Click to return from whence you came! Collecting Hobo Nickels

Richard Giedroyc ~ April 25, 2000
Hobo nickel. Beard is added
to Buffalo nickel's obverse side.

Many coin collectors will acknowledge, grudgingly, their families believe they've lost it."

These non-collecting relatives should give a sigh of relief if their collecting family member merely collects coins. This article is about those who collected mutilated coins called "Hobo" nickels.

One day during the 1970s when I was a partner at Paris Bergman Galleries in New Jersey, we received a bag of nickels in which I found two peculiar pieces on which the Indian on the obverse had been retooled by someone to look like a bearded hobo wearing a hat. This was my first encounter with a Hobo nickel.

Hobo nickels began in the 1920s or 1930s. Hobos of that era for some reason took Buffalo nickels and re-engraved them, possibly selling them for some "pin" money.

Nobody knows for certain, but it appears the favorite coin for this mutilation was the Buffalo nickel. Perhaps because it was a low value coin? Who knows for certain?

In more recent history The Original Hobo Nickel Society Inc. was founded to collect not only the "original" Hobo nickels, but more currently produced engravings made by machine rather than by hand.

Can you tell a modern copy from an original? Maybe not, but the OHNS has an authentication service to help you. It may not be as sophisticated as Professional Coin Grading Service, but nevertheless it is an authentication service.

The OHNS also holds auctions and has club meetings at major numismatic conventions. Some of the lots go for more than $100 each. Their quarterly newsletter is called "Bo Tales," Bo being a reference to the hobo usually credited with producing the first Hobo nickels.

In case you don't believe anyone might still be making such unusual items, according to a recent issue of "Bo Tales," Cinco de Arturo and Arthur L. Hutchison Jr. are now making these items. Apparently Hutchison once owned a coin store in Hattiesburg, Miss.

The OHNS also offers club members annual "Hobo nickel tokens" at the bargain price of $10 a pop.

Re-engraved coins is nothing new. Coins were re-engraved for kicks for centuries before anybody coined the word hobo. Some of the better known 19th century re-engraved coins are the large copper pieces of Napoleon III of France, which were meant to make him look ridiculous.

Read almost any coin hobby publication and you will see cut, enameled or re-engraved coins for sale. People pay a premium for these.

The OHNS may have really gone off the deep end. The board of directors is comprised of members with the dubious titles of "The Big One and Chief Cook and Bottle Washer," "Town Crier and Keeper of the Campfire," "Head Scribbler," "Trouble Maker," "Bean Counter" and "Night Watch." Some of these individuals have adopted hobo nicknames.

The authenticators are known as "Know-It-Alls" and the founder of the club has the title "Started-It-All."

Realistically, it is nice to see a segment of coin collecting where people don't take themselves too seriously. Inquires should be made to OHNS, 12000 Sunset Ridge Drive, Ozawkie, KS 66070-6045.

Richard Giedroyc is a numismatic writer, researcher, auction cataloger and coin dealer. He has been in the hobby and business most of his life, now having more than three decades experience in this fascinating hobby field. During this time Giedroyc has been the owner of Paris Bergman Galleries, owner of Classical Coin Newsletter, international editor of Coin World and owner of Giedroyc-Anderson Interesting World Coins. He is currently a numismatic consultant. He has written more than 2,000 byline numismatic stories and contributed to several coin catalogs.

Hobo nickels began in the 1920s or 1930s. Hobos of that era
for some reason took Buffalo nickels and re-engraved them.

Hobo nickel with the Indian wearing a bowler hat and beard.
Bottom of reverse side has one change that reads 'Jew Money'.

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Webpage last updated:   Saturday, August 5, 2006