A single original hobo nickel realized a record price of $24,200 Jan. 12 during the Original Hobo Nickel Society’s 21st annual auction.
The record lot, once part of the Bill Fivaz Collection, is believed to have been carved in the late 1930s by hobo George Washington “Bo” Hughes.
The 132-lot OHNS auction was held in conjunction with the society’s annual meeting during the Florida United Numismatists Convention in Orlando.
A hobo nickel is generally an Indian Head 5-cent coin on which an artist has altered the original designs on the obverse or reverse and sometimes both sides. The alterations are usually achieved by carving or similar means to move or reshape the metal of the coin.
During the early part of the 20th century, the pieces of folk art were often exchanged by the rail-traveling hobos for food or lodging.
The cut-off date for hobo nickels referred to as original or classic is arbitrarily set at 1982, the date when Del Romines’ first book, Hobo Nickels: Prisoner Nickels, Shop Tokens, Modern Engravings, was published, according to Fivaz, a specialist in hobo nickels.
“Shortly after that was published, there was a plethora of modern carvers copying the old ones in the book and making what we used to refer to as ‘neo-Bos,’ now referred to as modern carvings,” Fivaz said.
Chris Dempsey, a coin dealer with Dempsey & Baxter in Erie, Pa., placed the record-setting bid for the hobo nickel. Dempsey is also the OHNS webmaster. He has been collecting hobo nickels for the past four years.
Dempsey said he likens the record-setting hobo nickel to an 1804 Draped Bust dollar. The engraved 5-cent coin is the “rarest of the rare” among classic hobo nickels, each of which is unique in design. Dempsey said when he learned six months before the auction that the piece would be offered for sale, he said he had to have it.