US Coins

Hobo is well-dressed on this Indian Head 5-cent coin

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 those transformed piecesthat recently sold at auction:

The Lot:

Dapper Gentleman carved on an undated Indian Head, Bison on Plains 5-cent piece

The Price:


The Story:

The identities of most carvers of hobo nickels have been lost to history. The hobby differentiates classic hobo nickels as those produced before 1980.

Behind the scenes of the WWI silver dollar”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?

Carvers utilized punching, carving and engraving to accomplish a transformative act on Fraser’s design. A “Superior” quality example that has many of the hallmarks of a well-carved example, depicting a dapper gentleman and including a raised brim on the hat, smoothed fields providing a cameo effect, and a distinctly carved ear, sold for $705.

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Connoisseurship is growing for these carved coins, with collectors using distinguishing characteristics — like the ears — to match up examples through stylistic commonalities, such as works by the unknown carver called “Peanut Ear” whose carvings have a distinctive ear. Much in the way that the paintings by unknown Old Master artists are grouped according to similarities, hobo nickels also enjoy such detailed study.

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