Whilst Hobo Nickels are today considered somewhat of a treasure, fetching up to $500 on ebay, they were originally traded a meager source of sustenance by men with nothing better to do. Dating back to the 18th century, it was the fortuitous collision of 1930’s depression and the introduction of the Buffalo nickel, that provided the fertile grounds for this art form to take root.
Owing it’s heritage to the sudden scarcity of jobs and the incumbent mindset that it was best to hit the road and walk around in search of work, thousands of men found themselves with no home, no food, no job and plenty of time on their hands. Artist’s who were barely living before, were suddenly hardly living any more, however, they were for once, in their element. Whilst hardly the golden goose of the era, many found that with little more than time and a nickel (5c) they could with transformative power, create a quarter (25c) selling their art to those sympathetic folk who like folk art. IF they could find a buffalo nickel.
First minted in 1913, the Buffalo nickel provided an ideal coin from which to fashion such a token. It was proliferate, it was the hardest metal coin in circulation and the large profile of the Native Indian on one side provided an adequately sized canvas for the ‘Knights of the road,’ to use. Suddenly, a flood of curious numismatic treasures were born.
Whilst most of the images on hobo nickels were transformed into the portraits of people, animals, or even scenery, some inspired fellows chose instead to etch away the flesh of the native Indian, to reveal these terrifically macabre skulls.
Images linked to their sources.
The Original Buffalo Nickel
- Humble nickel from 1913 likely to fetch millions (sfgate.com)
- Rare Hobo Nickel Purchased for $24,200 (dempseyandbaxter.wordpress.com)