Introducing Pufferman

By Marc Banks RM538

While looking through a Stack's auction catalog in 2011, I found a lone hobo nickel lot (middle photo). It depicted a man with a full beard wearing a domed hat with a pointed, three-dimensional brim smoking a cigarette. I was fortunate to win the carving for $299 including the buyer's fee. Shortly thereafter, I was looking through a 2007 Heritage auction catalog and spotted another carving (Lot 8124, right) clearly done by the same unknown carver. It sold for $402.50 with buyer's fee. In May of this year I purchased a very similar caving (left) that appeared to be a match to the other two for $450. I sent pictures of the carving to a couple of the OHNS authenticators who agreed it was the work of the carver of the other two. I have nicknamed this unknown carver "Pufferman" as all three carvings are of men puffing on cigarettes. The photos have been have been placed in a sequence that appears to show the progression of the carver's skill.

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

The carving characteristics for "Pufferman" are listed as follows:

  1. All three carvings depict a man smoking a cigarette with ash attached at the end and smoke rising up in the right field of the coin. On two of the carvings the cigarette is positioned at exactly the same angle.
  2. The character in each carving is wearing a domed hat with a pointed, three-dimensional brim with a wide band. On two of the specimens there is a bow on the band directly above the ear.
  3. All three carvings have accents added to the dome of the hat (horizontal lines or cross-hatch), band, bow and/or brim.
  4. The ears are more or less tear-shaped and have wide outer borders with inner detail created with an etched out center or outlined detail. On two specimens the tops of the ears extend over the hat brim. On the third specimen, the ear is slightly covered by the brim.
  5. The hair, moustache & beard created with overlapping punch marks. Punching denser towards the bottom of the beard.
  6. The eyes are altered and there are crow's feet on all three specimens.
  7. The profile is transformed with a wide notch at the bridge of the nose. The nose has a large rounded appearance with the edge of the nostril accented with a punch mark.
  8. Two specimens have a wide collar with a triangular fold at the front and accent lines/cross-hatching. On the third s there is a jacket with a lapel and a partial shirt collar showing.
  9. The dressing of the fields varies in quality- one example is covered with cross-hatching.
  10. There is heavy use of a black substance to create contrast.
  11. LIBERTY is removed on two specimens. All three are carved on 1913 Type 1 or 2 Buffalo Nickels.