Hobo Nickels




(Frequently Asked Questions)



What is a Hobo Nickel?


The term refers to a buffalo nickel (minted 1913-1938) that someone has carved a different design into the buffalo or the Indian. The original nickels were carved by "hobos" and bartered for whatever it would fetch.  The term is used more loosely now to refer to carved coins.


How were Hobo Nickels carved?


Original nickels wee carved with simple tools such as pocket knifes, nails, and small files.  Modern carvings may be done with more sophisticated tools such as pneumatic gravers or rotary tools however, even modern carvings may have a touch of hand tooling.


When was my nickel carved?


Likely, not long ago.  "Original" carvings were done during the minting of the buffalo nickel (1913-1938), while buffalo nickels were in circulation.  "Modern" carvings are prevalent and still being done.  It is likely that modern carvings outnumber the original versions. (OHNS: A History of Hobo Nickels -by Stephen P. Alpert)


How can I tell if my Hobo Nickel is original?


If you found it in your grandma's house in a tin box that has been rusted shut for 60 yrs, its original.  If you found it on eBay, it's a modern carving.  Outside of those two scenarios, here's some help in distinguishing between the two.


Original Carvings:

1) Cut lines are smooth to the touch. They appear dark and under magnification with debris in them. 

2) Areas where the original image has been removed appear as scrapes or gouges. They should appear as if made by a knife and not a mechanical tool.

3) There should be wear on the high spots of the coin where the carvings were made.

4) Earlier dated coins (i.e. 1913) will tend to be authentic. (During the days when these coins were carved they had no idea what the value would be in the future.)

5) Most Hobo Nickels are good to very fine as the Hobos used circulated coins (but usually not heavily circulated). They are usually carved on the Indian side. (The Indian side was easiest to carve due to the strong features and large working surface. Hobos only had a knife, and not a modern day high-speed rotary tool with a coin snugly anchored in a vise).


Modern Carvings:
1) Reproductions are usually very worn buffalo nickels, as not to  deface a valuable coin.

2) Later dated coins. Most reproductions are 1936 and 1937.
3) The cut lines in reproductions are very sharp and clean, with no residue in the cuts. The cuts themselves will show no wear.

4) People who reproduce them get carried away with detail.


Who Carved my Nickel?


On the older "original" nickels, it may be impossible to tell.  Some older carvers have "signature" techniques or carving styles that may let their carvings be identified.  More modern versions may have an actual signature or likely just initials which indicate the carver.  Modern carvers are more likely to sign their works as any artist would.


Who is Ralph J. Perrico (RJP)?


Most important: husband, and father of two boys.

I'm also an educator and physician (yep, MD).

...and I carve Hobo Nickels.

To see why I got started carving, go to "Early Works"







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