Introducing Cactus Face


By Stephen Alpert

Click to view enlargment. Click to view enlargment.

I first saw the work of the early-unknown artist that I am here nicknaming “Cactus Face,” illustrated on page 42 of Del Romines 1982 "Hobo Nickels" book (right column, second from bottom). To me the portrait resembles a cowboy, with a chunk of his hat missing at the top towards the rear, and sporting a spiny stubble-beard.

This same specimen (so I believe) appeared as lot 25 in the OHNS 1995 ANA auction held in Anaheim, Calif. I won it with a bid of $180 ($198 after 10% fee).

Then in mid-July 2006, a nearly identical specimen appeared on eBay, which I won at $232.50. (I have not received it yet; the picture of it, on the right, came from the eBay auction.) All this time I thought I had a one-of-a-kind old carving. Now it is apparent that an early carver had produced two or more nearly identical carvings of this design, making him worthy of a nickname.

I compared my specimen again against the picture in Romines' book, and they appear to be the same specimen. The low resolution of the picture in the book prevents me from being 100% certain, but every detail appears the same.

Although the big hole in the hat is very distinctive, I feel the appearance of the beard and mustache is just as unusual: being depicted by sparse, widely spaced, little thorns or needles, like on a cactus. Thus, I am nicknaming the artist “Cactus Face.”

The diagnostic characteristics that identify a “Cactus Face” hobo nickel are listed below:

  1. The faint beard and mustache is formed by sparse, evenly spaced, little cactus-like spines or needles.
  2. The cowboy-like hat has a big angular hole at top in the rear of the dome. The hat brim is bold, wide, raised, and pointed at the ends.
  3. The nice ear has a thick bold outer ridge. The ear overlaps the lower part of the hat brim.
  4. Nicely-carved curly hair is behind and in front of the ear.
  5. There is a plain collar at top, above a strongly lined collar, above a diagonally lined coat (or shoulder). The date is obliterated.
  6. The profile and eye are unaltered. LIBERTY is removed on one specimen, but left on the other.