Collectors report second example of hobo nickel carver's rare handiwork

Article by Chris Dempsey and Steve Alpert reprinted with permission
Published : 06/08/15
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The following is an article by hobo nickel collectors Chris Dempsey and Steve Alpert concerning examples of the work of William Kopman discovered nearly two decades apart. It was published in the Summer 2015 issue of Bo Tales, the official publication of the Original Hobo Nickel Society Inc.:

In the world of coins, it’s rare that a coin so important surfaces that it shakes the very fabric of the coin community to its core. This is not a story about a coin that important, but it IS a story about an artist whose carvings are extremely rare in the hobo nickel community; and it only took 19 years for a second example of his work to surface.

     In 1996, Steve Alpert purchased a high above average hobo nickel to add to his collection, but what made this coin different was that this coin was purchased directly from the descendant of William Kopman, the original carver, who carved the coin in the 1920’s or 1930’s. To put that in perspective, other than Bert and Bo, this is one of only two carvers who have been identified by name as having been an old original carver of hobo nickels, proven by a family member of the original carver. 

     The coin Steve purchased was a nice quality hobo nickel, with a standard subject and design. What set this coin apart from others was the anti-Semitic nature of the “Jew-Nited States” the carver so expertly engraved in the legend above the subject. So well done, in fact, that William Kopman’s son, Ray, assumed “United States” was the original lettering on the obverse, thinking that his father had altered “United” to say “Jew-nited.” All of this, as well as the provenance make this an exceedingly rare coin.

     Ray Kopman was kind enough to share his father’s biographical information with Steve Alpert for Steve’s article in the Summer of 2002 BoTales, which gives some insight about how some of these coins were likely made during the period.

     William Kopman was born on April 9, 1889 and died April 26, 1972. In 1905, he answered a newspaper advertisement for a copy boy and errand boy for the old Cleveland Supply Co., an engraving firm. The company later moved to Rochester, N.Y. William made commercial art work metal engravings for grain and flour sacks, from about 1906 to 1950. He was also a photo engraver. Most of his artwork was used by the Pillsbury Flour Co. He also worked for the Akron Bag Co. in Akron, OH, Memphis, TN, and the Rochester Bag Co. in Rochester, N.Y. He retired in 1956 from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Cleveland Press of Cleveland, OH.”

     In February of 2015, a dealer from the Cleveland, OH area, the same area Mr. Kopman had lived in for many years, spoke to me about a coin he had seen with the words “Jew-nited States” on it. He wasn’t comfortable with the steep price the individual who had it was asking, but I affirmed to him I would purchase it if he could acquire it. Little did I know, after speaking later with Steve Alpert, the significance of this coin in the hobo nickel community. While slightly lesser quality, my coin is very similar to the original example purchased by Steve in 1996, with the obvious exception that my coin has old gold plating. I was tickled to acquire this coin, almost 20 years later, from the same area he lived in. Until this coin appeared, the Kopman family had assumed their coin was the only one he ever carved.

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