Introducing William Sharples

By Art DelFavaro HLM552

Featured in the summer 2002 BoTales was a hobo nickel purchased by Steve Alpert from Ray Kopman in 1996. The seller explained that his father William Kopman, a jeweler by trade, was the original artist of this coin. Until now, and to my knowledge, this was the only time that a family member of an original artist from the classic era has ever made contact and confirmed the carver’s name.

In late March of 2012, I was contacted by O.H.N.S. web master Chris Dempsey. Chris informed me that he was purchasing a small collection of hobos, and he would be willing to sell a couple. In our phone conversation, he described one where the original Indian was changed to a squaw. He also noted that the edge of the coin was stamped WM. SHARPLES PROP. Personally, I have never been intrigued by Indian to Indian carvings, but something in my gut told me to commit to the purchase.

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Upon receiving and examining the coin, I noticed that the overall artistry was skillfully done. As is often the case, the carving looked much better in hand than in the photos. I also recognized something familiar after examining the way the artist signed his work. My grandfather Pietro DelFavero (1887-1974) was a tool and die worker for the Ford Motor company, and some of the items he left behind were letter stamped in a similar fashion. At that moment it all came together, our artist was involved in the machine and /or tool and die trade.

In my collection, I have a number of signed or initialed renderings and in the past my search for the artist has come up fruitless. Would this hunt be any different? As I mentioned, the tool or machinery trade could be the key. My internet search began by typing in the name William Sharples Machinery and then just Sharples Machinery. And there it was! Sharples Machinery is a company based in Hackettstown New Jersey and is owned and operated by Dennis Sharples a third generation tool and die engineer. All this came together on Saturday the seventh of April. Now I had to wait until Monday to make contact.

As I made my phone call, I wondered if this would be another dead end. If so, where was I going to search next? Dennis answered the phone, and after a conversation he verified that his grandfather was named William. He asked for photos to confirm if this was indeed William’s work. Dennis contacted me after receiving the photos and said in fact it was the work of his grandfather. At that time he informed me that he would be sending photos of other engravings produced by him, biographical information, and photos of William Sharples himself.

Dennis Sharples shared that his grandfather William Sharples was born in 1902 and died in 1971. Early on he worked in Newark, New Jersey for Whitehead and Hoag. They made medals, lapel pins and wedding rings. My Aunt said that he was friendly with a George Winter that had a jewelry store on Orange Avenue in Newark where he also tinkered around. He later became a policeman in Kearny, New Jersey.

Dennis went on to say that his grandfather started a Tool, Die & Mold Company in the early 1950’s called Wil-Ede and Sons. The Wil is for William and the Ede was for Edith my Grandmother. My Father, David and His Brother William Jr. also worked there hence the name Sons. I also worked there as a toolmaker apprentice from 1977-1982. Wil-EDE and Sons closed down with the passing of my father in 2008.

Dennis said my Grandfather was a man that could make anything. My father said he was the ultimate tool maker. He was the head of the Kearny Police Department Detectives department by day and operated Wil-Ede during the night untilhis retirement in 1968. I have no doubt that he made the coin you have.

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William Sharples working at Wil-Ede and in his later years

I have included pictures of some of his engravings that he kept in his toolbox.

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Three engravings from William Sharples’s toolbox

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Two signed engravings from William Sharples’s toolbox

I would like to thank Dennis Sharples for telling me about his grandfather and putting a name and face to the carver of this special coin. I hope that this will inspire other collectors to research any signed pieces they may have in their collections. There still is a very slim chance that a living original classic era artist could be found, but those days are numbered.