Original ‘Bo’ hobo nickels highlight Sept. 15 Kagin’s auction

Pocket folk art pieces date back to early 20th century
By , Coin World
Published : 08/30/17
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Nearly 40 hobo nickels, including at least seven created by renowned hobo nickel artist George Washington “Bo” Hughes, will be auctioned Sept. 15 in Santa Clara, California.

The hobo nickels are among the lots Kagin’s Auctions will offer in conjunction with the CoinExpo Santa Clara held Sept. 15 to 17 at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

The Reverse Proof American Buffalo, a model of marketing: Also in this week’s print issue, we explore a cluster of Lincoln cents found while searching two rolls and ponder their origin.

Hobo nickels are traditionally reworked Indian Head 5-cent coins, commonly called Buffalo nickels. The Indian Head on the obverse or the bison on the reverse, sometimes both, is repurposed, having the metal of the design repositioned or carved away, with the end result being a completely different rendering.

Hobos that traveled the rails of America during the first half of the 20th century often used this type of pocket folk art to help pay for meals and lodging along their way. Hughes was among the two best-known hobo nickel artists, the other being Bertram “Bert” Weigand, Hughes’ friend and mentor.

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As Stephen P. Alpert writes on the website of the Original Hobo Nickel Society, Hobo Nickels author Del Romines penned that Hughes was the youngest of 10 or 11 children, the son of a freed slave. Hughes left home at the age of 15 in 1915 and lived the life of a hobo until 1980, after which his whereabouts became unknown. Hughes is credited with producing thousands of hobo nickels using artistic styles that specialists use to identify his works.

“Most of Bo’s hobo nickels are unsigned, but he did sign some ‘GH’ or ‘GWH,’ ” according to Alpert. “Only one specimen is known upon which he signed his nickname ‘Bo.’ ”

‘Bo’ hobos

Illustrated here are two of seven hobo nickels offered that were executed by Hughes.

Here are the descriptions by Candace Kagin, a researcher and collector of hobo nickels:

➤ Original George Washington “Bo” Hughes carving. The clown was a favorite subject of Bo’s carvings as it is believed that amid his vagabond travels he spent some time with carnivals and/or circuses. The large ear, tilted hat, segmented collar and altered nose make this a wonderful classic carving by one of the masters.

➤ Original George Washington “Bo” Hughes carving. This specimen was done during Bo’s most proficient period, and is truly a classic. Carved on a 1929 host coin, it exhibits all of his classic methods. The hat, hat band and bow, the styled hair/beard, ear, eye, ski nose and mouth are 100% typical Bo. 

Other pieces

Among the non-Bo pieces cataloged for the Kagin’s sale are the following (again, the descriptions are from Kagin’s):

➤ A handsome original carving by an experienced artist. The subject’s hat is especially well done, with a curved, slightly raised brim. Well structured ear design and collar. “Squint lines” appear behind the eye and a gleaming stickpin on the tie add a nice touch. The field surrounding the subject is fully dressed (smoothed). This would certainly rank in the top echelon of hobo nickels.

➤ The most obvious features the unknown artist used on this original carving are the flat derby (no hatband) and the enlarged nose. The eye has been altered to a squint and the neck is long and thin. Enough unusual aspects on this coin to create a good deal of interest.

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