Click to return from whence you came! The Carvings of Mike Pezak
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David E. Schenkman ~ May 2004

NUMISMATIST ~ American Numismatic Association ~ Volume 117, Number 5.

By no means a hobo, this talented artist is a modern-day expert in the art of re-engraving coins.

      Since its release in 1972, the film Deliverance has, in the view of many people, become a part of the cultural history of our generation. Written by James Dickey and starring Ned Beatty, Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, the movie was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

      One scene features a boy sitting on a porch playing the movie抯 theme song on a banjo. Titled “Dueling Banjos,” this tune quickly became a boon for dealers in musical instruments because of the interest it created in the banjo. Even now, more than 30 years later, bluegrass groups everywhere frequently are asked to play the song.

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  Reworking the Buffalo on the reverse of a 1937 5-cent piece, Mike Pezak created this modern-day hobo nickel with a "Dueling Banjos" theme.

      “What does this have to do with numismatics?” you might ask. Until recently, the answer would have been, “Absolutely nothing.” Thanks to the artistry of Mike Pezak, this is no longer the case.

      Mike is one of a new generation of artisans who carve coins, much as hobos did during the Great Depression. The “host” coin of choice for most hobos was the Buffalo nickel, and it remains the most popular planchet for their present-day counterparts. On the majority of old “hobo nickels,” the Indian抯 head has been reworked, and many modern artists are content to continue this practice.

      Not so for Mike, who came to carve nickels quite by accident a few years ago. A retired jeweler, Mike had some engraving experience and was interested in learning more about various techniques. Through the Internet, he made contact with another engraver, who suggested he look at hobo nickels on eBay and create some as practice projects. Mike noticed that while some of the carvings offered for sale were very crude, others were quite sophisticated and extremely intricate. He purchased a supply of Buffalo nickels, started experimenting, and soon was hooked.

      Before long, as he tried different styles and refined his skills, Mike had used up hundreds of nickels. In the process, he made many “traditional” examples. However, he wanted his nickels to be different, and in my opinion he has succeeded very well.

      My favorite Pezak carvings are a series featur- ing his character “Hobo Harry.” I prevailed upon Mike to make a nickel for me, and he created one titled “Harry抯 Grand Ole Opry.” Engraved on the reverse of a Buffalo nickel, it shows “Harry” lying in a hammock and playing a banjo for a little bird that landed on his toe, with the moon above and one of his shoes on the ground below the hammock. Needless to say, it is a treasured addition to my small collection of modern hobo nickels (all with themes relating to banjos).

      Several months ago, I told Mike about my banjo business and mentioned that I played in a bluegrass band. He asked if we played “Dueling Banjos,” and after replying in the affirmative, I asked if he would consider carving a nickel with a theme relating to the movie. Mike said he would consider it, and I heard no more from him on the subject until the piece illustrated here arrived in the mail.

      Mike used a 1937 Buffalo nickel reverse for this extremely well-detailed work, which shows a bearded man standing and playing a banjo. At the center is a campfire; to the right, another bearded man sits at the base of a tree playing a guitar. Unfortunately, the illustration doesn抰 do justice to Mike抯 expertise.

      If you抎 like to know more about Mike and see some stunning examples of his work, visit his website, www.thehobonickelguy.com. Who knows? You may become hooked on modern nickel carvings!

      I welcome readers comments. Write to me at P.O. Box 366, Bryantown, MD 20617. If a reply is desired, please enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope. --schenkman@money.org

Reproduced courtesy of NUMISMATIST, official publication of the American Numismatic Association (www.money.org).
[  Actual article scan is available on CD-ROM.  ]
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