The coinage of our country has many ties linking coins to our nation’s history. For example, “buffalo nickels” were minted from 1913 through 1938. These had an obverse, or “heads,” with a Native American facing to your right. On the reverse, there was a side profile view of a buffalo. If you recall your history, in 1929 the great crash of the U.S. stock market occurred and the Great Depression began, which ended about the time World War II began.
Times were extremely tough during the Great Depression. Unemployment levels were the highest in our nation’s history. Millionaires became destitute over night. The “dust bowl” conditions throughout a wide swath of our country drove the farmers off the land and began the migration to California.
“Hobos” were people who were unable to find employment and who took to bumming illegal rides on the trains across the country, looking for someplace better to be. Many would stop at homes and ask for food; if a housewife was helpful and generous, the hobo would “tag” that house for the next hobos who came through.
They lived off what they could find as they traveled, or occasionally found short term work. One “occupation” for these people was to create hobo nickels to sell or to trade for a meal.
A hobo would take a buffalo nickel and carefully carve a new image onto the image of the Indian. A common visage was that of a hobo; I don’t know if they were called hobo nickels because they were created by hobos, or because they carved hobos on them. They would carve a beard, or a hat, or give a nose job to the Indian. Then, they would try to sell or trade them for a meal.
Q. David Bowers, one of the country’s best know coin collectors, recently shared a hobo nickel story. In the late 1930s, he was young, and a hobo came to his door and offered his dad a hobo nickel for 50?. His dad thought it was a total waste of his hard earned money. David begged him to buy the coin and promised to sweep dad’s store for a month to purchase the nickel. He and his dad agreed to these terms, and this was his first coin in a life time of collecting coins.
These nickels are very collectible today. Experts can look at the carving on the nickel and tell who carved it, if the carver was well known. Some of these artists are known by the unique characteristics of their work, such as “No Neck,” “Telephone Ear,” and “Peanut Ear.”
In January, the Original Hobo Nickel Society, with 430 members, conducted an auction of 140 of these coins and realized sales of more than $50,000. Bert Weigand, born in 1890, and Bo Hughes were two of the old masters. One of Bert’s creations sold for $13,750, setting a new record for a hobo nickel.
So, check your grandpa’s bag of coins that he left you. If you find a buffalo nickel with an Indian wearing a hat and smoking a cigar, you may have just earned yourself a nice vacation!
Learn more about collecting coins at one of our meetings. The Brown County Coin Club meets on the second Tuesday of each month, at 6:30 pm, at the Family Center of the Austin Avenue Church of Christ. There’s probably at least one club member who shares an interest with you and would encourage you. Get involved in making your own unique coin collection!
We hope to see you on Tuesday, May 8 for our next meeting. Call Bill Cooper at 325-642-2128 or me at 325-217-4129 for more information.