Reflections on Hobo Nickels

March 19, 2012

by Bill Fivaz CLM1 (Original Hobo Nickel Society)
BoTales, Spring 2011

1.  Probably the single most important factor (for most collect­ors) in the desirability of a classic Hobo Nickel is EYE APPEAL. Several features comprise this desirability, some of more importance than others, depending on the individual. They are:

a. SUBJECT: Because the vast majority of the coins in this collecting area are of a bearded man wearing a domed hat or derby, generally speaking, any subject other than that adds desirability to the piece. Usually, the farther away from the above “standard subject” the design happens to be, the more interesting the coin. For example, a carving of a lady or a clown generally creates more interest than the typical bearded man-with-a-hat piece.

b. WORKMANSHIP: A very important factor in the eye appeal formula is the expertise the artist exhibited in carving the piece. A carving with a great deal of detail and done with fine, precise, continuous lines, for example, would be more highly prized than a coin with heavy, random and amateurish cuts. Also, carved pieces (in most cases) are favored over a punched, scratched or gouged work.

c. ORIGINALITY: While there are some modern carvings that are extremely well done, if the coin appears to be classic that is, one that was done prior to the mass-produced offerings in the 1980’s and 1990’s or later, it adds a degree of importance to the eye appeal.

d. CONDITION: The condition of both the carving and the host coin is also important in regard to eye appeal. If the carving has been well preserved (cared for) since it was done, it is much more acceptable than one that has been carried as a pocket piece and had elements of the carving worn away. The condition of the coin itself (Fine, AU, UNC, etc.) is also quite important in the desirability equation. It should be noted here, however, that the condition of the coin is of somewhat less im­portance when determining the value of the piece. It is associated more with the overall eye appeal.

e. REVERSE ONLY and OBV/REV CARVINGS: In most cases, because over 90% of the original Hobo Nickels are carved on the obverse, any carving on the reverse adds considerably to the eye appeal factor. Those with carvings on both the obverse and reverse are especially desirable.

2.  There are a few other factors which contribute to the popu­larity of certain pieces. They are:

a. ARTIST: When the artist is known, usually determined by the workmanship/style, such as in the case of “Bo” or “Bert,” this adds a great deal to the popularity.

b. SIGNED and/or DATED: In some cases the artist “signed” his/her work, usually by using only the initials, less often by carving in one or more of his names. Some artists include the date they either carved the piece or a date that had a particular meaning in relation to the subject. Occasionally, the normal date on the coin is carved to another date which is an added “plus.”

c. DATE OF ACTUAL COIN: While the actual date of the host coin (e.g. 1915-S, 1921-S, etc.) has some bearing on the popularity of a piece, it is really of secondary importance. In most cases, a carving on a rare date coin should not command a significant premiumremember that the quality of the carving, etc. (eye appeal) should weigh the most heavily.

d. DENOMINATION: Occasionally, a “Hobo Nickel” may be carved on a coin other than the usualBuffalo 5¢. Many collectors actively seek out quality carvings on such denominations as Indian Cents, Liberty Nickels, Barber coins, etc. These should be considered extremely rare when they are found with attractive carvings.

e. CERTIFICATION/REGISTRATION:If a Hobo Nickel has been processed through the Original Hobo Nickel Society (OHNS), especially if it has been certified as an original Hobo Nickel with a quality designation number, it presents the case that it is, in the opinion of the OHNS authenticators, an original piece, and as such, generally more collector acceptable.

3.  POTTY COINS and CARVINGS ON FOREIGN COINS: A popular segment of collecting closely related to Hobo Nickels and generally accepted under the Hobo 5¢ “umbrella” is that of “Potty Dollars” (which may be on coins other than dollars). This involves coins in the Liberty Seated series where Ms. Liberty has been altered to appear to be sitting on a chamber pot.

Carvings on foreign coins are also frequently encountered, some very nicely done.

In summary, the three most important things to remember in regard to the desirability of Hobo Nickels are: Eye Appeal, Eye Appeal and Eye Appeal. Collect what you like, and if you enjoy modern carvings, great! Remember; however, pay only what you feel the particular piece is worth to you.

Incidentally, it is generally felt that the known population of original Hobo Nickels is probably just a fraction of the total number ever carved. It is very likely that over 90% of these interesting and historic coins are still residing in Uncle Ned’s dresser drawer, in Grandma’s jewelry box or “just hangin’ around” as “something unusual”…with no idea by the owner of what they are or what they represent. Wouldn’t it be exciting to see these hidden treasures and learn the stories behind them?

Let’s think good thoughts…..

Editors Note: Since Bill originally wrote this piece, I think eBay has led to some of those hobo nickels being brought out of the dresser drawers and jewelry boxes. But we all hope there are still some hidden treasures still stashed away.


About the Original Hobo Nickel Society

The OHNS was formed at the 1992 ANA Summer Conference in Colorado Springs, after Bill Fivaz presented a slide show on hobo nickels. The goals of the Society were: 1) start a newsletter (BoTales, now published quarterly), 2) begin a hobo nickel evaluation service (fully underway for many years), 3) educate numismatists and the general public about hobo nickels (an ongoing project), and 4) conduct an annual auction of hobo nickels (at each January FUN Convention in Orlando at our annual meeting) to raise money to sponsor ANA scholarships for Young Numismatists (successfully done since 1995).

In the early 1980s after articles and the first book on hobo nickels appeared, several people began creating copies of the old hobo nickels. These are fairly easy to recognize as modern. But since 1995, some very talented engravers have been producing beautiful original-design carvings; some of which are worth as much as the nice old original specimens, which they may resemble. The OHNS is devoted to collectors of all hobo nickels, both old and modern.

Visit the Original Hobo Nickel Society at



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