Introducing Paul Mall

By Marc Banks RM-538 and Arturo DelFavero RM-552

Earlier this year (2019) I purchased a Buy-It-Now hobo nickel (#1) on eBay which atests to the amazing talent of some of the classic carvers. This artist transformed the host coin Indian into a bearded man with a weathered face wearing a derby with a turned up brim and smoking a cigarette. The realism of this portrait instantly brings to mind a character who has experienced first hand life on the road during the hard times of the 20th century. In my opinion this work equals the beauty of James Earle Fraser's Indian Head Nickel.

From first seeing the listing on eBay, I felt that there was something familiar about the carving. I shared my thoughts with my friend and fellow collector Arturo DelFavero and he immediately said he had seen a similar carving, possibly in Steve Alpert's Hobo Nickel Guide Book. He quickly located it on page 28 (Example 2). A short time later another example (3) was found browsing through the OHNS auction catalogs (Lot 81, Auction 17). Picking a nickname for this carver was more difficult. After considering over a half-dozen names based on the appearance of the character depicted on these carvings and the cigarette dangling from his lips, it was my wife Joyce who came up with the name for this unknown carver. The name: "Paul Mall", a play on the name of the Pall Mall cigarettes which date to the early 20th century.

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

The carving characteristics for "Paul Mall" are listed as follows:

  1. All known examples have a burning cigarette with a wisp of smoke rising in front of the character's face.
  2. A nicely finished derby with a collar adorned with a bow and horizontal lines, and a thin crescent-shaped brim.
  3. A skillfully carved, kidney-shaped ear.
  4. Finely detailed wavy hair and full beards.
  5. Altered eyes (punched) below a bushy eyebrow. Crows feet behind the eye and bags under the eyes.
  6. Frown lines across the forehead.
  7. Modifications to the profile (nose) and alteration to the nostril. A crease behind the nostril. The lower lip is enhanced.
  8. Shirt and jacket collars. Lapels vary in shape. There are button hole on Examples 1 and 3.
  9. Fields are well dressed with LIBERTY left intact.
  10. The date on Example 1 has been removed, the other two examples are on 1936 and 1937 nickels. Examples 1 and 3 are on higher grade coins suggesting they received minimal wear prior to being carved, perhaps during or not too long after the late 30s. There is no information on the grade of Example 2, although from the picture LIBERTY and the date suggest it too has received limited wear.
  11. In my opinion these carvings grade Superior.