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Brother, Can You Carve a Nickel?
September 14, 2011 4:17 PM   Subscribe

Hobo nickels, while apparently especially popular with hobos, are a form of art involving recarving coins. Some are quite the works of art. Some people are very particular about them. People form organizations to collect and discuss them. Previously and previously.
posted by GenjiandProust (22 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was hoping that one of the cited sources in the Wikipedia article would be The Areas of My Expertise.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:18 PM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


The rather simplistic one where the buffalo was carved to become a man with a sack over his shoulder is really quite clever. It may not be the most advanced design, but somehow it really speaks to me as a more genuine expression of the spirit of the road and idle moments spent whittling away on a coin.
posted by darkstar at 4:59 PM on September 14, 2011


Speaking of hoboes, here's something I came across a while ago - the 1939 Year Book of the Hoboes of America.
Contents:
page 1 History of The Hoboes of America
page 2
page 3
page 4 Letters
page 5
page 6
page 7
page 8
page 9
page 10 World's First Hobo Conference
page 11
page 12
page 13 Hobo Finds Hollywood a Dump
page 14
page 15 Here's Our Story-Believe It or Not
page 16
page 17
page 18 Hobo Distinctions
page 19 Tramp Distinctions
page 20
page 21 Folks Will Wander
page 22
page 23
page 24 Tramp, Hobo, and Bum
page 25 Hobo Constitution
page 26
page 27 Hobo Dictionary
page 28
page 29
page 30 News
page 31
page 32 Home, Sweet Home
posted by unliteral at 5:28 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


How do hoboes charge their iPhones? Like this.
posted by unliteral at 5:40 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love, love, love these things, and had never heard of them before. Thanks so much for this post, which also inspired a song...

HOBO NICKELS

gotta pocket fulla hobo nickels
been wanderin' most my life
ain't got a home on a leafy street
ain't got a loving wife
i've whittled away the hours
on the freight trains, living rough
gotta pocket fulla hobo nickels
and that'll have to be enough

i once had a gal in tennessee
used to help me carry my load
but she left me when my luck turned bad
and i set out on the road
i've worked whatever jobs i could
but the money, you know, it's fickle
ain't got a whole lot much to show
'cept a pocket fulla hobo nickels

now one day maybe i'll get on back
to that place in tennessee
maybe i'd find that gal of mine
and she'd come back with me
of course i know, and you know too
that kinda dream is just a lie
so let me carve another hobo nickel
and wander til i die
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:42 PM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Very cool post, thanks for sharing! I had no idea that there was this unique and interesting art form/historical artifacts floating out there in people's pockets (or special collections).
posted by 1000monkeys at 6:40 PM on September 14, 2011


Nice post. I've become aware of these lately via the internets, but this was especially informative.
posted by exogenous at 8:58 PM on September 14, 2011


First time I heard of them, too. Awesome.
posted by BurnChao at 10:29 PM on September 14, 2011


None of the links seem to discuss how hobos managed to carve these quite intricate pieces. There were a couple pictures of professional craftsmen using professional tools and high power microscopes...which would not be my guess for how the actual hobos did it.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:42 PM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I reckon a penny or a dime would've been a bit small for doing this kind of thing, and that, for a hobo, a quarter would've been too valuable to deface!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:11 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hard currency! That's where I'm a viking!
posted by FatherDagon at 11:56 PM on September 14, 2011


None of the links seem to discuss how hobos managed to carve these quite intricate pieces.

Sadly, I couldn't find a reputable link that described the process, possibly because the hobo lifestyle did not exactly lend itself to data preservation. I think Nickels were chosen because the metal was fairly soft, so it could probably be carved with something like a heavy needle. Nickels are also much thicker than other US coins (and the Buffalo Nickel had some pretty nice relief to work with), so there was more material (plus they were fairly easy to come by, even in the Depression). I expect today's relatively flat relief coins are a deep disappointment.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:39 AM on September 15, 2011


Carving a classic style hobo nickel. part 1 of 7

Hobo nickel's at The Engraver's Cafe.
posted by various at 4:13 AM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Great find, various!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:24 AM on September 15, 2011


So the question becomes: How did hobos build time machines to come forward in time to buy a Hobo Nickel Engraving Nickel Holdertm?

Probably you just use your knife to whittle a holder.
posted by DU at 6:29 AM on September 15, 2011


Probably you just use your knife to whittle a holder.

My grandfather's name was Holder. Curious name, I always thought. Never met or heard of another Holder.

He wasn't a hobo, though.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:48 AM on September 15, 2011


So the question becomes: How did hobos build time machines to come forward in time to buy a Hobo Nickel Engraving Nickel Holdertm?

If you google "hobo nickel," you will find a fair number of pages that include phrases like "while recovering from a hand injury...." I think this is instructive. There may have been a lot of less-successful nickel carvers with nicknames like "Stumps," "8 Fingers," and "Bloody Nickel."

Probably you just use your knife to whittle a holder.


I hope this technology was adopted. I blame the hobos of the 30s for their failure to leave extensive YouTube documentation of their quaint folkways.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:10 AM on September 15, 2011


I blame the hobos of the 30s for their failure to leave extensive YouTube documentation of their quaint folkways.

I blame our lack of precise knowledge on this specifically. You know, because that way the sentence would make some kind of sense....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:53 AM on September 15, 2011


These are awesome. I wish I was more familiar with what American nickels looked like, so I could have an idea of how much/little work they had to do to make these (a nice side-by-side page with "original 1913 nickel/carved 1913 nickel" or whatever, for example)
posted by antifuse at 10:23 AM on September 15, 2011


I was more familiar with what American nickels looked like

Wikipedia has a decent page on the Buffalo Nickel, the nickel of choice for hobo nickel makers. Interestingly, while the identity of the model for the front is disputed, the model for the bison is known (at least, according to Wikipedia...). Anyway, there are some fairly large images that give a great image of the "blank canvas." Honestly, I should have included this link in the FPP.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:40 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those are wonderful-- thanks for posting this!
posted by travertina at 11:45 AM on September 15, 2011


I was completely unaware of this art ... thanks for sharing.
posted by busillis at 11:53 AM on September 15, 2011


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