hobo Nickels are low denomination coins which are carved or altered to become decorative objects.
Despite the name, Hobo Nickels are not restricted to nickels and can apply to any low-denomination coin. The process of making a Hobo Nickel involves modifying these small value coins into carved, decorative items and is thought to have begun in the 1750s with the intro of modified half dimes and love tokens which traditionally were coins industrially smoothed and then engraved with initials, hearts and other romantic images.
Many were used as jewellery and mounted on chains and bracelets.
Traditional Hobo Nickel artists are grouped into three categories; Classic (1913-1940) Artists from the Mid period (1940-1980) and Modern Day (1980 onward.) The most famous artists from the Classic period were Bert Wiegand and George Washington Hughes – coins used from this era were generally buffalo nickels (or 'Indian head', first seen in 1913) and others dated pre-1913.
The Mid Way period generally favoured Jefferson nickels; employing a range of different engraving techniques such as vibrating tools. Modern day nickels are altered in a variety of ways including power tools and punches and, if of sufficient quality can be sold for as much as some earlier-dated coins although it is much-debated whether these modern carvings can be considered Hobo Nickels at all.
Useful Information for Collectors
- The Original Hobo Nickel Society can be found here with sister site The Hobo Collector here. These provide a wealth of information for collectors including where to buy/sell items. They are also responsible for the 'Hobo Nickel Guidebook' which is published every few years and considered the definitive guide to identifying Hobo Nickels. It contains a grading scale with five grades; ranging from 'crude' to 'superior'.
- Info on how to authenticate a genuine Hobo Nickel can be found here. This includes things to look out for such as wear on the cut lines and residue in the cuts as original Hobo Nickel artists used knives and not rotary tools.
- Further reading, including information on certified authenticators and some of the history behind Hobo nickels and prominent artists can be found by Leon Worden of COINage magazine at www.scvhistory.com
Notable auction sales
The highest price realised for a Hobo Nickel sold at auction was in 2008 by the Original Hobo Nickel Society. There, a Bert Wiegand carving sold for $9,020.
In 2011, at an auction also held by the OHNS, a carving by George Washington Hughes, (nicknamed 'Bo') reached $7,070. (Artist record.) in the same auction a coin by artist 'Twofer' sold for $3,410.
The 2011 auction also, significantly set an auction record for a Hobo Nickel auction. 117 lots ( 3 donated) were sold for a final price of $53,030.50. The previous record was at the 2009 auction which stood at $47, 701.45. (138 lots, 7 donations.)
The OHNS also had a successful auction in 2006 – some of its notable sales there included an equestrian image by Adams which reached $2,860 and an image of King Arthur by the same artist which sold for $2,750.
The highest selling item at their 2005 auction was a two sided coin which sold for nearly $5,000.