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Alpert's Artist Galleries

−by  Stephen P. "BigOne" Alpert, OHNS-LM10
Chapter 4   from
The OHNS Hobo Nickel Guidebook
By Stephen P. Alpert
For The Original Hobo Nickel Society
2001
Photographs by Bill Fivaz, Stephen P. Alpert, and Coin World
( Not included on this webpage. )
Published by the
Original Hobo Nickel Society
www.hobonickels.org

We know the actual names of very few of the artists who made the old original hobo nickels. Bo and Bert are by far the best known of the original hobo nickel makers, and their lives are chronicled in detail in the two books by Del Romines. Other early makers of hobo nickels, who were prolific carvers and made pieces of a distinctive style, have been nicknamed (with their nickname put in quotes). There are other early makers who signed their hobo nickels with their name or initials, but only one or two specimens are known by these artists.
It is the purpose to present here only the best known, or most significant known or nicknamed early artists, and modern artists (many of whom are known). By comparing your specimens with the photos in this chapter, you may be able to attribute your hobo nickel to one of these artists. But remember, the great majority of old original hobo nickels are by unknown artists.
 Old Artists Whose Names We Know

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 George Washington “Bo” Hughes
According to Romines, “Bo” was the youngest of ten or eleven children, and the son of a freed slave. He was born circa 1900 and left home about 1915 and led the life of a hobo right up to the time he disappeared in 1980. He learned the art of hobo nickel carving from his friend, mentor, and fellow hobo, Bertram “Bert” Wiegand (see below{*}). Bo made his first hobo nickels in the late 1910s.
Bo was a prolific carver and made thousands of hobo nickels with a wide range of subjects - the standard design, jockeys, presidents, friends, self portraits, clowns, soldiers, etc. He made reverse carving also: donkeys, elephants, other animals, and standing hoboes. Bo's best works are the cameo carvings he made in the early 1950s (see Chapter 3{*}, and his portrait of Bert, below{*}). In 1957 he suffered a crippling hand injury while making a hobo nickel. From 1958 to 1963 he had to re-learn hobo nickel making by adopting a new technique using punches and limited carving. By the mid 1960s until the end of his career, Bo was able to resume making nice totally carved hobo nickels.
Most of Bo's hobo nickels are unsigned; he did sign some “GH” or “GWH”. Only one specimen is known upon which he signed his nickname, “Bo.” Bo toned many of the post-1957 hobo nickels he created by carrying them in a tobacco tin. The coins took on a nice darkened golden to orange-brown color. The history of Bo's life, travels, and adventures are documented in the two hobo nickel books by Del Romines.
{*}References in these notes are only applicable when reading the GuideBook itself.
     Note the distinctive ear and hair on Bo's hobo nickel carvings. Because of the popularity of Bo's works, and the fact that he produced a wide variety of hobo nickels, both in technique and subject matter, a large number of his hobo nickels are illustrated below{*}, grouped by topic or technique.
     Below{*} are a few of Bo's self portrait hobo nickels. They show a progression of Bo from a young to old man - from a full head of hair to totally bald on top. The last piece, signed “GH” was made after his hand injury. A 1951 cameo of Bo is illustrated above{*} at the end of Chapter 3{*}.
     Shown below{*} are three Indian hobo nickels made by Bo.
     Bo created many hobo nickels picturing his friends and family. Depicted below{*} are his lost brother who was in World War One (wearing helmet and punched 1919); his girlfriend Monique, and her sugar daddy Marcy.
     Bo enjoyed creating hobo nickels of clowns. The 1938 piece has a raised metal ear (note the shadow). The piece with the tall collar is signed “GH50” and is cameo-like. The 1937 coin is a post hand injury nickel.
     Bo also made many nice reverse carvings. The donkey and elephant designs were amongst his favorite, and may have had a political connotation (Democrats and Republicans). Bo also made the turtle reverse carving illustrated in Chapter 1{*}.
     Three of Bo's post hand injury nickels are illustrated below{*}. He had to make heavy use of punches during this period in his hobo nickel making career.
     Pictured below{*} are some miscellaneous hobo nickels made by Bo: a rabbi, a railroad engineer, a woman, and three standard designs.
     Bo also did hobo nickel portraits of his companion Bert (see below{*}). One is a nice early carving; the other a 1952 cameo.

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 Bertram Wiegand
Known as Bert, Bertram Wiegand was Bo's friend and mentor, who taught Bo how to make hobo nickels in the late 1910s. (See above{*} for two portraits of Bert by Bo.) The early works of Bert and Bo are very similar in style and often difficult to tell apart. Bert signed many of his hobo nickels by removing the LI and Y of LIBERTY, which left “BERT”. Many of Bert's works are very finely detailed, and they are highly prized by collectors, as they are very rare (compared to the many known pieces by Bo).
Bert was born circa 1890, began carving hobo nickels in 1913, spent some time in prison in the 1930s (where he continued making hobo nickels for the guards), and was last seen in the late 1940s, selling hobo nickels at flea markets. Other details of Bert's life are chronicled by Del Romines in his hobo nickel books.
{*}References in these notes are only applicable when reading the GuideBook itself.
     Six examples of hobo nickels by Bert are illustrated below{*}.

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Alpert's Old Artist
 “Weasel”
Weasel (actual name unknown) was a friend of Bo who made hobo nickels up to the 1970s. His works are rather similar to Bo's, and it is often difficult to distinguish his works from those of Bo. “Weasel” was an impatient carver, and many of his hobo nickels were hastily created. His works have hair consisting of dashes or parallel lines, and the ear is usually more oval than Bo's, and with a thick outer ring. He signed some of his nickels “W.L.”
{*}References in these notes are only applicable when reading the GuideBook itself.
     See OHNS auction number one below{*} in Chapter 6{*} for illustrations of hobo nickels by “Weasel.”
 Old Nicknamed Artists

An unknown hobo nickel artist is formally nicknamed by having the nickname published in BoTales (the journal of the Original Hobo Nickel Society), or a book or other periodical generally accessible to collectors of hobo nickels. At least two photographs of hobo nickels by the newly nicknamed artist should accompany the article, which should contain a list of diagnostic features that help identify hobo nickels by that artist. Usually several unknown artists are nicknamed in BoTales each year.

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 “Peanut Ear”
Peanut Ear is probably the most prolific of the early nicknamed hobo nickel artists. This artist was nicknamed “Peanut Ear” by Dave Wilson, and published by Bill Fivaz, in the December 1995 issue of BoTales. The main diagnostic feature is the ear which resembles a peanut in shape. Other characteristics of “Peanut Ear's” hobo nickels are:
       the distinctive hat and hat band (usually with a little notch in the top of the hat);
       a distinctive punched beard and mustache;
       a V-shaped collar;
       an enlarged nostril;
       profile unaltered; and
       a thin-line extension of the hair from the ear to the forehead just below the hat brim.
“Peanut Ear's” hobo nickels are usually on 1913 buffalo nickels.

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 “Telephone Ear”
Telephone Ear has not been formally nicknamed previously, so I will do so now. The hobo nickels of this early maker are identifiable by the following diagnostic characteristics:
      1) The telephone receiver-shaped ear, usually tilted forward.
      2) The shallow hat with long, thin, nearly straight hat brim, and no hat band.
      3) The wedge-shaped collar.
      4) The densely punched or carved hair.
      5) The unaltered profile. “Telephone Ear's” hobo nickels mainly occur on 1913 nickels. Other hobo nickel makers also made telephone-shaped ears. Unless the other characteristics are present, such pieces were not made by “Telephone Ear.”
{*}References in these notes are only applicable when reading the GuideBook itself.
     Three hobo nickels by “Telephone Ear” are illustrated below{*}.

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Nicknamed Artist
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Nicknamed Artist
 “No Neck”
No Neck is a nicknamed early hobo nickel maker. He was nicknamed by Bill Fivaz in the April 1996 issue of BoTales, based on the appearance of a man with no neck, as the collar is placed up very high on the bust. The collar is formed by two deep parallel grooves. Other diagnostic characteristics of hobo nickels by “No Neck” are:
       the shallow hat with a zigzag hat band;
       the ear overlapping the hat brim;
       punched hair-beard-mustache;
       the feathers are not removed and the braid on the neck is poorly dressed;
       the profile is unaltered; and
       his works are found on 1913 nickels.

 “Smoothie”
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Smoothie is a prolific unknown hobo nickel maker, nicknamed by Stephen Alpert in the August 1998 issue of BoTales. His hobo nickels were made by first smoothing the obverse of the coin (except for the face, profile, and Liberty). Then he engraved thin lines to form the hat, ear and collar, and punched in the hair-beard-mustache. Hobo nickels by “Smoothie” are characterized by
       the thinly engraved lines on smooth surfaces;
       a simple outline ear;
       an unaltered profile or a small notch at the top of the nose; and
       a simple collar with a triangular flap at front.
Except for the face, the design is two-dimensional or flat. The coin's date was removed in the smoothing preparation before the carving and punching began. Four hobo nickels by “Smoothie” are illustrated below{*}. Other hobo nickels makers also used this technique of smoothing the bust, except for the face, and then engraving the design in fine lines.

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 “Flat Nose”
Flat Nose is an early hobo nickel maker, nicknamed by Stephen Alpert in the April-May-June 2000 issue of BoTales. The artist is so nicknamed because of the characteristic flattening of the surface (not profile) of the nose on his works. Other diagnostic characteristics of “Flat Nose” hobo nickels are:
       a distinctive hat with carved thin brim and bow on the hat band;
       a simple collar formed by 2 carved usually parallel lines;
       an enlarged nostril;
       punched hair-beard-mustache;
       the hair may extend outward to the rear under the hat brim, and also forward along the forehead; and
       there are crow's feet wrinkles at the corner of the eye.
The ear varies in appearance. “Flat Nose” hobo nickels are found on coins dating 1913 to 1915.
{*}References in these notes are only applicable when reading the GuideBook itself.
     Note: The 1914 nickel below{*} with the field cut out; this is very rarely found on old original hobo nickels. (Also rare are cutouts of the head only from a hobo nickel, attached to a stickpin.)

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 “Dapper”
Dapper is an early hobo nickel maker, nicknamed by Stephen Alpert in the July-August-September 2000 issue of BoTales. He was so named because his nickels depict a sharply-dressed well-groomed man. “Dapper's” hobo nickels have
       a hat brim that is narrow and long with pointed ends.
       The beard is short, with a triangular projection on the cheek that points to the eye.
       The profile is unaltered.
       The ear is narrow.
       The collar has a distinctive large triangular flap at the front.
“Dapper's” works appear on early-dated buffalo nickels.

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 “Tufty”
Tufty is another early hobo nickel maker, whose works appear on 1913 buffalo nickels. He was nicknamed by Stephen Alpert in the July-August-September 2000 issue of BoTales, and so named due to the tuft of hair that appears on his hobo nickels, on the forehead below the hat brim. Other diagnostic features of “Tufty” hobo nickels are:
       A strongly-curved hat brim with an equally wide plain hat band;
       a large ear with a wide outer area and smaller central depression;
       carved hair and beard;
       the collar is a straight groove; and
       the nose is slightly altered at top.
  {*}References in these notes are only applicable when reading the GuideBook itself.
Note: The following four early hobo nickel artists are introduced and named here{*} for the first time.

 “Needle Ear”
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The nickname “Needle Ear” was selected for this early artist based of the shape of the ear, narrow at the bottom with a loop at the top, somewhat resembling the top of a sewing needle. The diagnostic characteristics of a “Needle Ear” hobo nickel are:
      1) The distinctive narrow ear.
      2) A bold hat with a narrow brim with blunt ends, and a hat band with a wide bow.
      3) A large area of punched hair and beard.
      4) A short collar created by two straight parallel grooves.
      5) An altered profile consisting of a deep notch at the top of the nose, an enlarged nostril, and enhanced mouth.
“Needle Ear” hobo nickels are found on 1913 nickels.
For additional specimens of nickels by “Needle Ear” see Joyce Romines' book, page 85, last coin on third row, and OHNS Auction 7, Jan. 1999, lot 41.               

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 “Rough Beard”
The nickname of this prolific early hobo nickel maker is based on the rough choppy beard, formed by repeated overlapping punches. The diagnostic characteristics of a “Rough Beard” hobo nickel are:
      1) The distinctive rough beard-hair-mustache.
      2) The large ear with an outer groove.
      3) A hat brim with pointed ends.
      4) A hat band formed by a single straight groove that is not parallel to the curved brim.
      5) The altered profile (notch at top of nose, flattened tip of nose, enlarged nostril).
      6) A distinctive double collar.
“Rough Beard” hobo nickels are found on 1913 nickels.
For additional specimens of nickels by “Rough Beard” see Joyce Romines' book, page 44, last coin on third row, and OHNS Auction 4, Aug. 1996, lot 14, and Auction 8, Jan. 2000, lot 32.

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 “Big Nose”
There's no mistaking a hobo nickel made by “Big Nose.” Just look at that profile! While many other hobo nickel makers made hobo nickels with big noses, only those with the following diagnostic characteristics were made by “Big Nose”:
      1) A big rounded bulbous nose, with a bulbous nostril area (the nostril hole is not visible).
      2) A bold hat, usually with a wide, curved brim with pointed ends.
      3) A hat band that is usually ornamented; the top line of the band is not parallel to the brim.
      4) The eye is usually altered, and there is often a small pair of spectacles.
      5) A somewhat distinctive ear, with a thick outer ear and earlobe.
      6) The sideburns and mustache are punched, while the hair behind the head (which extends far back under the brim) and the pointed beard are carved.
      7) The lips are enhanced and enlarged.
      8) The field is decently dressed, with Liberty removed.
      9) The treatment of the neck and shoulder areas varies. From specimen to specimen.

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 “Hunchback”
This rather scarce early hobo nickel maker produced beautiful two-sided carvings, with the standard design on the obverse, and a hiking hunchbacked hobo with walking stick on the reverse. His creations are on early-dated buffalo nickels. The diagnostic characteristics of a hobo nickel made by “Hunchback” are:
      1) A two-sided hobo nickel of the designs mentioned above.
      2) A smooth derby with thin straight brim, and hat band with bow.
      3) Punched hair-beard-mustache.
      4) Slightly altered nose, nostril, and mouth.
      5) A single punch alters the eye.
      6) A distinctive double collar.
      7) A textured field on both sides (apparently pounded).
      8) The ear varies is appearance and technique used.
      9) The hunchback on the reverse has a head with hat, eye, ear, profile, and beard.
            The coat is smooth, with a pocket and one or two buttons.
            The legs are small and go down to about the knees only.
            The man is holding a walking stick in his left hand.
Additional specimens of hobo nickels by “Hunchback” can be seen in Joyce Romines' book: front cover; page 29 lower right; page 33, second row, on right; page 44, second row, third from left; page 60, middle of page.
 Early Modern Artists (1980s to mid 1990s)

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Alpert's Early Modern Artist
 John F. Press 9/20/46-3/10/83
John F. Press began making hobo nickels circa 1980, and died 1983. He taught J.Allen (see below) how to make hobo nickels, and their works are very similar in style. He signed his hobo nickels “J.PRESS” using a metal die, counterstamped on the buffalo. Hobo nickels signed by J.Press are much scarcer than those of J.Allen.

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Alpert's Early Modern Artist
 J. Allen 8/1/47-
J.Allen, of Rochester, N. Y., is the only known female Early Modern hobo nickel artist. She began creating hobo nickels in 1982 and is still active. She learned the craft from her friend J. Press (see above), and their workmanship is very similar. J.Allen uses hand-held gravers, and punches (arcs, circles, stars, dashes, etc.), to create her hobo nickels. She makes many designs, which include clowns, bikers, firemen, pirates, RR engineers, Santas, Uncle Sam, Einstein, etc. It takes her about one hour to make each hobo nickel. She signs her works “J. ALLEN” which is counterstamped on the buffalo; others are signed “JA”, and some were not signed. Some unsigned pieces have a rough field behind the head.

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Alpert's Early Modern Artist
 John Dorusa
John Dorusa, a former coal miner from Pennsylvania, made hobo nickels from the 1980s until his death circa 1994. Although he claimed he was taught the art of making hobo nickels by Bert and Bo in the 1920s in Indiana, there is no evidence he made any hobo nickels prior to 1980. Most of his hobo nickels are designs of Bo and Bert copied from Romines' 1982 book. He even “signed” some of his early Bo copies “G H” or “Bo”. His phony G H signatures are done in thinner letters than Bo's real GH signature, usually with a power tool or electric pencil. Dorusa's later hobo nickels are signed “J. D.”, “J. H. D.”, or “J. Dorusa”. He also made hobo nickel sets of the Presidents, and Christ and his 12 Apostles. John created his hobo nickels with a curved chisel and a power tool. The quality varies among the many thousands of hobo nickels he made. They are popular among collectors and most currently sell for $15 to $50 each.

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Alpert's Early Modern Artist
 Frank Brazzell
Frank Brazzell of Terre Haute, Ind., created elongated cents and love tokens, as well as hobo nickels, and sold them to the numismatic hobby. He made about 4,000 hobo nickels a year from the 1980s to the mid 1990s. He died in 1996. Frank used a hand-held power-driven graver to create his hobo nickels, which took only 5 to 10 minutes each to make. Most of his designs are copied from works by Bo that appeared in Romines' 1982 book. He made reverse carvings also. Some of Frank's hobo nickels are signed “FB”. Note the distinctive hair and ear on his works.

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 Howard Hughes
Howard Hughes of California, a brakeman for the Santa Fe Railroad, made distinctive hobo nickels from the 1970s to 1994. An interview with Mr. Hughes by Bill Fivaz is presented in the April 1996 issue of BoTales. He made about 350 to 400 carvings using small chisels made from jewelers screwdrivers. Each piece took one half to two days to make. He darkened them by heating the coins and dropping them into motor oil. After making 50 to 60 hobo nickels, be began adding his “HH” monogram on the reverse. His hobo nickel subjects are cowboys, and celebrities (such as Sammy Davis, Jr., Ronald Reagan, LBJ, Mr. Spock, Charles De Gaulle).
 Later Modern Artists (mid 1990s to present)

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Alpert's Early Modern Artist
 “Eddings”
We do not know for certain who this modern maker is, other that it may be a man named “Eddings” who lives in Alabama. He has made hobo nickels since the mid 1990s and may still be active. The obverses of his hobo nickels have a shiny stainless steel-like luster, and the reverses may be slightly flattened. His works cover a wide variety of subjects, from the standard design, to cartoon characters, clowns, women, Indians, jockeys, Orientals, witches, rabbis, reverse animals, etc. He added color paint to some of his works.

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Alpert's Early Modern Artist
 Ron Landis
Ron Landis is a highly skilled engraver who operates the Gallery Mint Museum in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. He makes accurate copies of colonial and early American coins for collectors, from dies he cuts by hand; they are struck using old contemporary techniques. Ron began carving hobo nickels in 1993, and he has made about 200 pieces, all totally hand engraved and beautifully done. Each piece is signed “R.L.” as well as sequentially numbered and dated. Some of his works are reverse carvings. He has made standard designs, but most of his carving are creative unique designs. Because of his top quality workmanship, his hobo nickels are highly prized by collectors, and usually sell for several hundred to over a thousand dollars apiece at auction. Ron also issues one to three hobo tokens annually (see Chapter 7{*}). He engraves steel dies with the obverse and reverse designs, and strikes the tokens on Jefferson nickels.

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Alpert's Early Modern Artist
 Sonny Carpenter
Sonny Carpenter is an understudy of Ron Landis, and he has created a limited number of hobo nickels, both obverse and reverse carvings. He does very nice work.

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Alpert's Early Modern Artist
 Cinco de Arturo
Cinco de Arturo (his artistic name) of Detroit reportedly began creating hobo nickels in the 1980s (but his works first came to the attention of the hobo nickel hobby in 1999). He is still active today. He claims to have learned the art from old hobo nickel carvers. Cinco uses rotary bur tools to make his hand carved hobo nickels, taking two to four hours each. He signs them “CdA” engraved on the buffalo. He is of Honduran-American ancestry. His subject matter ranges from the standard design, to people he knew or admired, to holiday figures (Witch for Halloween, Santa Claus for Christmas). Cinco de Arturo is a very talented hobo nickel maker whose works are popular and sell on Internet auctions for $100 and up. His works are bold and in very high relief.

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Alpert's Early Modern Artist
 Arthur L. Hutchison, Jr.
Arthur L. Hutchison, of Mississippi, is a former coin shop owner who began creating hobo nickels after one was brought into his shop which he was unable to buy. He made gravers from nails, and he hand carves his nickels like the old-time makers. He began selling his nickels on Internet auction in 1999. Arthur began making the standard design hobo nickels (as illustrated here{*}). His early pieces such as these have a thick-outlined ear, straight parallel hair lines, a hat with the brim wrapping around in the rear, and a simple collar. He signs his nickels “AH” on the reverse below the buffalo (except for some unsigned early pieces). His talent has improved markedly since 1999, and he is now making much nicer pieces, including obverse cameos, and reverse carvings.
{*}References in these notes are only applicable when reading the GuideBook itself.
     The illustrations below{*} are of his earlier works.

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Alpert's Early Modern Artist
 Bill “BillZach” Jameson
Bill began carving hobo nickels seven years ago and has made about 500 to date. The quality of his work markedly improved after he received tips from Arthur Hutchison on using the proper tools and a scope. He now makes very nice and desirable hobo nickels including reverse carvings. The fields on his nickels are either smooth and concave, or nicely stippled. He also artificially “ages” some of his carvings by toning them to an attractive darkened appearance with nice contrast. These pieces may resemble and be mistaken for original old carvings. Bill signs many of his nickels with a “Z” on the reverse, for “Billzach,” his artistic nickname derived from his first name and the name of his grandson, Zach.
{*}References in these notes are only applicable when reading the GuideBook itself.
     The nickels by Billzach illustrated below{*} are a cameo of Monique, the railroad bull that beat up “Bo,” and a hiking hobo.

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Alpert's Early Modern Artist
 Sam Alfano
Sam Alfano, of Louisiana, is a master engraver who turned his tremendous engraving talents toward making hobo nickels in April of 2000. He has made many beautiful and spectacular superior quality hobo nickel engravings, all totally hand done. He sells many of them on Internet auctions, where they bring from $200 to $800 apiece. Others have sold privately for $1,000.00 and up apiece. Sam's nickels range from the standard design to depictions of youngsters, elves, local characters, cameos, and reverse carvings, all done in extreme detail, and with nice contrast. He has developed some innovative techniques, such as a left-facing woman's head, the use of inlaid 24 karat gold on the hat band and elsewhere, and insetting a real diamond atop the walking stick of a hobo reverse carving. Sam, along with Ron Landis and newcomer Steve Adams, are the three best modern hobo nickel makers.

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Alpert's Early Modern Artist
 Steve Adams
Steve Adams is a self-taught die cutter, and sculptor, with over 25 years experience as a medallic die cutter, working for several companies, including the Medallic Art Company. He is currently at the Medalcraft Mint in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Steve began creating hobo nickels in September of 2000, and carves about one a month. Each piece takes a half day to several days to complete. His talent is equal to that of Sam Alfano and Ron Landis; all three produce spectacular superior-quality works. His hobo nickel designs are in deep relief, with much detail and occasional inlays. Steve signs his SGA logo on the reverse of his nickels (he owns SGA Sculpture Engraving , creating dies for coins and medallions). Some of the hobo nickel designs he has created so far are: a WWI doughboy, Roman Centurion, eagle, Viking, Indians, Leprechaun, Buffalo Bill, and Santa Claus.

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Webpage last updated:   Sunday, December 25, 2011