US Coins

Hobo throws on long coat, backpack

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:

Standing Hobo carved 1913-D Indian Head, Bison on Mound 5-cent piece

The Price: 


The Story:

While most collectors think of the Native American profile on the obverse of the Indian Head 5-cent piece as being the canvas for hobo nickel carvers, the bison on the reverse also provided opportunities for creative artists. Some carvers turned it into other animals, including turtles, while others transformed it to a standing hobo.

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Kagin’s offered a carving by an unknown artist who transformed the bison on a 1913-D Indian Head, Bison on Mound 5-cent piece into a standing hobo with a backpack, wearing a snappy hat and an impressive beard. Kagin’s writes, “The long coat, with pockets, is nicely done and the surrounding field has been dressed, leaving only the original lettering. Reverse carvings of this caliber are very much in demand, especially when this well done.” The charming carving, graded as Superior quality using the designations utilized by the Original Hobo Nickel Society, sold for $1,762.50.

Balancing the negatives and positives of a problem coin”Astute collectors find that buying a ‘problem coin’ can be a bit of a balancing act, but the rewards can be great. Also in our Nov. 6 issue, Michael Fahey offers some tips on grading Mint State Barber half dollars.

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