Click to return from whence you came!

The American Numismatic Association  

Your Newsletter ~~~ Number: 46 ~~~ August 23, 2002

Money Talks:

−by Bill Fivaz

    The annual national convention of hoboes takes place in August in the small Iowa town of Britt. A king and queen are crowned and feted with a parade and mulligan stew.

    What's that you say? This isn't quite your "cup of tea?" Well then, that's because you must not be a collector of hobo nickels.

    The year was 1935. The nation was in the midst of the Great Depression. Money was tight--and people did whatever they could, just to exist. One of the most interesting and creative ways for itinerants, such as hoboes, to survive those tough times was to carve coins--changing a coin's original design into something else.

    In 1913, a new 5c coin was minted--the "Buffalo Nickel:" a truly all American coin. It featured the profile of a large Native American's head on the front, and a powerful buffalo on the reverse. Because the designs on this coin had such large figures on both sides--it allowed the hoboes a great deal of creative latitude. And did they ever take advantage of it!

    The Indian's head was transformed into soldiers, clowns, ladies and even past Presidents. The most popular subject was an ethnic person, usually wearing a derby and sporting a beard. This whole group of carved 5" pieces are referred to as "Hobo Nickels."

    While we consider the common "nickel" almost worthless in today's economy, it was a considerable sum in the 30's--when one of these unique carved coins could be bartered for a night's lodging or a hot meal. Some hoboes were more skilled and creative than others, and a few even initialed their works. A few may be found with the buffalo carved into a donkey, an elephant, a turtle or, in one case, the undeniable bust of Mark Twain!

    So if you see an odd-looking carved nickel in your grandmother's jewelry box, chances are it once meant that a hobo had a warm place to sleep for the night--or some good home cooking from your kin-folk!

Copyright © 2002 ANA
{ This is an archival copy of the original webpage just in case the owner ever deletes their posting. }