While Coin World’s weekly market analysis typically focuses on
widely collected U.S. coins, dozens of smaller specialty segments of
the market can show astounding individual results.
In January, at the Original Hobo Nickel Society’s sale, held at the
Florida United Numismatists convention in Orlando, an Indian Head
5-cent piece carved by Bert Weigand sold for $12,500 — or $13,750 with
the buyer’s fee.
The OHNS — which has 430 members — said that the price represented a
new record for a single hobo nickel carving. The auction realized more
than $50,000 total across nearly 140 lots including multiple pieces
that realized in excess of $1,000.
Bertram “Bert” Weigand and George Washington “Bo” Hughes are the
“old masters” of hobo nickel carvers. Bertram, born around 1890, was
Bo’s friend and mentor. Both men actively carved from around 1913 —
when the Indian Head 5-cent piece was first issued — through the
Hobo nickels exist at the intersection of folk art and coin
collecting. They are modified coins. Typically, Indian Head 5-cent
pieces serve as the host coin. Artists transformed the portrait on the
obverse through carving, most typically into a bearded man wearing a
Sometimes the bison on the reverse is also changed and can take the
form of a standing hobo, or a turtle or other creations.
Connoisseurship is key to determining value in the series. Stylistic
idiosyncrasies such as a modification of the Native American’s nose,
neck, the shape of his hat, ear, or the form of his collar can all
help collectors identify, if not who carved it, at least others
examples the same artist created. The result is that some artists are
known by nicknames celebrating unique characteristics of their
carving, such as “No Neck,” “Telephone Ear” and “Peanut Ear.”
A vibrant community of hobo nickel collectors enjoy sharing their
collections, and the collector interest helps keep prices for classic
issues high. At the same time, their patronage of modern hobo nickel
artists helps maintain artistic innovation in the field.
In online auctions and on convention bourse floors, modest efforts
defined by basic carving may be found for around $20, while more
ornate creations including the work of known modern carvers can range
from $200 to $1,000 generally. ■