Introducing Bogart

By Barry Homrighaus RM1548

In the spring of last year, I won a lot of twelve coins in the Kagin’s Auction for $960, or $80 each. One carving was of a somewhat typical bearded hobo, wearing a high-crowned derby and smoking a cigarette with a wisp of smoke rising from the end. A little research on the OHNS site revealed that this, the coin on the left below (1918), changed hands in OHNS Auction #3, in 1996. The original QD paperwork came with this coin; and interestingly, Bill Fivaz judged it "below average, original," while Del Romines judged it "above average, neo-bo." Gail Kraljevich broke the tie with an assessment of "average original hobo nickel."

Fast-forward to spring of 2022, when I acquired the middle coin (1916) from an eBay seller in central New York for $282. One month later, the third coin (1917) also came by way of an eBay auction, this time from North Carolina, for $170.

While this well-groomed and well-dressed hobo has a few quirky features, like a humped nose and ears a bit too far forward on his head, his most distinctive feature may be his squint—a feature achieved with single cut on the Indian's eye.

Click to view enlargment. The nickname "Squints" was assigned to a carver many years ago, so this guy needed different reference for his distinctive feature. After a bit of thought, two iconic movie stars came to mind. This first, of course, was the famous Clint Eastwood character in "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly" known only as "the man with no name." But while the image of Eastwood squinting through the smoke of his cheroot is widely recognized, it occurred to me that an earlier star may have pioneered the look.

Click to view enlargment. Humphrey Bogart was born in 1899, made his first film appearance in 1928, and was active in movies throughout the classic hobo nickel era. He famously starred in Hollywood classics, including "The Maltese Falcon," "The Big Sleep," "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," and "Casablanca" He won an academy award for "The African Queen" in 1952, and sadly passed away just five years later.

Bogart lived and worked during the hobo era. His iconic look—squinting through the smoke of a dangling cigarette—seemed to make him the perfect avatar for this new carver. Of course, having a name starting with "Bo" may have been a factor as well.

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

The carving characteristics for "Bogart" are as follows:

  1. All three examples feature a high-crowned derby with a wide, downwardly curved brim, and no hatband.
  2. All three hobos are smoking a short cigarette with an "S-curved" wisp of smoke rising from the end.
  3. The ears are small, incuse and located a bit too close to the eye.
  4. All three hobos have a deep indent at the top of the nose, giving them a "hatchet-faced" profile.
  5. The eyes on all three coins appear to have been modified with a single knife cut, resulting in a distinctive squint.
  6. The hair, mustache and beard are raised by way of multiple sharp cuts or punches and give the appearance of good grooming with the cheek and neck clean.
  7. A few simple cuts suggest a wing collar, but there are no other shirt or coat details.
  8. The fields are cleanly dressed, Liberty and the date remain, and all three coins are carved on early dated nickels.