Introducing Dead Eye

By Chris Dempsey, LM 64

Probably one of the most well known and most copied hobo nickels ever carved was carved by the artist I am naming “Dead Eye.” In the collection of the late Verne Walrafen resides the first coin pictured below. It is the lone example of an adult themed hobo nickel known by this artist. One must look closer at the face to see the female form hidden in his expression. Verne had originally called this carving “Bare Faced Liar,” which I considered briefly as the name for this carver, but after comparing it to the other four known examples, I decided against it.

The second known example is equally well known, with Jewish/Yiddish writing around the outside edge. This photograph was found in Verne’s “Kosher Carvers” article on the OHNS website. Stephen Alpert acquired it in OHNS Auction #2 for $650. The third example shows air holes in the derby, and was originally purchased via Buy-It-Now on eBay by Owen Covert for $285. After some prodding, I was able to acquire it from Owen for a mutually agreed upon price. Art DelFavero found the fourth example by this carver while searching through the OHNS archives, and Don Wolfe owns the fifth example.

I chose the name “Dead Eye” because, despite his carvings very obvious expressive features, he did not carve pupils on the eyes, giving them a “dead” look. This carver was very skilled, and probably carved many subjects and styles, using different tools for different carvings.

Click to view enlargment. Click to view enlargment. Click to view enlargment.

The carving characteristics for "Dead Eye" are as follows:

  1. Highly stylized eye, with no pupil.
  2. Derby styles vary, but typically have a curved brim with a simple line at the top.
  3. Plain hat band, when utilized.
  4. “W” shaped collar with center lines in the shape of an “X.”
  5. Beard cut using line tool and/or circular cuts (possibly graver cut).
  6. Profile heavily altered with large nose and mouth.
  7. Ear may or may not be tucked into the hat, but is carved to be anatomically correct.
  8. Date and LIBERTY removed.
  9. Finishing work is very smooth and deliberate.
  10. Known carvings by “Dead Eye” are above average to superior quality.