Click to return from whence you came! A Siberian 3-sided Hobo Nickel
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Stephen P. Alpert ~ April 11, 2004

      Sounds bizarre, doesn't it? But that is what I obtained from an ebay auction just after our January 2004 OHNS meeting in Orlando. Besides being a high-quality carving with attractive hand lettering on both sides, and on the edge (that's the seldom-altered third side of a hobo nickel, folks), the piece is just smothered and dripping with history. And military history, no less.

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      First, a description of this totally-carved old hobo nickel. The obverse has the standard design alteration - a bearded man wearing a derby. Here we have a nice plain derby, with a pointy-ended wrap-around brim, no hat band, and a nice smoothly-dressed large dome. A nice ear, with internal detail and an earlobe, overlaps the hat brim. The hair-beard-mustache is beautifully hand engraved. The eye is altered, as are the nose and lips.

      There is a simple collar with a jewel at front. The shoulder-coat area below only has the date erased, and the small letters "H.C.A." engraved below. I take this to be the signature initials of the artist. The obverse field is smoothly dressed, with Liberty removed. Around the right is engraved the name "KARASHAW" which I assume is someone's last name, possibly the person depicted on the carving.

      The reverse has the buffalo nicely altered into a donkey. All the coin's wording has been removed, and the field nicely dressed for the new hand-engraved legends: "BOLSHEVIKI" around the top, "1919" in front of the donkey, and "10 KOPEKS" where Five Cents used to be.

      The ebay seller mentioned something about Siberia on the edge, but didn't post the inscription until after I inquired. The edge is neatly lettered "HDQTS. CO. 31 INF. A.E.F. VLADIVOSTOK, SIBERIA" (read upright with the coin reverse facing up). Wow! That's great information. I was afraid this would drive the bidding way up, but apparently it didn't.

      I won the ebay auction not knowing if the legends made any sense. I thought it might be a fantasy piece by the carver, someone just fooling around. After receiving the hobo nickel, I began researching the data on the coin on the Internet, and found it to be accurate, as I found out much of the history behind this amazing hobo nickel.

      It turns out that this piece is from what is referred to as "America's Secret War" when American forces intervened in the Russian Revolution. This was the first and only time American troops operated on Russian soil. Below, briefly, is the story of the U.S. Intervention in Siberia, 1918 to 1920, gathered from the Internet (where you can find a whole lot more information on this operation).

      During the Russian Revolution, Japan was about to send 7,000 soldiers to Vladivostok. In conjunction, President Wilson also sent 5,000 to 7,000 (figures vary) U.S. soldiers, so Japan wouldn't gain a stronghold there. The purpose of deploying US forces there was threefold: 1) To guard the military supplies that we previously sent there (600,000 tons of war material and about a billion dollars worth of guns and equipment), that were just sitting around inadequately guarded. 2) To secure the eastern end of the Trans Siberia Railway. 3) To stabilize the area during the Russian Revolution.

      So an American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F. on the edge of the hobo nickel) was sent to Siberia, comprised mostly of the U.S. Army's 27th and 31st Infantry Regiments (31 INF. is on the edge of the hobo nickel). These regiments were normally based in the Philippines. The British also sent an infantry regiment from Hong Kong, and France one from Indo-China.

      One Aug. 16, 1918, 1590 US troops from the 27th Inf. Arrived in Vladivostok, followed by 1421 troops from the 31st Inf. On Aug. 21. More arrived from the 8th Inf. Div. later. The 31st Inf. operated in the area just north of Vladivostok and in the small mining town of Suchan. There were some casualties in fighting against the Bolshevik forces ("Bolsheviki" on the reverse of the hobo nickel). Irkutsk was the westernmost area of operation.

      After the collapse of Russia's White Government, the US troops began deporting, with the last group leaving in April of 1920. (the 1919 date engraved on the hobo nickel fits right in the middle). The 31st Infantry in Siberia had one officer and 29 enlisted men killed in action, and twice as many wounded. Plus many lost limbs due to frostbite. The men killed and some others are listed on the Internet, but I couldn't find a Karashaw or anyone with the initials H.C.A. Further research into the complete roster of the 31st Inf. In Siberia is needed, to possibly identify H.C.A. and Karashaw.

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      Note that the inscribed edge of the hobo nickel begins with "HDQTS. CO." which may indicate that the person who carved this hobo nickel worked in the Headquarters or Headquarters Company of this unit. On the Internet I found many photos of US troops in Siberia, and one of them was actually of a group standing in front of the A.E.F. Headquarters building in Vladivostok. The picture is of low quality and hopefully will reproduce here OK. It is possible that the person who carved this nickel may be in this picture.

      Most likely the soldier who carved this coin used a buffalo nickel from his pocket change. This is the best-documented or only U.S. "trench art" soldier-carved hobo nickel I know of. It is also the only three-sided hobo nickel known to me. Thus it is probably the most fascinating hobo nickel in my entire collection.


      WebMaster Note: A Google Search for "Siberia 1918 27th" turns up 234 webpages and right at the top of the list is a really super reference entitled: 27th Regimental History - American Expeditionary Force Siberia [ www.kolchak.org/History/Siberia/aef.htm ]...  "The 27th US Infantry Regiment has served the Country since 1901 from The Philippine Insurrection, the Russian Intervention in Siberia, the Pacific in WW II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. It is currently stationed in Hawaii." - V-Dubya.

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Click to return from whence you came!