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    

Hand Engraved 1967 British Penny Pinup Hobo Nickel By Shaun HughesHobo Nickel "living On The Edge" Bear Coin By Howard ThomasHobo Nickel "bird's Eye View" Cat Kitten Coin By Howard ThomasHobo Nickel 1937 "bubble Man" Hand Engraved By Artist J.h.rangerHobo Nickel "tenderness" Bunny Rabbit By Howard ThomasBright Cut Ornate Vintage Style Love Token / Hobo Nickel By Shaun Hughes#56 Hand Carved 1957 Us Copper Penny Hobo Skull Coin Nickel Love Token By Jam'winter Is Coming' Game Of Thrones Hand Engraved 1921 Penny Hobo Nickel S.hughesBetty S768 Ike Hobo Nickel Engraved & Colored Pinup By Luis A OrtizHobo Nickel 1937 Cord Model 812 Convertible 1937 D Buffalo Nickel TmahrHobo Nickel #66 1920 Buffalo Nude Faerie "enchantment" By Dan FarrellHobo Nickel Barber Half Dollar“ Warrior Of Rome“@16120- By Davidhe(hjh)Sexy Babe Hand Engraved Buffalo Hobo Nickel Ron Jr. Scrimshaw & Engraving #170Dizzy S761 Ike Hobo Nickel Engraved By Luis A Ortiz#35 Hand Carved 2005 Hobo Skull Nickel Coin Rare Large Jefferson Skull JamHobo Nickel Steampunk "heart" 24k Gold Inlay+plate1897 V Nickel By Tmahr"wandering Mini-man" Hobo Nickel By Howard ThomasOoak Buffalo Hobo Nickel Carved By Shane Hunter Ohns "fishing Friends"Hobo Nickel 1930s Art Deco Style Automobile Gold+copper 1926 Buffalo Nickel "white Knight" Hobo Nickel By Jim "jimbo" Stewart.Hobo Nickel "jocker Skull" Carved By Narimantas Palsis (nari)1936 Hobo Nickel "nude " Engraving By Quesada Canovas QcMiss Buxley S777 Ike Hobo Nickel Engraved & Colored Pinup By Luis A OrtizLot Of 2 Books About Collecting Nickels Buffalo & Hobo$500 Poker Chip S767 Ike Hobo Nickel Engraved & Colored By Luis A OrtizRail Boss -modern Hobo Encasement - Carved On 1928 Buffalo Nickel1918 S Hobo NickelHobo Nickel 1936 Buffalo Nickel Hand Engraved By Gediminas Palsis 1930-p Hobo Nickel- Indian Chief SkullSusan B Anthony Dollar Skull Carved Hobo Nickel Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Skull #403 Hobo Nickel Hand Engraved & Colored By Luis A OrtizHobo Nickel 1935 Buffalo Nickel Hand Engraved By Gediminas PalsisThe Money Men Hobo Nickel 2 Coins 1 PriceThe Confidence Game-partners In Crime Hobo Nickel 2 Coins 1 PriceBeetle Bailey S776 Ike Hobo Nickel Engraved & Colored By Luis A OrtizCarved,engraved,scrimshaw,hobo Nickel , Coin Metal Art ," Scrolled Hatband " 2004 Silver Hobo Token Original Hobo Nickel Society "snowman & Santa"Top Hat Skull Lincoln Penny Carved Hobo Nickel Folk Art Ohns 1304Carved Engraved Hobo Nickel "old Tractor" By Christopher ScottCarved Engraved Hobo Nickel "turtle Likes Strawberries" By Christopher ScottSkull Coin Collection 7 Coins 1 Price Hobo NickelBlood Feud! When Will It End! Hobo Nickel 2 Carvings 1 Price Mr B Free Shipping!Hobo Nickel The Detective, Mr. Sideburns, And The Case Of The Missing LoansharkHobo Nickel Generations The Soldiers Verses The TyrantThe Tale Of Two Men Named Joe 2 Hobo Nickels 1 Price Free Shiiping!Hobo Nickel Mr. O'maley The Luck Of The Irish Free Shipping!Hobo Nickel, Miniature Metal Carving, Native American Indian War WearyModern Hobo Nickel Friends To The End Hobo Nickel 2 Coins 1 Price Free Shipping! Hobo Nickel Bert, The Love Of His Life-but He Must Impress The Cat!Brothers! Two Hobo Nickels 1 Price Free Shipping!3 Carved Skull Lot Hobo Nickel Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Number 1 Skull Carved Hobo Nickel Folk Art Coin Ohns 1304Hobo Nickel Indian Skull Carved By Skylar Hunt1913 P Buffalo Nickel 5 Cent Type 1 Raised Ground Coin United States 1936 Buffalo Hobo NickelsHobo Nickel Bert And Miss Lamar Colorado! Free Shipping!Skull Brexit And The Skull Coins "we Aint Going To Take It!" Hobo NickelSmokin' Skull 1950 Lincoln Penny Carved Hobo Nickel Folk Art Ohns 1304