By Stephen Alpert HLM10 and Art DelFavero RM552
I obtained coin #1 below in August 1998. It was donated by Bill Fivaz to OHNS to be awarded for a contest to name our club mascot. I was fortunate to win the contest with the name "Nick O'Honis." Coin #2 just appeared in the fall 2020 issue of BoTales on page 22. And Art Delfavero found the third match (coin #3) in the OHNS archives.
These three nickels have a very distinct look. The head is reduced in size - thus a small upper head and hat. And the profile has a prominent hooked nose. These figures appear to be pinheads. Such unfortunate people suffer from the medical malady microcephaly, which causes small stature with the top of their heads diminished in size and usually pointed at top, and usually a diminished mental capacity.
In the past, the only form of income for pinheads was to exhibit themselves in sideshows of circuses and carnivals. This was common in the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. Nowadays the exhibition of unusual people is politically incorrect.
The most famous of the pinheads was Schlitze (a four foot tall man who dressed as a woman (real name Simon Metz, 1901-1971). A photo of him is on the right. He appeared along with other pinheads in Tod Browning's very controversial 1932 movie "Freaks." He was a top-attraction sideshow star for many decades.
Pinheads in sideshows did not wear hats (as the figures on the three nickels do). Instead they grew a tuft of hair on the upper point of their heads to exaggerate their deformity. The smallness of their head also made their noses more noticeable.
The carving characteristics for "Pinhead" are listed as follows:
1) A small head with a corresponding small hat.
2) The hat may resemble a flying saucer (coins 1 and 2).
3) The hat sits low on the head; hat brim close to eye (coins 1 and 3).
4) The ear may be missing (coins 2 and 3).
5) The neck is bare, with no collar below.
6) Prominent hooked nose.
7) LIBERTY not removed.
8) Punched beard, sparse to coarse.
9) Enlarged field area above and behind hat (smoothed on 1 and 3; or chiseled 2).
10) Carved on 1920s-dated nickels (coins #1 and #2 carved on worn nickels).