Learn about the Hobo Nickel’s rich history and get to know the artists who are keeping the tradition alive

Hobo Nickel’s rich history


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Публикация от SteveOrino (@thesteveorino)

Although the phrase “hobo nickel” may not sound particularly remarkable, it is an outstanding art form. Hobo nickels were created by roaming “hobos” (people who frequently traveled by hopping freight trains) in the United States during the early mid – twentieth century. They were named after the people who pioneered the technique. By using knives and other improvised tools to engrave their own designs onto the round metal surfaces of traditional coins, they would change them. These portable bas relief artworks were a permanent imprint of the person’s personality into the shiny metal coin.

Real hobo nickels are still prized by collectors decades later. However, many artisans are still practising the technique of engraving on used pocket change, demonstrating how essential the artistic legacy is even now. Continue reading to learn about the origins of hobo nickels and how contemporary creators are advancing the art form.

The Background behind Hobo Nickels


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In Britain, France, and South Africa in the eighteenth century, individuals etched “love symbols” into bronze to create the first changed coins. These silver symbols, which were sometimes engraved with initials or titles, were presented as presents and frequently used in jewelry.

The Buffalo nickel, which was first issued in 1913, quickly rose to prominence among coin printmakers in the United States. The Buffalo nickel’s Native American head covers around five-sixths of the coin’s area, in contrast to earlier coins’ smaller brains (a Lincoln cent, for instance, had a head occupying approximately one-sixth of the space).


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A change in practice was made possible by the huge, thick metal template, which gave greater capacity for elaborate patterns and finer details. The majority of earlier coins had female faces (such as the Liberty Head nickel). Contrarily, the masculine head on the Buffalo nickel featured broader features that gave artists greater room to transform the head into different characters, such as skeletons, self-portraits, or their pals. Even the back of the coin, which depicts a buffalo, was frequently altered to look like an elephant or a donkey. Another approach was used by other designers, who transformed it into a walking guy carrying a rucksack.

Whatever the chosen design, artisans spent thousands of hours sculpting and engraving steel with chisels, knives, hammers, and other suitable tools.

The Convict

As the years passed, more and more individuals began to learn the skill, and these American hobo nickels spread across the nation. Together with his pupil George Washington Hughes, Bertram Wiegand (aka Bert) was possibly the most productive hobo nickel artist of his era (aka Bo).

Sadly, Bo’s existence was a reflection of the time’s deep economic slump. His hands were permanently harmed as a result of the meticulous manual work he underwent to create his coins. His chisel once slipped as he was working on a nickel and smacked his hand. The once-famous hobo nickel engraver was forced to slow down because of his illness, and the completed coins were not as top quality as they had been in the past. Nevertheless, numismatists continue to favor Bo’s coins (people who collect coins and other related objects). Beware, though, as there are still “neo-bos,” or contemporary knockoffs, floating in the niche product.

The Buffalo nickel remained to be the most common denomination among engravers during the 1930s, and many of the original coin engravers preferred the vintage currency when it was superseded by the Jefferson nickel in 1938. Since the 1940s, a large number of new carvers have emerged, and the coin’s design and subject matter have changed to reflect a more modern aesthetic.

Between 1913 and 1980, up to 200,000 classic hobo nickels are thought to have been produced; many contemporary artists now work in this style. Check out some of the amazing artists’ hobo nickels by scrolling down.

Coin Engravers of the Present

Hobo Nickel by Roman BooteenHobo Nickel by Roman BooteenHobo Nickel by Roman BooteenHobo Nickels by Paolo CurcioHobo Nickels by Paolo Curcio

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