Hobo nickels are actual U.S. coins (usually Buffalo nickels but sometimes Jefferson) whose original image has been carved away and replaced with something more whimsical. These folk-art pieces are known as hobo nickels because hobos supposedly started carving them on long train rides during the Depression. In fact, hobo nickels first appeared in 1913, the year the Buffalo nickel was released, and are still carved by artists today.

Nickels were selected for their thickness and width, as well as the fact that they were cheaper to work on than quarters. Typically, the Indian chief on the coin’s obverse would be modified into a bearded man wearing a hat. The buffalo on the coin’s reverse was often left alone or transformed into a locomotive. In early hobo nickels (those made prior to World War II), details like the coin’s date and the word “LIBERTY” near the chief’s forehead were left intact, a tradition continued by contemporary hobo-nickel artists.

Of the original hobo-nickel artists, the most famous is Bertram Weigand, who often “signed” his coins by scratching out the “LI” and “Y” in “LIBERTY” on the coin’s obverse. According to Stephen Alpert of the Original Hobo Nickel Society, carved coins by Bert are rare, but nickels produced by his protege, George Washington “Bo” Hughes, are more common.

From the beginning, the profile of the chief’s face, particularly the nose, invited caricature. Thus, many hobo nickels feature unflattering, stereotypical depictions of Jews. During World War I, though, hobo nickels parodied the face of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm.

Today, artists using specialized power tools have left their inner-hobos behind, creating nickels that are more like tiny sculptures. Sam Alfano inlays gold into his nickels, Ron Landis signs and numbers his coins, and Sam Adams is known for the deep relief of his portraits, which range from President Kennedy to Santa Claus.

As to the legality of hobo nickels, while it is illegal to “fraudulently” alter or deface a coin, the intent of the mutilation is important. For example, machines at amusement parks that flatten and then stamp pennies with a commemorative design are okay because no one could pass the flattened penny off for a real one. Similarly, no one would use a hobo nickel to make a purchase, especially because a real hobo nickel is probably worth a good deal more than a measly five cents.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Original Hobo Nickel Society

The Original Hobo Nickel Society

Founded in 1992, The Original Hobo Nickel Society is mostly devoted to folk art derived from Indian Head or Buffalo… [read review or visit site]

American Folk Art Museum

American Folk Art Museum

The American Folk Art Museum's website showcases current and past exhibitions along with their permanent collection… [read review or visit site]

Legendary Coins and Currency

Legendary Coins and Currency

This online exhibition from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is a great way to get an overview… [read review or visit site]

Anonymous Works

Anonymous Works

This blog combines American primitive folk art, vintage vernacular photography, outsider art, and other interesting… [read review or visit site]

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Home to the Society of U.S. Pattern collectors, this well-organized site provides in-depth information on pattern c… [read review or visit site]

The Outsider Art Pages

The Outsider Art Pages

A modern look at folk and outsider art with a focus on what people are doing to keep these traditions alive. The si… [read review or visit site]

Folk Art in Bottles

Folk Art in Bottles

Whether you call them Bottle Whimseys, Whimsey Bottles, Puzzle Bottles, or Whimsies, this site showcases great folk… [read review or visit site]

Index of American Design

Index of American Design

The Index of American Design project (1935-1942) was an effort to catalog American decorative arts objects from the… [read review or visit site]

Stoveburner.com

Stoveburner.com

A stunning collection of 162 images of stoveburners, those corroded cast iron elements that power stoves, broilers,… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Hobo Nickel "there She Blows" Whale Ship Coin Howard ThomasHobo Nickel Style Silver Quarter "bubbles" Hand Engraved By KranovSexy 4th Of July Babe Engraved Hobo Nickel Ron Jr. Scrimshaw & Engraving #165Hobo Nickel Quarter "bomb" By MadHobo Nickel "a Midsummer Night's Eve" Fairy Faery Cat Kitten Coin Howard ThomasHobo Nickel "tiny Dancer" Cat Kitten Mercury Dime Coin Howard Thomas6 Skull Coin Hobo Nickels In A Special Case Shell On The Beach Gold Plated Hobo Nickel 1923 Buffalo NickelHobo Nickel "skull" Carved By Narimantas Palsis (nari)Hobo Nickel "alfons Mucha" 24k Gold Inlay Liberty V Nickel Tmahr Hobo Nickel Skull Zombie Skeleton Brave Hobo Nickel “street Entertainert“@1697-engraved By David Hj He(hjh) Hobo Nickel Coin Chief Headdress Hand Carved 103Hobo Nickel "washing Up For Dinner" Raccoon Coin By Howard ThomasCarved,engraved,scrimshaw,hobo Coin Art, Metal Sculpture ," At ...the Club ""420" Hobo Nickel Carved By Nam Mai (n)1984 Hobo Nickel "cowgirl " Engraving By Quesada Canovas QcHobo Nickel "southern Pacific" Locomotive 24k Gold Inlay 1893 V Nickel Tmahr Hobo Nickel Coin Chief Headdress Skull Zombie Hand Carved 3 Hobo Nickel Coin 1932 Franc Skull Zombie Hand Carved SkeletonOoak Buffalo Hobo Nickel Carved By Shane Hunter Ohns Skull 1964 Silver QuarterAngry Monkey Hobo Nickel 1969 Quarter Dollar"the Sign" Hobo Nickel Carved By Nam Mai (n)Hobo Nickel "hawaiian Flower" 24k Gold Inlay Clad Quarter TmahrCarved 1900 Liberty V Nickel Eagle Hobo Nickel Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Ooak Buffalo Hobo Nickel Carved By Shane Hunter Ohns "lunker" Largemouth BassHobo Nickel Spider Man Engraved Carved Hand Coin 1776 1976 Ike Spiderman160 Coins All Dateless No Date Indian Buffalo 5c Nickel Lot Jewelry, Hobo, SlotsHobo Nickel Railway Locomotive 24k Gold Inaly 1937 D Buffalo Nickel Tmahr Hobo Nickel Coin Liberty Half Silver Lady Bird Please View My Other ItemsJack The Wrangler Cowboy Carved Hobo Nickel Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Dark 1935 Skull Carved Hobo Nickel Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Engraved Number 13 Skull Pendant Hobo Nickel Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Hobo Nickel Man In HatHobo Nickel Hobo Buffalo Nickel ~ Moonshine Man ~ Carved Coin By Barb Hunter Ohns MemberAnts S731 Ike Hobo Nickel Engraved & Colored By Luis A OrtizLadybird Spider S730 Ike Hobo Nickel Engraved & Colored By Luis A OrtizHobo Nickel Hobo Nickel Skull Coin Hobo Nickel Kennedy Bicentennial Coin Hand Carved Hobo Nickel Style Quarter "bob The Boozer"1936-p Hobo Nickel- EagleHand Carved Hobo Nickel, Buffalo Nickel SkullCarved Lightening Bolt Grateful Dead Skull Hobo Nickel Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Ship Anchor Skull Carved Hobo Nickel Folk Art Coin Ohns 13041955 100 Francs Skull France Carved Hobo Nickel Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Woody Van Hobo Nickel By M.j Petitdemange 2005 Silver Proof Rat RodHobo Nickel 1936 Ford Convertible 1936 S Buffalo Nickel TmahrHobo Nickel A11 Sexy Nude Female Woman Pinup Erotic Asian Princess Original Art Carved,engraved,hobo Coin Art, Octopus And ChestHobo Nickel Soldier!Hobo Nickel SoldierHobo NickelHobo NickelHobo Nickel Hobo Nickel “lady“@16102-engraved By David Hj He(hjh) Hobo Nickel Coin Rail Head Rail Road Hand Carved Please View My Other ItemsHobo Lucy S715 Ike Hobo Nickel Engraved & Colored By Luis A Ortiz1913 Hobo Buffalo Nickel