Portrait grows beard, gains hat on this 1929 Indian Head 5-cent ‘hobo nickel’

Connoisseurship attracts collectors to popular, growing specialty
By , Coin World
Published : 10/17/17
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James Earle Fraser’s Indian Head 5-cent piece was first issued in 1913 and continued through 1938. Unlike any coin in the history of the U.S. Mint, Fraser’s Native American on the obverse and bison on the reverse inspired carvers to modify the sides to create a form of folk art. Kagin’s Auctions offered a rich selection of these carved “hobo nickels” at its Sept. 15 West Coast Auction that showed the ingenuity of the individual carvers and the sophistication of this always-vibrant market.

Here's one of the transformed hobo nickels that recently sold at auction:

The Lot:

“Bo” carved 1929 Indian Head 5-cent piece 

The Price:


The Story:

If there’s an undisputed master of classic “hobo nickels” it would be George Washington “Bo” Hughes, who produced a rich body of work. As the Original Hobo Nickel Society writes in its 2010 guidebook, “He was born circa 1900 and left home about 1915 and led the life of a hobo right up to the time he disappeared in 1980.”

Designer abandoned original reverse design late in the process Also in our Oct. 30 issue, Mike Diamond presents an interesting question in his Collectors’ Clearinghouse column: How many errors can one coin have?

A hand injury in 1957 diminished the quality of his carvings done after that year, but “Bo” and his teacher Bertram “Bert” Wiegand are the undisputed “Old Masters” of the genre.

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The quintessential hobo nickel transforms the Native American into a bearded man wearing a hat, but within this seemingly simple motif are dozens of variations. A masterful “Bo” carving on a 1929 Indian Head 5-cent piece was carved during the carver’s best period. Kagin’s writes, “It exhibits all of his classic methods. The hat, hatband and bow, the styled hair/beard, ear, eye, ski nose and mouth are 100% typical Bo.” The handsome piece of folk art sold for $4,465.

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