ANAStaff's Blog

25 Jan 2013

The entangled connection between buffalo nickels and hobo nickels

ANA - Money Museum | ANAStaff

Written by: Brandon Ortega

The buffalo nickel has been a hot topic recently around the Money Museum. Much of the talk about buffalo nickels surrounds the fact that National Coin Week is only three months away and the ANA staff is working hard to prepare for the eventful week.


When one discusses the buffalo nickel, it is not long before the topic of the hobo nickel quickly enters the conversation. The buffalo nickel is celebrating its 100-year anniversary, hence the hobo nickel itself is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. This week's blog will examine the history behind the hobo nickels and explain why buffalo nickels were typically used by artists to design creative and artistic hobo nickels. 


A large majority of hobo nickels were designed during the Great Depression. With a lack of employment during this era, many individuals were forced to venture to other locations to find work. 


Those with an artistic ability saw the buffalo nickel as a way to demonstrate their artistic craft and a way to create an item that would hold trading value. Buffalo nickels were created from 1913-1938, therefore, during the Great Depression they were in abundance. These coins provided a large, thick planchet and high-relief profile for artists to work on, allowing for fine detail work. Furthermore, the coins were small and convenient for travel, thus becoming a canvas for traveling artists.  

 Nickel _buffalo _1913

(1913 Buffalo Nickel)

Both sides of the coin were used to create various sculptures. Some of the most popular designs using the Indian head were bearded men with bowler hats, clowns, women, other Indians, famous people and self portraits. On the reverse side, the Buffalo was used to create donkeys, turtles, elephants, hobos with backpacks and boxcars.

                                                    1916-hobo -nickel 

(Indian head carved into a man with a bowler hat and beard)


For many drifters who carved hobo nickels, they traded them for a meal, sweater or place to sleep. 


Bertram "Bert" Wiegand and George Washington "Bo" Hughes are two carvers who stood above all others in their era of carving. The fine detail in their work made them exceptional artists. 


Hobo nickels can be classified into three categories.


Classic: Buffalo nickels carved from 1913 into the 1950s

Modern: Coins carved since the 1950s

Hobo tokens: modern, struck versions of hobo nickels


Today, hobo nickels are collector items. Yet, hobo nickel carvers still exist today and the number of carvers has increased in recent years. Some of that increase has to do with Joe Paonessa and Ron Landis - both are hobo nickel carvers who teach courses on how to carve hobo nickels at the annual ANA Summer Seminar.


When I observe a Hobo nickel, I still am baffled how artists were able to create such interesting and detailed designs on coins. If you have never seen a hobo coin or just want to get another chance to view them, take a trip to the Money Museum at 818 N. Cascade Ave. in Colorado Springs, Colo.




Level 7

Don't collect them I own a few. But the buffalo was never in danger.

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