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]

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]

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]

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 " The Good The Bad And The Ugly " By Paolo " Mrthe " Curcio OoakHobo Nickel - Morgan Dollar 1902 Road To The Station Carved By Pedro VillarrubiaHobo Nickel "walkin' The Tracks" Coin By Howard ThomasHobo Nickel Half Dollar " In Land Of Volcanoes " Carved By Blanca De La HozCameo 1966 Half Dollar Carving Hobo Nickel By Shaun Hughes'snake Eyes' Cowboy Hobo Nickel Carving By Shaun HughesMariachi Skeleton Band Hobo Nickel Coin Carving By Shaun HughesHobo Nickel "little John" By "jorge Romero". Hobo Nickel, Lou AckerHobo Nickel 1935 Buffalo Nickel "mini Man" By Edward Romero Ohns#rm1403 Marie Antoinette 'ship Hair' 1868 Silver Franc Hobo Nickel Carving By S.hughesHobo Nickel "dead In Roses" 1964 Kennedy Half By Robert "deadman Jeweler" MorrisOoak Hobo Buffalo Nickel By Shane Hunter Carved Coin Skull Half Dollar Franklin 1935-p Hobo Nickel- Owl In The Moon # 1078Hobo Nickel "santa Fe" Locomotive 1915 D Buffalo Nickel 24k Gold Inlay By TmahrHobo Nickel Memories, In Through The Out DoorSumo 相撲 力士 Wrestler Hobo Nickel Coin Carving By Shaun HughesCarved Hobo Nickel 1908 Inlayed Turquoise Eyes Skull Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Hobo Nickel Buffalo "the Captain And His Boat" Carved By Cristóbal F Alonso GrosHobo Nickel "beware Of People Who Dislike Cats" Cat Kitten Coin By Howard ThomasThe White Stallion Bicentennial 1/2 Dollar Horse Hobo Nickel Carving By S.hughes1974 Hobo Nickel,half Dollar, "clown Crying" Carving By Quesada Canovas.qc 1937-p Hobo Nickel - Mini Hobo Skull # 1074Carved Skull Coin- Hobo Nickel Style- 1919 George V One PennyOriginal Period - Hobo Nickel - No Date - Unknown - HoledHobo Nickel Love Token Mini-man Elf By M.j. Petitdemange Hobo Nickel Love Token 'snoopy And The Red Barron' By M.j. Petitdemange Hobo Nickel Freaky Face Bearded Old Man By John Hughey Jh Real Buffalo Coin ArtOoak Hobo Nickel Style "need Nickls" By Engraver Fatkat Zebra Hand Engraved Buffalo Nickel Hobo Nickel #203 By Luis A Ortiz Rm1398Skeleton Cameo Hobo Nickel Carving By Shaun HughesRhino Hand Engraved Buffalo Nickel Hobo Nickel #204 By Luis A Ortiz Rm13981916 Hobo Nickel Item#r160Carved Hobo Nickel 1937 Willy Soupstrainer Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Hobo Nickel "the Soldier" By Edward Romero Ohns#rm1403 1944 Half DollarHobo Nickel, Cooper Inlay #8 "don't Tread On Me" Copper Snake, By Hobo XHobo Nickel Ball CapOoak Hobo Nickel Style "sweet As Honey" By Engraver Fatkat 1919 U.s. Hobo Nickel - Kind Of Creepy LookingHobo Nickel 1937 Buffalo Nickel "good Luck Buddha" By Eddie Romero Ohns Rm1403 1969 Hand Carved Skull Zombie (hobo Nickel) Washington Quarter By J.h.rangerBuffalo Nickel Love Token 'bonsai' By M.j. PetitdemangeVintage Rare Buffalo Hobo Nickel Nice Details Indian Motiff Dated 1936 Hobo Nickel "abraham The Android" By Simone Cervellati, On A 1936 Buffalo NickelCarved Hobo Nickel Native American Brave Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Coalburn Classic Hobo Nickel Engraved Love Ohns 1952 Jefferson Skull With ScrollMakuko Chief, Dwaine Blas-reyes, 1924 Buffalo Nickel 18-22k Gold Inlay, 2015-0531937 Hobo Buffalo Nickel Indian Chief With Bridge Band Feathered HeaddressCarved Hobo Nickel Indian Chief Skull 1926 Penny Folk Art Coin Ohns 13041936 Hobo Nickel - Clean Cut Mohawk - Engraved By Fred SuttonCarved Hobo Nickel Hobo Handbook Keepin Warm & Toasty Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Carved Hobo Nickel 1937 Native Zombie Skull Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304 Carved,engraved,scrimshaw,hobo Art, Metal Sculpture " Faith `n Begorrah ! " !Carved Hobo Nickel 1984 D Rosevelt Dime Skull Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Hobo Us Buffalo Nickel Hand Carved Moustashe & Derby Hat Coin Nice Detail #14 Nr"mean Face" Jack Skellington Nightmare Before Christmas Carved By M. Lyness HoboHobo Nickel Buffalo Man In HatJfk Skull Carved On A Kennedy Half Dollar 1971 Hobo Nickel Carving By Vp 2015 Carved,engraved,scrimshaw,hobo Art, Metal Sculpture " B`flys In Bellfry " !