HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED WHAT A HOBO NICKEL IS ?

The following article is an extract from the original article "HOBO NICKELS" by Bill Fivaz. Photo is courtesy of Mike Wallace. Permission to print this extract has been given from both the ANA and James Taylor, Executive Producer of "Money Talks" (A Publication of the ANA).

The year was 1935. The nation was in the midst of the Great Depression. Money was tight--and people did whatever they could, just to exist. One of the most interesting and creative ways for itinerants, such as hoboes, to survive those tough times was to carve coins--changing a coins's original design into something else.

In 1913, a new 5 cent coin was minted--the "Buffalo Nickel:" a truely all American coin. It featured the profile of a large Native American's head on the front, and a powerful buffalo on the reverse. Because the designs on this coin had such large figures on both sides--it allowed the hoboes a great deal of creative latitude. And did they ever take advantage of it!

The Indians' head was transformed into soldiers, clowns, ladies and even past president's. The most popular subject was an ethnic person, usually wearing a derby and sporting a beard. This whole group of carved 5" pieces is referred to as "Hobo Nickels."

While we consider the common "nickel" almost worthless in today's economy, it was a considerable sum in the 30's--when one of these unique carved coins could be bartered for a night's lodging or a hot meal. Some hoboes were more skilled and creative than others, and a few even initialed their works. A few may be found with the buffalo carved into a donkey, and elephant, a turtle or, in one case, the undeniable bust of Mark Twain!

So if you see an odd-looking carved nickel in you grandmother's jewelry box, chances are it once meant that a hobo had a warm place to sleep for the night--or some good home cooking from your kin-folk!