[The following excerpt is published courtesy of DLRC Press and its author, Joyce Ann Romines. This information was originally published in 1996 in The Hobo Nickel]
Compiled Information On “Bert”
By hobo lore, “Bert” was born in Illinois around 1890-95, and was the son of a railroad engineer. At about the age of 20, “Bert” killed a man during a card game. He reportedly jumped a train to flee from the law, and became a hobo for the majority of his life.
He was described as being about 5’ 9” tall, weighed about 175 lbs, had almost raven black wavy hair, and icy cold and penetrating coal black eyes. It was stated by several hobos who knew him well that he had a violent temper, and was as strong as a bull. He was basically a loner except for the years he and “Bo” traveled together. As stated by one hobo, “He was the best person in the world to have on your side, but you had hell to pay if he was your enemy.” “Bert” was a very intelligent person, and had apparently grown up in a relatively “high society” environment. When people were sociable, he too was sociable. If the group became unruly, they usually had to deal with him. It was stated by an elderly hobo who knew “Bert” in the mid to late 1920’s that if it was known that “Bert” was in a jungle, the “Yeggs” (see Glossary) stayed away from that jungle.
Just as with “Bo” though, it is believed by many hoboes that “Bert” may have had another monicker besides “Bert.” To date though, no other monicker can positively be associated with him.
Prior to the Great Depression, “Bert” and “Bo” traveled together constantly. After the onset of the depression, times were rough on everyone, and it was necessary for them to part company, as they had a better chance making it on their own instead of as a team. It would be easier to get one meal than two from the same source.
According to “Bo” and numerous other hoboes, “Bert” was traveling through Georgia on a freight between August and October of 1932. He was caught jumping a freight and was surrounded by “bulls” (railroad police). When they closed in on him, he went berserk. The tales have it that it took four to six bulls to finally subdue him, but not before he had severely beaten two or three of them.
According to the hobo lore, “Bert” was not given an actual trial, but was thrown into a local jail and then transferred to a chain gang. There may be some truth to this, although it has not yet been proven. It is known, however, that the judicial systems used throughout Georgia were different, and each county controlled their own chain gangs.
The following is a combination of information as told to “Bo” by “Bert,” and by “Bo” to other hoboes and to “WC.” It may have some validity:
“Bert” was a trouble maker when he first went on the chain gang, but the guards taught him that trouble makers had it rough. He finally settled down and started giving a hard days work. He had noticed that a few of the chain gang members seemed to be receiving special treatment, and after inquiring from other prisoners, he found that they were hand carving buffalo nickels for the guards. The guards would then either peddle the coins to inquisitive passers by, or would sell the coins to “vest pocket dealers” on the outside. The carvings cost the guards 5¢, and they were selling them for 10¢ to $1.00 each, depending on the quality and the gullibility of the passers-by. “Bert” was already a master at this art work as he had started carving the nickels in 1913. He approached one of the guards who was reportedly handling the nickels, and promised him art work like he had never seen if he would give him one nickel and something to carve with. According to the tale told to “Bo,” the guard had some very short wooden handled chisels which he supplied for his “carvers.” The chisels were long enough to carve the coins, but too short to do any major damage to the human body. The guard supplied him with the nickel and chisel, and told “Bert” that the quality had best be as he had bragged.
“Bert,” a master at the art, was able to produce a fabulous carving in just about an hour, at which time he used fine sand and saliva to polish the roughness from the coin. The guard was highly pleased, and “Bert” spent much of his remaining eight months in the chain gang making these carvings. Attempts have been made to guesstimate the possible number of “prisoner nickels” which “Bert” may have carved during his time on the chain gang. Assuming that it was approximately three months before “Bert” started carving for the guard, and also assuming that he may have had at least 30 extra days (30 extra days was stated as the extra punishment for each major infraction) put onto his one year sentence, it is believed that he may have carved coins for about 10 months. Assuming that “Bert” carved three nickels per day for five days a week, he may well have carved between 600 and 700 coins while on the chain gang. This is only total speculation though, and only a few coins have been authenticated as “Bert” chain gang nickels.
Using the rough figures above, over a five year period of time and an average of five to six prisoners putting out the coins, there may have been as many as 5,000 “prisoner nickels” put out. In 1955, one dealer alone at Calloway Gardens in Georgia possibly had as many as 1,500 coins. This could be translated as being a strong indication that these figures may be somewhere in the ballpark. Following are two photographs of which the first is believed to be a carving by “Bert.” Compare the “Bert” to the second photograph which is believed to be a possible “Bert prisoner nickel.”
A modern day “highway hobo” (one who roams in his own vehicle, but basically has no home except for general purposes) by the name of Willard Chisolm (“WC”) said that “Bert” was released around September 1933. If this is fact, and if he did spend only one year, he apparently went into prison in September 1932. Since he was a trouble maker at first, he may have spent some extra time, and may have either entered before September, or may have been released after September.
Part of the above was partially substantiated in 1955 at “Calloway Gardens” which is near Warm Springs, GA. A vendor with a stand at the lake had two cigar boxes full of carved nickels which he said had been purchased from chain gang guards in the late 1930’s to the mid 1940’s. Attempts are under way to locate this vendor for additional information, but the probabilities of locating him are extremely slim at the best. Contact has been made with the staff at Calloway Gardens, and they are attempting to see if any of the staff there in 1955 can remember who the vendor was. Two of the staff members do remember the vendor, but not by name. For additional “Bert” carving information, see EARLY ARTISTS AND THEIR CARVINGS, and KNOWN HOBO ARTISTS AND THEIR FRIENDS.
“BO,” BO, BOES, “BO’S,” & BOS: Similar terms which are frequently misunderstood and misused.
(1) “Bo” is the moniker of “George Washington “Bo” Hughes.
(2) Bo is the shortened term for “Hobo,” and is used either in reference to the person, or the carving, but not in reference to George Washington “Bo” Hughes,
(3) Boes is the plural of Bo (hobo) and the shortened term for “Hoboes” when referring to the actual wanderers, and not the coins.
(4) “Bo’s” are carvings which were made by George Washington “BO” Hughes. “Bo’s” (not “Bos”) is a general term applied to all carved coins which have been attributed to George Washington “Bo” Hughes.
(5) Bos is the shortened plural term for “Hobo Nickels,” or as the shortened plural of hoboes. Boes is preferred by most hoboes for the shortened form of hoboes.
The above terms have been misused and abused to a degree now that most are general terms to denote any and all hobo nickels. When using the new term of “neo-bo” (modern etching), the plural should be “neo-bos.” To use “neo-Bo’s,” is to imply that the fakes are the works of “George Washington “Bo” Hughes.” Do not be mislead by terms.
BO-ETTE: Toned down hobo monicker and hobo nickel collectors term for a female hobo. A very toned down hobo term for “Hay Bag.” (See GLOSSARY OF HOBO LANGUAGE at the end of the book).
“BO” RELEARNING COINS: The following information was provided by Willard “WC” Chisolm between 1980 and 1985 (?) when the author met with him on numerous occasions in Louisville, Kentucky. The crude nickels pictured below were identified by “WC” as being some of those made by “Bo” from early 1958 through late 1959.
The above photos are of the chisels used by “Bo”
After a major hand injury in 1957, “Bo” had tremendous problems in his attempts to carve new hobo nickels. His carvings had been the major means of his existence in the past, and had also been a source of additional income for “WC.” In an attempt to help “Bo” regain some of his artistic abilities, and to assist in his future existence, “WC” employed a welder in the vicinity of C o l u m b u s , Indiana to make a small aluminum coin holder, and some broad tipped metal chisels. The coin holder was designed with small walls surrounding the nickel carving area which would hopefully prevent any additional injuries from a “slipped” chisel. The photographs on page 14 are of chisels which “Bo” was using at the time of his disappearance. They may or may not be the same tools which “WC” had made for him.
A major cause of the hand injury was probably attributed to bad eyesight and very poor lighting as well. The original holder was designed with a magnifying glass stand which would assist “Bo” in seeing his work area much better. According to “WC,” the glass stand was not adjustable, and was out of focus for “Bo.” One of the first things done by “Bo” was to modify the glass stand by removing the portion of the stand which held the glass, and instead of using the glass holder, a piece of tape, a string or a rag could be used around the glass and the glass holder rod. “Bo” could then adjust the glass to any height which worked best for him. The glass was probably about a 2X to 6X, depending on the distance “Bo” wanted to hold his face from the glass. See BO’S LAST CARVING.
Many of the first coins made by “Bo” after his hand injury were extremely crude, and in some instances were hard to distinguish as “hobo nickels.” After a few months, and many bad coins, he eventually regained some use of his hand, and the quality of his coins began to improve.
“WC” also purchased some small metal punches which “Bo” could use for punching hair, ears and/or other designs. It is believed that some of his earliest “relearning” coins were totally punched as he experimented with the new methods. The following photographs show both a total punched coin, and three of several metal punches used by “Bo.” These are probably punches purchased by “WC.”
As time progressed, “Bo” started experimenting with the broad tipped chisels, and combined these lines with the metal punched hair. Following are several photographs which show some progression in his new attempts. Notice how the ears go from almost no ear to ones which have a decent shape. The broad tipped chisel work is still very evident.
All of the various types of chisels which “WC” had made for “Bo” are not known, but there is evidence that a wide and flat tipped (wide-flat) chisel was one of those tools (see photographs of chisels above). In other apparent technique experiments, it is also evident that this type of chisel was used. The wide-flat was probably intended for the removal of excess metal instead of actual carving, but “Bo” put the tool to a different use which was continued for quite some time during his relearning period. On carvings prior to the hand injury, “Bo” frequently used a wide-flat chisel and the “squiggle” method” to give small carved feathers the appearance of having vanes. Using the earlier feather vane method, he started forming hair and various surfaces with these “squiggle” designs.
The following five photographs depict a skullcap, Indian headdress, clown hair, woodhead (lumber jack), head and face hair, and a smooth skullcap with head and facial hair, all of which were made with the wide-flat chisel.
Practice does not make perfect – only perfect practice makes perfect. So it was with “Bo.” Even though his work was still of a much lesser quality than his pre 1957 carvings, great strides could be seen in many of his works. The broad tip chisels were still being used, but were probably ground down to a smaller size. Even though he was still using punches for some hair, his accuracy and delicacy was returning to his art work. The following three photographs depict various tools and methods used by “Bo” as he progressed.
No doubt “Bo” was frustrated as he tried to regain his past artistic ability, but with age, a crippled hand, bad eyesight, and poor working conditions, he would never again accomplish what he had done in the past. “Bo” was a tough little fighter, and he did persevere. “Bo’s” mind was still very sharp, and no doubt he had mental images of his past work. His visions of the past and the results of the present was surely frustrating, but with considerable persuasion and constant pushing by “WC,” “Bo” would not quit. Following are photographs of an early “Rabbi” (Eisenbach) and a crude relearning profile with a yarmulke. The crude coin was believed to have been made by “Bo” within the first year of relearning.
Within a couple of years, he was able to once again capture his own likeness. Following is a self portrait of Bo which is dated by “Bo” as “50”, and a relearning self portrait which was made about 1959. Even though the crudeness is visible, there is no doubt that the second portrait is that of “Bo.”
From the information received from “WC,” “Bo” was producing several nice carvings (not all were nice) by 1960, but he was also still having some occasional problems with control, and he was much slower than in the past. Numerous nice carved/punched coins were made during this transitional stage which lasted for about two to three years. By mid 1963,
“Bo” was producing numerous totally carved coins, many of decent quality. The time required to make these coins was considerable though, and “Bo” still made many more carved/punched coins than totally carved. This was a necessity for funds.
Around 1970-72, Bo had amassed several hundreds of the carved/punched nickels which were no longer selling as well as the totally carved. Once again he was required to change his production. The totally carved were selling for so much more than the carved/punched, that he cut back considerably on them, and went almost entirely to the totally carved.
One factor which kept “Bo” making the carved/punched coins was lighting. When he spent time in the evenings making his coins, he many times had only an oil light, occasionally a candle, or a camp fire. Afraid he may once again have an accident, he made the carved/punched coins in the bad lighting.
According to “WC,” from about 1973 through about 1975, he and “Bo” combined possibly had as many as 2,000 of the carved/punched coins, but only a few of the totally carved on hand. “Bo” stopped making carved/punched coins around 1975-1976 except for a very few “rush” or special coins. With the exception of these few coins, virtually all coins from about 1976 until his apparent death were totally carved.
*”WC” also stated that one of the best methods for telling most of “Bo’s” pre 1963 carved and carved/punched coins is the surface of the coin. If the coin surface has been wire brush whizzed, it is probably a 1958-1963 coin. If the coin has the whizzed surface and was darkened by chemicals (normally chlorine), it is probably a coin which was made during the 1957-1963 era, but the coloring was added in the 1970’s. Many of the shiny coins which were on hand for so long were chemically treated, and this coloring helped sell many of the earlier coins. If the coin surface is smooth and not whizzed (mostly on totally carved coins), the coin is probably a post 1963 coin. Around late 1963 or early 1964, “WC” purchased a small hand held rotary motor which was not used with wire brushes, but was used with very fine abrasives which were somewhat similar to a “bright boy.” (A bright boy is an abrasive rod which is normally used to make ornate designs in the surface of metals, and is similar to the designs frequently seen inside the back covers of older pocket watches). As seen in the next photograph, this improved the texture of the field of the coins, and eliminated the crude whizzed appearance.
* NOTE: This information can not be used for positive identification for the date frame, as many factors dictated how “Bo” made his coins, and many practices may have been used at various times. This information can be used as “PROBABLE” though, as the statements from “WC” are considered to be fairly reliable.
While researching “Bo’s” relearning coins and his cameo and other proven earlier date carvings, the information and photographs were compared to the photographs and information in Book #1. The later studies and the comparisons with the book pointed to considerable erroneous information in Book #1. Practically all of the carvings by “Bo” in Book #1 which are labeled as pre 1957 coins are probably post 1957 coins and were the later and much better coins after his hand injury. The higher quality carvings were probably of the 1963-1970 carvings.
Once all of this information was obtained and the above conclusions were made, a further step was taken in the comparisons and photographic studies. Possibly as many as one half of the carvings which are listed in Book #1 as “The Carved Nickel” are actually better grade “Bo” relearning coins which were probably hand picked by Willard Chisolm (“WC”) and sold as earlier carvings.
One of the last punched/carved works of “Bo” is a somewhat unique coin. He had regained much of his talent, and apparently had realized that he was improving in his carving. Why he chose this particular coin to do something which had not been seen on earlier coins, or later coins is not known, but for some reason, he put his moniker “BO” in the area of LIBERTY on this self portrait. Perhaps this punched/carving was somewhat of a milestone in his relearning, and he decided to autograph his last punched/carved coin. His vision with the magnifying glass apparently was good enough for him to do a little more delicate work, as shown on the carving of “O” in “BO.” The “B” of LIBERTY was used as part of his autograph.
BONDED FAKES: * Fake hobo nickels which were made from original hobo nickels. Even though they were fashioned from original hobo carvings, they are considered fake because of the alterations which were apparently made in the attempt to deceive the collector. These fake coins have been produced by using at least two different methods:
(1) Two sided fake: Two coins which have had the uncarved sides shaved off to 1/2 the normal coin thickness, then bonded together with an epoxy, super glue, solder, or silver solder. (Some collectors are willing to pay more for one “two sided” hobo nickel than they would for three “one side only” carvings). These coins can normally be recognized by several diagnostics, of which a few follow:
(a) A seam either completely or partially visible on the edge of the coin
(b) A discoloration around the edge of the coin from the various elements which were used to bond the two pieces
(c) Metal grain lines on the obverse and reverse are flowing in different directions
(d) Many of the earlier buffalo nickels have a normal 15 degree rotated reverse (especially 1913-1915). When obv/rev carvings are combined, many times the fakes are rotated about 180 degrees.
(e) Edges are frequently dressed in attempts to remove the visible bonding. Many times sufficient metal is removed to reduce the diameter. One form of edge fakery may be “peening.”
(f) Some of the coins inspected were bonded slightly off center. When the finished product was dressed down to remove the “steps,” the coin became either elongated, or under sized.
(g) A bonded fake will normally have a dull sound when dropped on a hard surface, and a genuine coin will normally have a ringing sound. This should not be used as the only proof, as many coins do have unseen internal defects which will also cause a dull sound when dropped. Coins which may have been annealed prior to carving may also have a dull sound when dropped.
(2) One sided fake: When properly done, the machined fakery is the hardest to spot. First, most of the thickness of a carved, cast or struck coin or token is machined (shaved) off. Anormal high grade coin is then machined to resemble a small bowl with the complete rim remaining intact. The shaved portion is then edge dressed to the same diameter as the inside of the machined “dish,” and was then inserted into the “dished coin.” The rim was then lightly pressed or peened to completely close the rim into the shaved portion. The peening causes part of the rim to fold over the shaved edge, and helps cover any seams. This is the same general method used over a century ago to manufacture “Opium Dollars.” Some tell-tale marks can be observed on most of these coins, of which a few follow:
(a) Obverse/reverse rotation
(b) Possible peening on the edge or rim
(c) Different directions of obverse and reverse metal grain
(d) Possible dark line of discoloration where the rim joins the field
(e) The rim may be highly exaggerated and form about a 90° angle (similar to a proof coin rim) where the rim joins the field of the carved sur-face. Even if the coin is a cameo carving, examine the rim
(f) Possible extreme tone differences between obverse and reverse
(g) If sufficient pressure is not used to create a solid seal between the “dished coin,” and the shaved disk with the carving, it may be possible to feel very minor movement of the carved disk
(h) Some of these fakes will have a dull sound when dropped Following are two photographs of cast hobo tokens of the type which have been used to make bonded fakes.
The above photographs are actually of cast tokens, and not of original carved hobo nickels. They are in the collection of Don Haley of Florida. Nine other examples of the bonded and machined hobo carvings were not photographed when examined in the mid 1980’s.
* NOTE: See HOBO TOKENS for additional and similar information.
“BO’S LAST CARVING: When “WC” went to Florida to search for “Bo,” he found the jungle with no problems. There were a few hoboes there who said that “Bo” had left to go to a nearby town, and had not returned. There was no evidence of foul play, and all of “Bo’s” personal belongings were still there.
“Bo’s” tools and coin holding device were still where he had left them when he departed for town. He had been working on a carving, and was probably about half finished. This coin was still secured in the holder. The following photograph shows the coin (just as “WC” found it) still in the holder, and the magnifying glass still in place.
“WC” collected all of “Bo’s” personal belongings.
He then went to all of the local towns in search of “Bo,” with no luck. “WC” spent about a week seeking information from local hospitals, and any other source which he could think of, but no trace was found. He made one final trip to the jungle. “Bo” still had not returned. “WC” decided at that time that “Bo” would not be coming back. Before departing, he left messages with the hoboes who were still there, and pinned up written messages for “Bo” in very conspicuous places with an emergency phone number and address. It was later found out that he had given the address and phone number of the “Alamo Plaza Motel” which is located in Louisville, Kentucky for “Bo” to use for contact. “WC” had a close friend who worked at the motel, and this was the person “Bo” was to call. The friend is no longer at the motel, and may no longer be living, as he was almost 75 in 1985. Two trips were made to the motel by the author in hopes of getting “WC’s” whereabouts, but no one there knew of “WC.”
BUFFED NICKEL TEXTURE: See CIRCULATED NICKEL TEXTURE.
BUM NICKELS: An erroneous term applied to hobo nickels by some collectors as early as the 1920’s. As described in the GLOSSARY OF HOBO LANGUAGE (at the end of the book), a “Bum” would not work, nor would they waste their time carving coins to make money.
CAMEO CARVING: Coins with virtually all of the field carved away, leaving the subject highly raised with a very deep field and a high rim. The above is true except for two known instances; one being of a 1950 carving by “Bo” of “Kaiser Wilhelm.” (In order to get the complete bust as desired, the lower right tip of the carving does join the rim). The second is a reverse carving where “UNITED” was deliberately carved around and remained in contact with the rim. For additional information and photographs, see EARLY ARTISTS AND THEIR CARVINGS. Cameos are not new on Hobo Nickels, but only after the first book was published did truly artistic cameos come to light. According to the information which has been received from various collectors, dealers, and collector/dealers, a general travel pattern for “Bo’s” Cameo Carvings and some history can be pieced together. Pay particular attention to the following information, as some of it not totally consistent, and some conflicts do exist. Since the information was “word of mouth” information from memories, it can not be relied upon totally, but has been pieced together with as much accuracy as possible.
Cameo carving by “Bo” dated “51”
It was already known that “Bo” was very depressed in the winter of 1949-1950 at the apparent loss of his lady friend “Monique,” and the possible loss of his best friend, “Bert.” In his grief, he carved some of the most fantastic coins of his life. Many of these were reverse carvings of a mule with a “shanny” (“shanny” is hobo for “shanty”) in the background. Several were of clowns, and other memories of “Bo’s.” In his depression and the flow of numerous memories, he apparently rushed through many of his carvings. When “Bo” took these first carved coins to a local Florida coin dealer, he was told to make better carvings. What was not known in the first book was that “Bo” had taken a second batch of coins to the same dealer and acquired additional buffalos. The second and third sets of carvings wound up as possibly the most exquisite carvings of his career. These types of carvings were put out by “Bo” for about 6 1/2 years (1950-1957). Following is the information from four sources which has been pieced together, and is presumed nearly correct.
In early 1950 (about mid January), “Bo” took many nickels which he had carved during the winter to a local Florida dealer. Even though these carvings are now considered to be fantastic carvings, at that time, the dealer was not happy with the carvings which were somewhat crude and of subjects which the dealer did not like. “Bo” was given more nickels to carve, and upon returning to the hobo jungle, started carving his memories onto the nickels. With these he was much more selective about the subjects, and did not rush. The memories which he placed on these carvings were not the subjects carved just weeks before, but were more in alignment with what many people felt hobo nickels should look like. These coins were a great success and pleased the local dealer. Upon returning to the jungle (probably in early February), he apparently decided to try something different, and fashioned what is believed to be his first true cameo carving. It is believed that the first two coins carved in cameo were probably a “Bert” and a “Monique,” the two most important people in his life. He apparently carved cameos for about 30 days, during which time he made one more trip to the dealer’s. He also stopped by the dealer’s one last time at the end of March or first of April as he was leaving the jungle for his yearly travels. Following is the information which was received:
When “Bo” finished the first cameo carvings, they were taken to the dealer who was ecstatic, and could not believe the quality of carving. He went through his stock of buffalo nickels and apparently hand picked AU or non-valuable BU copies for “Bo” to carve. All of the cameos examined to date have been on very high grade circulated (EF-45/AU) or BU coins, of which at least one is a BU repunched mint mark variety. To date, four high grade variety coins which were carved by “Bo” have been inspected.
(Third hand information) Word from a now retired collector/dealer in Nashville, Tennessee was that “Bo” received $3.00 per cameo carving from the Florida dealer with the dealer supplying the coins.
On one trip through Nashville, Tennessee (probably in 1952), “Bo” had a few cameo carvings which were remaining from the winter’s work – more than the Florida dealer wanted. The few cameo carvings were sold to the Nashville collector/dealer. “Bo” also told the dealer about the Florida dealer. The Tennessee dealer contacted the Florida dealer and purchased all of the coins which he had remaining – in the vicinity of 70 coins.
Over the next few years, the Nashville collector/dealer paid “Bo” $4.25 each for the coins. This is what he had to pay for the approximately 70 coins. Over a period of about four to five years, the Tennessee dealer amassed or handled 200 + of the finest cameo carvings, plus many other carvings by other friends of “Bo.”
Around 1954, a collector from Ohio visited the dealer in Nashville. When he saw the carvings, he had to have them, and offered in excess of $6.00 each for all the coins. After some haggling, the deal was made, and the entire collection (minus a few copies sold over the years) went to Ohio. It is believed that there were probably about 85-90 cameos, and around 30-40 other carvings in this first purchase. When the Ohio collector left the shop, he had an agreement with the dealer to ship him any of the cameos which came in at a later date. Over the next two or three years, it is believed that an additional 140 ± cameos were purchased by the Ohio collector, as well as hundreds of other carvings.
Sometime in 1979, the Ohio collector (who was then in his mid 80’s) decided to liquidate his collection so it would not get into the wrong hands at a later date. One collector from Missouri and one collector from Illinois purchased most of the cameo coins, with each getting around 90-100. (The Missouri collector actually got 97, of which 67 were cameos, but the other collector would not give a positive figure, and could have had in excess of 100). These two collectors were told by the Ohio collector that about 60 of the cameo coins and most of the other (about 120 non “BO”) carvings had been shipped to Arkansas, California, Georgia, Iowa, New Jersey, Texas, and Wisconsin. A few of the Iowa group were released in the mid 1980’s, but all the information and photographs on these coins was lost to water damage. (The above information is not a conflicting statement, as the number of hobos in the Ohio collector’s possession prior to the Tennessee purchase is not known, nor is the exact number purchased from the Tennessee dealer known).
Most of the coins which were obtained by the Missouri and Illinois collectors still remain in their possession, with known copies being sold as follows: Georgia (28), Florida (2), Indiana (6), and 39 singles to other locations. The locations of all these carvings were known up through the parties who purchased the coins from the original owners.
Other “Bo” cameos which can be accounted for were: around 40 owned by Willard Chisolm; about 15-20 which were owned by the late Henry Jacobs (coin dealer) of Louisville, Kentucky; between 20-50 handled over a period of years by Tom Slemons of Nashville, Indiana; and 22 which were in the possession of a Virginia collector. Possibly 120± in addition to the Ohio accumulation can be accounted for.
Using all of the known and reported information, it can be computed that probably no more than 500 (absolute maximum 750) “Bo” cameos are in existence. Of those, the known “deep cameo” carvings of 1950, 51, 52 & 53 will probably number less than 250. Of the estimated 250, it is believed that probably 50 or less were made in 1950. These carvings can be identified by the extreme depth of the carved cameos in the field area. It is believed that all of the 1950-1953 cameos were dated and signed by “Bo,” with one possible exception. To date, there is one known “Bert” portrait by “Bo” which is neither dated nor signed, and is assumed to be a 1954 through 1957 carving, but the depth of the cameo indicates otherwise. This particular carving is as deep or deeper than the 1950 through 1953 carvings. Those known to have been carved from 1954 through 1957 were carved only about 1/2 the depth of the earlier copies, and were not signed or dated.
It is interesting to note that the carvings of 1951 were possibly the best of all the years, with 1950 being the experimental carvings which may display some minor flaws or miscalculations in carving, and 1952 being almost as good as the 1951 works.
It is fairly apparent that “Bo” realized the increase in the requests for this type of carving, and the depth of the field carving was reduced to allow more copies to be made. Many of the 1952 and 1953 cameos show some signs of haste in the form of minor errors, and many of the coins were not dressed as well as the 1951 carvings. Along this same line, it is believed that only a few of the 1952 carvings were signed and dated by “Bo,” and that most of his carvings from early 1952 through early 1957 (just prior to his hand injury) were also not signed or dated. This may have been another little bit of extra work which was dropped to allow for faster carving. By not signing or dating any coins, possibly one additional coin per day may have been carved.
The previously mentioned Virginia collector stated that in 1952 while on vacation in Florida, he had purchased six hobo nickels in West Palm Beach. He vacationed there again in 1955 at which time he purchased seven more, and on his last visit there in 1956, he purchased the only nine coins which the dealer had at that time. He stated the dealer did tell him that he hoped to have more early the next year. He also stated that the dealer had a wide selection the first two visits, and possibly had as many as 40-50 on each of those visits. * Records were not maintained and the collector could not remember the coin dealer’s name, but did remember that the dealer was around mid 50, greying, about 5’ 8-9” tall, and slightly on the heavy side. He also stated that he believed the owner’s son (late 20’s to early 30’s) was in the shop on two occasions.
*NOTE: Inquiries were sent to several dealers within 100 miles of the approximate location of the Florida hobo jungle. One positive response was received, and additional inquiries have been sent. At the time of this printing, the requested information has not been returned.
Cameo carving of Emmett Kelly by “Bo” dated “51”
It is believed that “Bo” was not only supplying the Nashville, Tennessee collector/dealer, but was still supplying the Florida dealer as well. This is the basis for using the “absolute maximum 750” statement, as well as the assumption that “Bo” was in Nashville, Tennessee in 1952 on his way North. “Bo” was no dummy. If he could sell his carvings to the Florida dealer for $3.00 profit, to the Tennessee dealer for about $3.75 profit, and possibly $2.50-3.50 profit to other collectors and dealers along the way, why not take advantage of the situation and make as many as possible? He may have supplied other dealers and collectors (not mentioned above) along the route, but no information has been received to positively indicate this except for the purchases made by the late Henry Jacobs of Louisville, Kentucky. For additional computations of estimated “BO” cameos, see EARLY ARTISTS AND THEIR CARVINGS.
“Bo” portrait of “Bert” (pictured below) which was carved in 1950 displays his experimental methods for creating the cameos. This is the only known instance on the cameos of “Bert” having a carved eyebrow. Other cameo carving photographs follow:
Cameo carving of “Bert” by “Bo” dated “50”
Very early and very crude cameo. Probably about 1913 to 1915. Artistic Ability lacking. Artist not known. / Cameo by “Bert” – 39. Note the hair style on this coin and the hair style under the works of “Bert” later in the book. No doubt the same woman.
The next group consists of some of the most elaborate carvings ever seen on hobo nickels, true cameos in every respect.When these coins were first seen and examined, it was thought by the author that they were truly the ultimate in hobo carvings. Each reader may draw his own conclusion.
The first known cameo carvings by “Bo” apparently took place in 1950. To date, less than two dozen of his cameos dated “50” have been examined, with less than five self portraits being known in the 1950 carvings. A study of the few coins inspected showed that this was probably a totally new form of art work for “Bo,” and trial and error coins were noted. Afew of the very first carvings appeared to be laborious pieces of art work, with some having bad cuts, were not dressed quite as well as the later ones, and had occasional minor slips. A rough guess for time to complete one cameo of the highest quality would probably have been in the vicinity of 8-10 hours for the first few until methods were smoothed out, and possibly about 4-6 hours per coin after techniques were developed. It is interesting to note that one professional engraver (Ron Landis) who makes ARTISTS CARVINGS (see that term) has stated that an average carving takes him about three hours, and the very delicate ones may take three days. This information corresponds with estimated times on various types of carvings by “Bo.”
The statements above are not intended to positively state that “Bo” had not made cameos prior to 1950, but they are intended to state that his large number of the “elaborate” cameos began in 1950. It is known that “Bert” had made cameo carvings many years earlier, and no doubt “Bo” had done the same. The following coins were carved in 1950.
“Bo” (knowing that his cameo carvings were very desirable and in high demand), continued to carve the cameos from 1951 through possibly early 1957. Even though the quality is still there, apparently not quite as much time was used on most of the cameos from 1953 and later. The fields appear to be a little more shallow, but they are still fantastic pieces of art work. Following are a few “51” cameo carvings by “Bo.”
Following are other cameo carvings of various subjects which were carved in various years.
Using rough figures, and the fact that “Bo” stayed in Florida for about four months per winter, the following estimates of cameo carvings are made:
*ESTIMATED NUMBER OF CAMEO CARVING DAYS / MAXIMUM CARVINGS 1950 (about 45-60 days carving in Jan-Mar) 65 cameos; 1951 (about 110 days carving) 150 cameos ; 1952 (about 110 days carving) 150 cameos; 1953-1957 (about 500 days carving) 800 cameos
It is known that “Bo” did some carving on the road during his travels, but neither positive numbers nor types of carvings during these periods can be ascertained except on the “Injured hand carvings,” and no attempts were made to include “possibilities” in the above.
* NOTE: It is interesting to note that “Bo” only made about $3.00 clear per carving for the cameos in ‘50 – ‘57. It is also interesting to note that the majority of cameos were made on high grade EF to BU coins, of which several were mint marked. No doubt the supplying dealer(s) wanted “Bo’s” best to be on the best coins. Using the above estimates and an average of $3.00 profit per coin, “Bo” probably only made about $3,500.00 over a period of seven years for the cameo carvings. In 1955 an annual salary for a laborer was around $2,500.00, and for a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, the annual income was about $2,000.00. Even though “Bo” was not making a lot of money, he did not need it. He was basically self sufficient in his travels, plus he did carve other coins along the way. A rough guess on “Bo’s” average annual income during this period is around $800-1,000.00 which would include additional non-cameo coin sales, and coins traded for food, clothing, or other needs. For additional “Cameo” carvings and estimated carvings made, see EARLY ARTISTS AND THEIR CARVINGS, and YEARS OF WORK.
CAMPAIGN NICKEL: See POLITICAL NICKEL.
CARVED COUNTERFEIT COINS: On rare occasion, a hobo carving will appear on a coin which may have some of the coin designs, appearances, or metal content which is not correct. This may indicate a counterfeit coin. Even though the coin may have been counterfeit, the carving is genuine and should be considered as such. Since the coin has been completely altered with a carved design, it would possibly no longer be considered a legal tender counterfeit. At the time of this entry, an inquiry was being sent to the “Treasury Department” for a ruling on this matter. A thorough study and knowledge of known counterfeit buffalo nickels could possibly enhance collector interest. One easily recognized counterfeit buffalo is a 1927. By the naked eye, the entire nickel has the correct appearance, but even under 2X magnification, one major flaw can be seen on the obverse – LIBERTY has been hand engraved on the die which struck the counterfeits. One such copy was donated to the ANA around 1981 by this author for their use in “counterfeit detecting.”
All counterfeit suspects are not as easily recognized. Some may appear to the average collector as genuine even under magnification, but yet the coin may have some appearances which do not seem normal to the eye. Many times this abnormal appearance may be the tone. When the alloy content is not correct, many times the toning will be totally wrong. Acids have been used to tone many coins, but they can normally be cleaned up, and the coin will naturally tone.
One suspect carved coin was sent to the author in 1984. The coin is a deep “Cameo” carving of “Bo’s” dead brother by “Bo,” which is dated “GH 51,” and is no doubt a cameo by “Bo.” The coin had been purchased in Southern Indiana in 1966, and at that time the coin appeared to be of the near normal silvery blue with some hints of deep reds. This coin and others were all stored in the same type containers, and in the same area. As time passed, all of the collection toned basically the same except for this one coin. The carved side started taking on a “steel blue” tone with patches of brown. The reverse started toning to sort of a rusty red/brown. When the coin was sent to the author, several questions were asked about the toning. Hours of conversation took place about this coin, and the owner finally agreed in a written letter to allow the coin to be tested in a metallurgical laboratory.
Tests were conducted in the following sequences:
(1) Spectrograph for metal content showed the coin to be other than the normal copper nickel compound, but with the equipment available at that time, the exact content could not be ascertained. The spectrograph system used in that lab was one where a correct sample is compared to the test piece. It was determined by the metallurgist that the metal was possibly a mixture of copper, excess nickel, and traces of iron. A strong magnet was used with no apparent magnetic attraction.
(2) The coin was weighed, and with the amount of metal which had been carved away, the weight was well within tolerance at approximately 4.5 grams.
(3) Specific gravity was checked, and was within tolerance of the normal for the buffalo nickel.
(4) Hardness tests were conducted on two rolls of buffalo nickels and recorded, and then a hardness test was taken on the reverse of the carved coin. The carved suspect coin had a hardness of about 2X that of the hardest test coins. This is still not proof of a counterfeit, as copper/nickel does work harden, and if the coin was struck two or more times, the work hardening would have increased. This extra hardness was confirmed by the number of little slips and goofs on the carving. Apparently, “Bo” had a tough time with this metal.
(5) The last test conducted was an acid dip to remove the discoloration from the coin. The acid used is the same which is used on all copper/nickel metals, and does contain some “thiourea.” The coin cleaned up nicely, and had somewhat of the normal silvery tone of a newly struck copper/nickel coin. During the final cleaning, the coin was never touched by human hands. After all tests were conducted, the coin was then sealed in a new hard plastic 2X2 (the same type which the coin had originally been stored in by the owner), and was returned to the owner.
“Bo’s” dead brother on a suspect coin.
The coin remained in the holder from 1984 until 1991 at which time the coin was returned to the author. Once again, the coin had taken on nearly exactly the same toning which it had between 1966 and 1984. This is almost an impossibility since the acid dip was totally controlled, was rinsed with distilled water, etc. The normal reaction to copper, nickel, or copper/nickel after this bath is to tone naturally.
The metallurgist who had conducted the tests only vaguely remembered the coin, and his mind was refreshed with the original information. Short of running more tests, the metallurgist concluded that the coin was not of the proper alloy, and possibly contain some traces of iron. The author macro and microscopically inspected the coin at powers from 2X to 100X. The microscopic study only showed that the metal grain on the carved side did not match the grain of other carved coins. This may have been due to metal movement (molecular structure alterations) from compression and carving. The author concluded that the coin pictured below is a “suspect coin.” The coin remains in an Indiana collector’s possession.
CARVED DATES: Dates applied to the carvings by the artists. Carved dates alone can not be used to prove the date the coin was carved, even though in most instances they appear to be basically correct.
CARVED REVERSES: Of course, the obverse of the Indian head nickel was not the only block of stone for the hobo artist. Some fabulous as well as some not-so-fabulous carvings have come to light on the buffalo or bison side of the coins. The following photographs depict an unfinished (not-so-fabulous) carved reverse, and a higher quality carving. Following are photographs of two hoboes with bindle sticks, one “elegant” caddie wearing tails, a “Bo” mule and shanty, a UNITED STATES OF AMERICA VAGS, and a portrait of Mark Twain.
The next photograph shows the near ultimate in reverse carvings. The walking stick (Kelly or Bindle Stick) from the bottom of the hand to the rim of the coin is carved completely around, and the stick is
totally separated from the coin in that area. The fingers and thumb are carved nearly all the way around the stick. The front of the jacket is “raised metal” and is open, while the pocket (also in the raised metal fashion), has a kerchief carved down into the pocket. The entire reverse is a cameo, and the word “UNITED” was carefully carved around, probably signifying that hoboes are “united.” Where “FIVE CENTS” once was, the word “TIRED” has been carved. This carving is of a “Bindle Stiff” (a hobo who carries his pack [“bindle”] containing his personal items.) For information on the artist of the following coin, continue reading for the exciting story.
The following information and coins were submitted in 1983 by a 59 year old gentleman by the name of Mark from South Dakota. This information was some of the most stunning to date, and cleared up many questions. Following is his story:
Mark was born on his grandparents small ranch a little Northwest of Ipswich, South Dakota (about 35-40 miles WNW of Aberdeen, South Dakota) in March of 1924. His grandfather passed away in December 1927, and his father took over the small ranch with the help of his three sons. When the great depression took hold of the country, they lived comfortably off their crops and livestock. Even though he was only about 6-7 years old, he remembers very well the fairly large number of migrant workers and hoboes who gradually spread across the country to their small ranch. Over the next several years, there was a steady stream of migrant workers who apparently were using the railroad (Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific R.R.) just a few miles South of them for traveling. It is extremely interesting to note that this railroad passes Britt, Iowa which is the Capitol of the Hobo Reunions.
Even though his father was very cautious about using some of this labor, Mark’s grandmother was a very compassionate woman and insisted that since they had plenty, they should share their good fortune with the less fortunate. The father very reluctantly agreed to take on a few hands during the harvesting season, and provided the help with food and shelter in a small tool and equipment storage building which he converted into basic living quarters. The grandmother took the task of ensuring that the workers had plenty of food, water, clothing (some of which was her late husband’s), and clean quarters. She spent quite a bit of time talking with the workers, and Mark remembers his grandmother commenting on one hobo who was a small, pale negro, extremely intelligent, and seemed to be of very high breeding.
From about 1933 through about 1941 (one coin of the four was dated by “Bo” as “41”), there were normally 4-6 hired hands each year who worked with them from the spring crops through the fall harvests. Of these 4-6 itinerant workers, Mark remembers at least two who came back each year starting about 1934. He does not remember a lot about the two who always returned except that they both were exceptionally good workers, and one was very small. In 1983, he was queried as to the possibilities of the two being “Bert” and “Bo.” With the limited information available, Mark thought perhaps one was “Bo,” but he was fairly certain the other was not “Bert.”
Mark’s grandmother passed away in June of 1946, at which time most of her personal belongings were stored in chests, set aside, and more or less forgotten. Also in 1946 (three months after his grandmother passed away), Mark became the father of his first child, a daughter.
In 1968, Mark’s daughter was engaged to be married, and he remembered the chests with his grandmother’s belongings. He decided to see if there may be anything in the chests which his daughter might want. Going through the first chest, he came across her old black leather purse where some letters, a few pieces of jewelry and other small items had been placed. Also in the purse was a black leather change purse. When he picked it up he realized that there were a few coins inside the change purse. With some excitement and hopeful expectations of gold pieces, he fumbled the change purse until he opened the aging leather. To his surprise, there were four coins in the change purse, but apparently the leather and storage conditions had taken their toll on the coins. They were almost as black as the purse. Under careful inspection, he realized that the coins were buffalo nickels which had been altered with various portraits, but could not actually figure out what they were, or where they came from. He put the coins into his wife’s jewelry chest and forgot them as he knew of no coin dealers or collectors in his immediate area.
In early 1983 Mark had to make a trip to Sioux Falls, and his wife reminded him of the coins. He decided to take the coins to see if he could find anything out about them. When he had the opportunity in Sioux Falls, he hailed a cab and asked the driver if he knew of any coin dealers. The driver did, and just a short distance from the pickup point, the taxi driver dropped Mark off at “Coins & Collectibles.” He took the coins in just to get information, and got more information than he had hoped for. The coin dealer informed him that a book had just recently been published on this type of coin and that some dealers would have the book on hand. The dealer gave him the address of the author which apparently had appeared in one of the Numismatic publications. While in the shop, he asked the dealer if there was any way the blackness could be removed from the coins. *The dealer informed Mark of the pitfalls of cleaning coins, and that it should never be done except in severe cases to save a coin which was deteriorating. Mark was told that the coins could be cleaned for him, but he would not guarantee the results and they would not be responsible if the coins were ruined. Mark agreed to let him try since the coins were almost beyond recognition anyhow. In a matter of minutes, the coins came out to an almost silver color, or basically the normal nickel color. Once the original color was obtained, details of the alterations could be easily seen. The dealer also applied a preservative (probably a solution containing trichloromethane) to hopefully stop a continued reaction to the leather dye which may still be in some pores.
* NOTE: Both “COINS & COLLECTIBLES” and the author recommend against the cleaning of any coin. There may be some situations where it is either a “SAVE OR LOSE” situation, and in these cases, it may be necessary to clean them. Any coin which is cleaned should be done so only by qualified persons under controlled conditions. Mark was fortunate in that the coin shop had two “goldsmiths” who cleaned the coins for him even though they did advise against it. Goldsmiths are normally trained in the fields of metallurgy and in chemistry.
In October 1983, Mark wrote to the author and sent the coins for possible information. To the delight of the author, not only could information be given to Mark, but the author was able to acquire considerable information from these coins.
One coin in particular not only showed that “Bo” did spend time West of the Mississippi, but also proved who the artist was of some “unknown artist” reverse carvings. Even though the reverse carving is a little different from other “Bindle Stiff” carvings, there is absolutely no doubt that “Bo” was the artist of all the near like carvings. Compare the following photograph with that of the elaborate reverse carving with the “Raised Kelly Stick.” There is almost no doubt that the two carvings were carved by “Bo,” and that they were possibly carved at about the same time. This coin may well have been the forerunner of the elaborate carving. Pay particular attention to the hair on the head of the “Stiff” in the closeup. The head, in comparison to the normal obverse carved head, is only about 1/8 the size of the normal carved head, and yet the hair is still extremely delicate.
Notice on the above photograph that the coat worn by the “Bindle Stiff” was too small. The sleeves were about four inches too short, and the coat length about eight inches or so too short. Using the “raised metal” method, the tail of the coat appears to be pushed out as if blown by the wind, the jacket pocket is opened, and the trousers pocket is also open as if stuffed with something. The belt has been carved beneath the coat tail prior to laying the metal back down. The Kelly (walking) stick is a shorter stick than normally depicted by “Bo.” The “bindle” (pack) on his back has “GH 39.” This is one of the years migrant workers were on the ranch.
This coin and the other three were transferred to Jack Royse of Indiana in 1991 where they still remain in his collection.
Other carved reverse coins by “Bo” included Horse heads, and turtles. Following are a few of many carved reverse nickels by various artists,
of which the first three are carvings by “Bo”:
One point to note on the reverse carvings. If the subject (hobo) is holding a walking stick (Kelly Stick), and the coin is a 1913 dated coin, it is probably a type II nickel. To date, all but a few of the coins inspected have shown the use of the raised line above the “exergue” (area with FIVE CENTS) as the staff. One of the exceptions (which is pictured below) shows almost no rim in the FIVE CENT area, with the FIVE CENTS being removed only enough to carve the outer edge of the stick. Excluding the reverse carvings discussed below, this carving and one other of the same basic design are the only two of this style which have been inspected and confirmed
as Genuine “Bo’s.” There are no doubt others, but just not yet reported and authenticated. Notice how “Bo” used the entire buffalo face for the “Bindle Stiff’s” face. Several reverse carvings of other “bindle stiffs” (bearing a remarkable resemblance to “Bo’s” work) have been inspected in the past, but were not attributed to “Bo.” Sufficient information was not available at those times to make that determination.
Yet another reverse carving of a “bindle stiff” surfaced in 1985 which is no doubt a “Bo” carving. This coin followed the normal routes (Tennessee to Ohio, to Missouri) of many of “Bo”s finer works. It is believed that this coin was not carved in Florida as many of the coins which came from the original Tennessee source. Pay particular attention the foot of the stiff. Careful attempts were made to ensure that a toe was sticking out of the “slide” (shoe).
“Bo” created many carved reverse coins, of which some were not the typical donkey or elephant. The donkey and elephant became popular coins during election years, and higher premiums could be obtained from their sales than those of the typical carved reverses. His first donkey reverse carvings were actually of a mule and the home (shanny) in which he lived as a lad. The first elephant carvings were probably memories of circuses which he and “Bert” had slipped into. When the political factor entered the market, the small shanny disappeared. It is interesting to note that only a few elephant carvings have surfaced and been checked. Does this indicate that there were more Democrats than Republicans? See FDR NICKEL.
CHAIN GANG NICKELS: See PRISONER NICKELS.
CHISEL (Graver): For the Hobo Artist, a chisel was normally a small file, possibly a pocket knife blade, or some other high carbon metal object which was dressed down to the point shape as desired. The dress work was probably accomplished on any type of stone which was available. The commercial name for a metal chisel is “GRAVER.” For photographs of chisels, see BO RELEARNING COINS.
CIRCULATED NICKEL TEXTURE: The natural pattern and grain structure which is visible on clean circulated nickels and buffed nickels which have been stored for approximately 15 or more years. The texture of a circulated coin is normally different from a BU coin. A BU coin has somewhat of a protective surface from the original mint bloom and normal environmental elements or toning. Once a nickel has circulated or been buffed, the original mint bloom and tone protective surfaces have been removed. As such, these coins have certain characteristics which can be used to determine if a nickel has been recently cleaned, if it is truly a clean circulated coin, or if the coin was buffed at least 15 years prior.
Metal for coin disks has a structure somewhat similar to thousands of small balls (granules) touching each other. When the metal is rolled into coin strip stock, these granules get stretched much the same as a rubber band, with some granules remaining somewhat as balls and have only minor stretching.When the disks have been struck, some of the granules will be “swaged” with a very thin film of metal covering some of the pores. When the coins have been circulated or buffed, this thin layer of swaged metal is removed, and the pores become exposed.
With the generosity of the late Henry Jacobs of Louisville, Kentucky, many of his long term stored coins were checked. Between 1970 and 1987, over 900 clean (not cleaned), and over 200 buffed (and other forms of polishing) coins VG through AU buffalo and Jefferson nickels (1913- 1942) were microscopically checked for toning, and grain pattern. Comparisons were made with over 500 BU copies. An additional 25 coins were buffed in 1973, were stored until 1991, and were checked each year for any changes in the texture. It was found that coins which were circulated or buffed several (15 or more) years before and were stored in a good environment took on a texture which could be comparable to one type of toning. Under 10X and higher magnification, numerous fine straight lines which had the appearance of being small grooves toned to a light grey. These fine lines are no doubt portions of the metal grain which had the outer protective layer removed by circulation or buffing several years earlier. The texture is somewhat comparable to “wood grain” toning on copper base coins.
Some may ask why tests such as these were even conducted. The original purpose was to try to prove that some coins which were being called old “Love Tokens” were in fact only recently made. As time progressed and the interest in Hobo Nickels increased, numerous fake hobo coins hit the market. The tests did not prove that the love tokens were fakes unless they were nickels, but the tests can help prove fake hobo nickels.
CLOWN CARVINGS: Clowns were one of “Bo’s” favorite subjects. No doubt the circuses which “Bert” and “Bo” sneaked into left quite an impression on “Bo,” and left him with many fond memories. Emmett Kelly was probably the only identifiable clown carved by “Bo,” but numerous varieties of clowns were carved/punched by him both before and after his hand injury. It may be possible to identify some of the clowns carved by “Bo” by checking with “Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey.” It is also believed that there is either a clown museum or some form of clown history maintained by the circus. Following are seven of many clowns carved by “Bo.”
DERBY: A hat style frequently seen on Hobo Carvings.Many of the attempted “derby” hat designs are very crude, and may only vaguely resemble the derby. To avoid confusion in appearances of hat styles, the term “domed hat” has been used to describe all hats which are similar to a derby. See DOMED HAT CARVING.
DEVICES: Various items carved into the coins which are normally used to indicate a particular individual or other subject. One device used by “Bo” was a plumed like feather (see photographs below) on the hat. To date, all known carvings by “Bo” with feathers in the hat were portraits of “Marcy.” Marcy was the sugar daddy of “Monique.” “Monique” was “Bo’s” lover. Many times “Bo” would use only one feather, and other times two. Following are four different versions of the feathers used by “Bo” to denote “Marcy,” with the fifth photo being a blow-up of the coin bearing the name “GH 50” at the base of the neck.
Occasionally, some artists used a “diamond” stick or tie pin as a device, such as the one pictured above.
“Bo” many times used a “snipe” (cigar or cigarette butt) when carving his dead soldier brother’s portrait. “Bo” was not the only artist to use “snipes” as can be seen on the following photograph to the right of “Bo’s” soldier brother.
Another device used by “Bo” was eye glasses. When “Bo” sustained his 1957 hand injury, Willard Chisolm obtained medical aid for “Bo.” In appreciation for the medical attention received from the doctor, “Bo” started punching, and later carving portraits of the doctor. No copies of a punched version were available for photographing, but one copy of about a 1960-61 broad tipped chisel carving, and about a 1970-75 more refined carving were inspected and photographed. Notice the improvement of “Bo’s” art work, especially in the delicacy of carving, as he learned to reuse his hand.
Probably the least used, or the least seen devices are “kerchiefs,” and “patches.” “Bo” used these two devices which were probably intended to be symbolic of the hoboes. The kerchief and/or patch has been used on some of “Bo’s” reverse carvings. The kerchief is normally sticking out of a coat pocket, and the patch is normally on the elbow of the coat. The kerchief possibly depicts hot days on the road, and the patch is probably intended to show the financial situation of the early American hobo.
The initials of the artist can also be considered as a form of device to denote the artist, but should not always be used as proof positive. Adding small devices such as initials, or the removal of “LI & Y” can be easily faked. Rely only on known markers, styles, and other identifications. The following coin was originally inspected and photographed in 1984. Even though it came through the Nashville, Tennessee collector/dealer, it is considered to be a possible renegade coin which made it’s trip to Tennessee from a Western State. This is the finest known “SUGAR DADDY” carving to date. Many of “Bo’s” earlier carvings were made west of the Mississippi River, with many of his carvings winding up in California.
DOMED HAT CARVING: A general hat design used by many hobo artists (including “Bert” and “Bo.”) The design was probably used to speed up the carving, and the general shape was made from the outline of the Indian’s head. Artists probably intended the hat to be a derby, but many did not turn out that way, and the term “Domed Hat” is used for hat styles which even remotely resemble a derby hat. Following is a “Domed Hat Hobo” by “Bo” probably carved prior to 1940, and is in the Jack Royse of Indiana collection.
DUPLICATE or SIMILAR CARVINGS: See YEARS OF WORK.
EARLY ARTISTS AND THEIR CARVINGS: George Washington “Bo” Hughes made some statements to the author which greatly confused the original research. One of these statements was that “Bert” usually removed the “LI” and “Y” from LIBERTY on his nickel carvings, leaving only his name “BERT.” Numerous nickels displaying this have been examined, but it also made no sense that a man who was a master artist , and one who had carved coins from 1913 to about 1949 left only a few of his works. As additional coins were received and examined, it became evident that this statement was very misleading, was probably the exception instead of the rule, and created somewhat of a stigma on the actual identification of “Bert” carvings. Several early carvings displayed “Bert’s” methods and style, and there is no doubt that virtually hundreds of “Bert’s” works are in collections without his “BERT” signature.
Another “rough” portion in this area of research came about when numerous coins bearing “BERT” were closely examined. Even though it is very difficult to distinguish between many of “Bert’s” and “Bo’s” works, there are some slight differences. It was determined after the extensive examinations that some of the coins labeled “BERT” were in fact portraits of “Bert” which were carved by “Bo.” This tends to lead one to believe that the statement of “Bert” having his name on the coins may have been a minor ploy, and out of love and respect for his “Jocker,” “Bo” was able to pay tribute to “Bert” by putting more coins on the market with “Bert’s” name. There is absolutely no doubt that “Bert” was a master carver, as attested to by the late Tom Deason, a train engineer who had given “Bert” and “Bo” transportation several times. It is also evident that “Bert” did start carving the nickels in 1913, and his two earliest known , shown below, were undoubtedly some of his learning coins. By microscopic inspection, these artistic carvings were found to be “total knife” carvings.
By 1915 (around the time “Bo” entered “Bert’s”
life), “Bert” was refined in his carving talents, and hand made standard tools had been adapted for his artistic work. During this refinement period, his works display the results of the various combinations of tools used. Some of his earlier carvings had signs of knife, chisel, file, abrasive papers, pencil erasers, and/or other abrasives for dress work. The transitional carvings by “Bert” are considered to be extremely rare, and true treasures. Note the progression and/or the styles of noses and collars on the following carvings.
After the “Bert” stigma was overcome, all available photographs were re-examined, and many of those which were identified as “similar to “Bert’s,” but not “Bert’s”” have been reclassified as carved by “Bert.” As the study continued, it became even more evident that probably no more than a few dozen artists are responsible for as many as 90% of the better quality carvings, and possibly as many as 75% of all the carvings made through 1939.
By 1915, “Bert” was producing not only “standard” hobo nickels, but was doing portrait work as well.
During one of the meetings with Willard Chisolm (“WC”), the question was asked about any other known history of “Bert.” “WC” stated that on one occasion, “Bert” told “Bo” that his father had worked for the railroad, and that he had resided in Illinois. When “Bert” took to the rails, he already had considerable knowledge of the railroads, probably to include time tables, routes, and just about any information which he wanted or needed. This information coupled with the stories of “Bert” being a gambler in Illinois and killing a man coincide very closely.Many times at switching yards and/or side tracks, card and dice games were abundant. Illinois, son of a railroad worker, gambling – it all fits together and probably is accurate information.
“Bert’s” work continued at least until 1949, at which time “Bo” lost all trace of him. “Bo” last saw “Bert” in early spring of 1949 when they departed the jungle in Florida. The last report from any other source was from a hobo nickel collector who stated that “Bert” had a small jewelry stand in a flea market (actually called a “Farmer’s Market” or “Hay Market”) near Asheville, NC in the mid to late 1940’s. The report confirmed that he was still making and selling hobo nickels at his stand at that time, and that he was accompanied by a very beautiful middle-aged woman. The following photograph is believed to have been purchased in the Asheville, North Carolina around 1941, and appears to be of a lady which “Bert” made some carvings of.
Even though “Bo” thought “Bert” to be dead, this is not necessarily so. Since reports of a “flea market” and a “beautiful woman,” “Bert” may have just settled down to a peaceful and not-so-hectic way of life. The possibility may well exist that “Bert” may have settled in the Asheville, NC area until his death. Many of his works could still be in that area.
Since it was reported that “Bert” may have become a Hobo because of trouble in earlier life, he may have been going under an assumed name in the Asheville area. Should anyone run a search in the Asheville, NC area, according to Willard Chisolm, the two following photographs (also pictured in Book #1 at the bottom of page 79) are “dead ringers” for “Bert.” Willard stated that he had only seen “Bert” maybe twice between 1946 and 1949, but the hard icy image was one not easily forgotten.
Even though “Bert” was probably 55-60 in the early 1940’s, his talent or techniques had shown little if any change since he had mastered the art of nickel carving between 1913 and 1915. The following coins were believed to have been carved by “Bert” between 1942 and 1949 at a winter hobo jungle near Okeechobee Lake in Florida.
The next carving is believed to have been a portrait of “Bo” which was carved by “Bert.” Although the carving is on a very high grade 1913 T-1 coin, it is believed that this coin was also carved between 1946 and 49, after “Bert” and “Bo” renewed their relationship. This is the only known carving of this type which depicts “Bo” in the fairly early stages of baldness. It resembles a self portrait by “Bo,” but close comparisons between this carving and other “Bo” self portraits show that it is different in style in many ways. There are also some markers present on this carving which do appear on many “Bert” carvings. Likewise, there are different markers which do appear on many “Bo” carvings, and this coin is devoid of the “Bo” markers.
While researching and checking numerous coins and information, two startling but pleasant discoveries were made:
(1) Two earlier photos depicted “Weasel,” and numerous other coins bearing a strong resemblance had been seen, some of high quality and some of lesser artistic endeavor. This had to be more than a coincidence, so all of the old records and photographs which remained in tact were pulled from the file boxes and checked. This, combined with the new information, was studied very closely.
The key to the puzzle was found in a group of nickels purchased from “Bo” by a Kentucky dealer (now deceased, Henry Jacobs of Louisville) in the early 1950’s. A portrait of “Weasel” (to be seen later in the works of “Bo”) positively identified not only the subject, but a third known artist who may well still be living and spending his winters in Florida. This information was compiled around 1986, so additional years would be added toWeasel’s age, and reduces the chances of him still surviving.
Besides the portrait by “Bo,” in the group of coins was a portrait of “Weasel” identified as “W.L.,” and was the apparent work of “Bo.” There were also four other carvings byWeasel. It is thought that “Bo” (having a steady market with constant customers) distributed the coins for all who may have been carving at that time in the hobo jungle. This factor would indicate that other hoboes (to include “Weasel”) were probably traveling with “Bo.”
(2) The biggest and most pleasant surprise came with a coin which was sent by a collector from Missouri in December 1994. Many, but not all of his coins had been examined from about 1983-1987. Over a period of years this collector has gradually sold off his large hoard of some of the finest hobo nickels ever seen.
Upon a request from the author for the collector to send a few really nice carvings for the January 1995 FUN convention, a package containing four coins was sent. Three of the coins had been examined and photographed earlier, but the fourth had not been seen and was the mind boggler.
Each hobo nickel is unique since they are hand made. There may be several which are similar, but never the same. Even though “most” is not listed by “Webster” as being a modifier for “unique,” the author sways from the accepted modifiers and makes the statement that the following carving is probably one of the “most unique” of all the carvings made by George Washington “Bo” Hughes. It is the only coin known to date which has employed most of the different methods used by “Bo” in his earlier years of carving, and is classified as an ALL DEVICES carving (see that term and CATEGORY RATINGS). Following are the various points and photograph:
a. Raised metal hat brim
b. Raised metal ear
c. Raised (plateau) face hair
d. Raised beard
e. Raised neck hair
f. Raised collar
g. Signed “GH 27” under hat brim
h. Carved on a high grade 1916 nickel
Yet another “all devices” carving by “Bo” surfaced. There are three or four similar carvings known to date. The following photograph is signed “GH 28” beneath the raised metal collar.
It was thought through study that the next coin may have been carved by “Weasel,” but from the study of the above portrait of “Weasel” by “Bo,” it is now believed that it is in fact a much later date (possibly during the 1940’s) hasty portrait of “Weasel” by “Bo.” Compare this photograph with the preceding photograph for extreme similarities.Major points to consider are nose style, hat style, ear style, and large nostril.
Some speculation is made from the study of these two coins. The tight lips with hair almost covering the lips could indicate that “Weasel” may have either been toothless, or did not trim his beard and moustache very often. The raised metal beard indicates that “Weasel’s” beard may have been somewhat unmanageable. Even the dates of the two carvings could point to 1916 being the first time “Bo” met “Weasel.” All of this is speculation, but the questions are there.
After the above coins were identified through fairly reliable study of other coins, numerous other coins and photographs were re-checked. Through microscopic inspection, it is fairly certain that the following coins were also carved by Weasel.
There are many other carvings which have the “trade marks” of Weasel, but he was not a “master” of the art as were “Bert” and “Bo,” even though his general style was similar to theirs. The general appearances of his works were:
(1) He apparently was not greatly artistically gifted even though he did create a few nice carvings of which a few appear below.
(2) His work normally displayed haste, and he was apparently an impatient person who rushed through the carvings – one trait which a gifted artist can not have. Patience is a virtue.
(3) He probably carved as a pastime, and not for the money. The following coins are possibly “Weasel” carvings Numerous other artists have left their mark on the numismatic society, of which only a very few are pictured below. When purchasing coins of this nature, caution should be used. A general knowledge of metals, metal reactions, etc would be beneficial prior to purchasing. It is recommended that carvings be authenticated through a reputable authenticating agency prior to making the final purchase of similar carvings. The final decision to purchase, however, is that of the buyer, and if they are satisfied, that is the important thing. Numismatics is to be enjoyed.
It was mentioned earlier that four major collections and one hoard of hobo nickels were checked.These coins not only had some of the most beautiful and artistic carvings seen on hobo nickels, but they also told several stories about “Bo,” his travels, and his love for his friends.
Before going into these fabulous carvings, let us explore the known routes taken by “Bo” from 1950 until his probable death around 1981. These routes were confirmed by the dealers along the way. Each year when “Bo” left the hobo jungle in Florida from 1950 through 1980, the following general routes were taken.
There is a conflict between the information below and information received from Iowa. A hobo historian, “George Horton” of Vinning, stated that the only hobo jungle known by hoboes near Okeechobee Lake was and is located at the northern tip of the lake instead of the southern tip.
It was already known that “Bo” spent his winters in either Martin or Palm Beach Counties, Florida, along Okeechobee Lake. “Bo” supplied carvings to two different dealers in those areas. The dealers were close enough that he could make the round trip in less than a day by hitch-hiking. When “Bo” left Florida for his summer travel, it is not certain which railroad route he took to Nashville, Tennessee, but it is a known fact that each year he stopped at a dealer/collector’s in the vicinity of Nashville where he would sell a few coins. There were two or three comments about having one stop in Georgia, so it is not known if “Bo” traveled to Northern Georgia and then to Tennessee, or if possibly another route (L&N RR) across the lower portion of Georgia through Alabama was taken, and then North to Tennessee.
From Nashville, Tennessee, “Bo” then hopped the L&N (formerly Louisville and Nashville, later belonging to Seaboard Coast Lines, and is now part of CSX) train and traveled to Louisville, Kentucky. In Louisville, he made at least one stop and would sell coins to Henry Jacobs (now deceased). Theremay have been other customers in this area, but it is not known. It is known that “Bo” had made some ties in the Louisville area during WW-II with jockeys at Churchill Downs (home of the Kentucky Derby.)
He would then either take a street car (bus after about 1950) to New Albany, Indiana, walk across one of the railroad bridges, or possibly hop a train across the river. According to Henry Jacobs, “Bo” did have one customer in New Albany, but that person has not been located or identified to date. When all business was finished in New Albany, he would then hop the Monon Railroad and eventually make his way to his summer camp near Columbus, Indiana, where he spent the summer carving coins, and selling to a few local collectors and dealers.
Late in the 1940’s, “Bo” and Willard Chisolm (“WC”), by a chance meeting, renewed a long ago friendship. “WC” became one of “Bo’s” best sources for selling his carved works in Indiana, to include the crude later date carved and punched coins.
Prior to the renewed friendship with “WC,” “Bo” supplied local dealers, collectors and flea market dealers with his carvings from the vicinity of Nashville, Indiana to Indianapolis. This includes “Tom Slemons” who owned and operated “The Town Crier” coin shop which was located in the “HeritageMall” at Nashville, Indiana. Tom purchased coins from “Bo” off and on over several years, and may have supplied him with buffalo nickels for his carvings. The coin shop is no longer in existence, but was still in operation around 1986. This coin shop was only a few miles from Marrowbone, Indiana where “WC” set up and sold “Bo’s” nickels at the *“Gypsy Moon” flea market, where the author first met”WC.”
* NOTE: At the time of this writing, the above mentioned flea market was in the process of being sold to the 1991 Hobo Queen, “Gypsy Moon.” Not only will the flea market maintain it’s long time name, but will also be owned by the 1991Hobo Queen by the same name. Following is a photograph of “Queen Gypsy Moon” and “George Horton,” hobo historian.
By the end of November or early December each year, “Bo” would be back in Florida via the reverse route taken to the north. A very thorough search and research of and along various freight railroads from Florida could possibly give clues to other locations of his coins in California, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana.
Prior to Monique’s death in 1949, “Bo’s” travels were quite erratic, and from all sources of information (mostly from areas where his coins were somewhat concentrated), the majority of his travels were west of the Mississippi River, with many of his carvings showing up in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and several other Western states. Attempts have been made to connect his travels with the Hobo Convention which is held at Britt, Iowa each year in August, but with no success except one route used by “Bo” in the mid 1930’s to early 1940’s did pass by Britt. At one time a spark of hope was generated when other hoboes thought perhaps “Bo” went by another name. A photograph was obtained of this individual, but it was of “King Cadwell,” and not “Bo.”
“Bo” made one statement to the author which was probably out of love and respect for his “jocker” (teacher) and friend, “Bert.” He stated that “Bert” was the most gifted hobo artist of all. After thousands of coins have been examined, it is clearly evident that in fact, “Bo” is possibly the most prolific of all, even though both made many carvings which were nearly identical. It is the conclusion of the author that both “Bert” and “Bo” should be considered as the “Kings of the Hobo Artists.”
With the above information now recorded and out of the way, sit back, relax, and enjoy some of the most fascinating hobo carvings ever to be made. This group of photographs consists of pre-1950 carvings of various subjects.
The next group of photographs consists of “Partial Cameo” carvings. These are believed to be part of the known 50± coins which were carved by “Bo” in early 1950. These were the second group of coins carved that winter, and were liked by the Florida dealer. These carvings may have been the forerunners of his cameo carvings which started the same year. This theory is strengthened by the information received from the collectors and dealers who purchased these coins in the early 1950’s.
As mentioned earlier, it was thought that the ultimate in hobo nickel carvings had been seen, as no doubt you (the reader) may well agree. There was a tremendous amount of labor involved in removing the large masses of metal from the fields of the cameos, considerable delicate work required in raising and carving the ears, the tedious task of removing metal from the face and head to give the “growing hair” effect, and the precision carving of the hair and other details. To the author, this was the ultimate.
As happens so many times in studies, the feelings were wrong! It was already known that both “Bert” and “Bo” would occasionally use the raised metal method on the ear or hat brim, and it was no major surprise to see this method employed on many of the 1950-1957 cameo carvings, however, in one of the collections examined, the biggest surprise was yet to come. One coin in this collection was the ultimate of the ultimates (maybe)! The following carving has been identified as being:
(1) An outstanding partial cameo
(2) Raised metal hat brim
(3) Raised metal ear
(4) Raised metal lapel
(5) Signed and dated (“GH 28”) underneath the lapel on a super AU 1927 coin
(6) Raised metal hair
Some records were lost when a water line broke in the author’s office, and the following may not be totally correct, as it is from memory only. This coin is believed to have been submitted by a Missouri collector with the information that it had been purchased in Ohio around 1938. This same gentleman at one time proudly boasted the ownership of approximately 75-80 “Bert’s,” “Bo’s,” and 60-80 other carvings, of which many have been checked, and some sold.
Not only was the collar raised and signed under, but apparently the ear was fashioned in the same manner. After the ear was raised, the hair was carved underneath, and then the ear laid back down over the carved hair. CAN THERE BE A MORE ULTIMATE THAN THIS? If “NO” is said, then surely a finer coin will surface.
At the time the above information was being recorded, another nearly identical carving to the one above was received. Since all photographs had been finalized, a photo of this coin was not taken. The second copy was (and probably still is) in a collection in Illinois. This coin came from a Pennsylvania collector via Tennessee where the coin was purchased by the Ohio collector. This information followed the normal travel pattern of “Bo” in the 1950’s, but assuming the coin was made in 1928, it may have been a renegade which made it’s way into Tennessee from a western state.
Approximately 3-4 years after the two above coins were examined, a third similar copy surfaced from Southern Indiana. The major differences between this coin and the other two follow:
(1) This coin was possibly one of the very first of this style carved by “Bo.” It is on a 1913 T-1 buffalo of about EF reverse.
(2) “Raised metal hat brim.”
(3) “Raised metal ear.”
(4) Not only was the collar “raised metal,” but it was raised in two different ways. The lapel was raised and the initials of “GH” were placed under the lapel before it was laid back down. The actual collar around the neck was also raised and had the appearance of being a loosely fitting and wrinkled collar. You can look down into the neck of the shirt.
(5) It is apparently a portrait of “Bert,” as it has the normal “LI & Y” removed, and has the same general appearance of “Bert” by “Bo.”
(6) It is the author’s opinion that this coin was carved before the two which were dated “28,” and may well have been a learning carving for future works. See “Around 1987” following *NOTE below.
The owner of this coin stated that he had purchased it in the late 1950’s at a “Coin Dealer’s” in * Nashville, Indiana which may have been owned and operated by Thomas Slemons. At the time this coin was seen, it had already been decided by the author that a second book would be a waste of time and money, and photographs of the raised metal only were taken, but not a full coin photograph.
*NOTE: Nashville, Indiana and Brown County, Indiana are Nationally known tourist areas. Many coins sold by both Tom Slemons and “WC” may well have gone to virtually all states, Canada, and even other countries. Brown County is one of the major sites for the annual “Leaf Tours” made by thousands of world wide tourists every year, with Nashville and Gnawbone joining the Brown County forest.
Around 1987, one Missouri collector sent a small group of hobo nickels to this author for study and possible listing in any future books. Since plans for any future book had already been dropped, photographs were not made of any of the coins, but notations were made and kept. In December 1994, one of these coins was offered to the author for study, listing, and for consignment. The coin was re-examined and photographed, but the photograph was misplaced.
The carving was probably made on an AU-58 or UNC T-1 (raised mound) buffalo nickel, as the reverse is still in AU-55 condition. The wear on the carving indicates that the coin was probably carried in someone’s pocket for a short period of time, and some very minor wear is visible on the cheek bone, ear, hat brim and collar. A small amount of extraneous material was also observed beneath the collar which also indicates the probability of the coin being carried in a pocket.
This carving is basically of the same type as the three coins discussed earlier. It has a raised collar with “GH” beneath the collar, and has “DIRK 1923” carved on the hat ribbon. It is believed that this carving was done in 1923 as shown on the ribbon. The carving is not necessarily a spectacular piece of work, but the information which it provides is invaluable for the following reasons:
(1) The “1923” indicates a probable starting date for this type of carving, and may have been carved around the same time as the third of the above three coins.
(2) Since all four of the similar carvings appear to be of different profiles, it strongly points to “Bo” doing several portraits. This is especially evident on the various styles of noses which were used by “Bo.”
(3) Even though this somewhat unique type of carving was used by “Bo” for at least five (5) years, only four copies have surfaced at the time of this writing. With this thought in mind, there may be many other similar portrait carvings stored away in jewelry chests, junk boxes, etc.
Somewhere around 1985 or 1986, Mr. Slemons told the author that he would be retiring and moving to Spain, and contact was lost. By a quirk of fate, contact was reestablished in July 1993 with Mr. Slemons. During the summer months, he returns to the states where he spends time with a son and his grandchildren. On 5 July 1993, a lengthy telephone conversation was held with Mr. Slemons. He stated that he had handled several of the carved hobo nickels in the past (to include cameos), but no longer had any coins of any type, nor did he remember any specifics about his hobo nickel sources, or the customers to whom he sold them. His summer months in the states are now spent on appraisals of collections, estates, etc, and with his family.
The above three coins were possibly the results of having only a few coins, and a lot of time on hand (“FREE TIME CARVING,” see that term.) Regardless of the situation or cause, these are truly the ultimates, or are they? Only time will tell if something more spectacular exists.
Although many artists have not yet been identified, several other artists and would be artists have left their mark on history for the numismatists. Of the following coins, the first three came from *Latrobe, PA, and the first two were from the same source out of Latrobe.
* NOTE: The source from Latrobe stated that up through WW-II, there was a small jungle near the tracks there. A makeshift shack (shanny) had been set up by the hoboes which was constructed from Railroad ties and other scrap materials from the railroad.
EAR STYLES: A characteristic which may or may not be used to identify either a specific artist’s work, or may help identify the subject. One group of carvings shown below is generally considered to be by the same unknown artist and can be partially identified by the ear which is basically in the shape of a peanut.
EISENBACH COLLECTION: A small collection of hobo nickels assembled by a gentleman in Gary Indiana is called the “Eisenbach collection” because one coin in the collection is unique. The carving is apparently the portrait of a Jewish gentleman wearing a yarmulke, and is inscribed EISENBACH-CHICAGO. The seven coins from this collection are pictured in various areas of explanations, and have played a vital role in gaining additional information and proving other carvings.
ENGRAVING OR ENGRAVED COIN: (Do not confuse with “Carved.”) When used with “Hobo Nickels,” the term implies“Etched or Etching,” a form of fakery of hobo nickels. When “neobos” are made with the aid of a hand held vibrating and etching engraver, they are “Etched neobos.”
ETCHING or ETCHED COIN: Term with two meanings:
(1) Used to describe many “neo-bos” which were made using hand held etching (vibrating) engravers.
(2) Etched, when used in the sense of “Frosty” refers to coins which have been given a frosty texture through the use of acids, vacu-blasting, or some other method. When these methods are used, the coin automatically becomes a fake as it is almost impossible to tell if the coin was an authentic hobo nickel, or a neo-bo. For photograph, see POROSITY. Also see VACU-BLAST.
EXERGUE: Exergue is the area between the horizontal straight line and the rim below the buffalo on the reverse of the type II buffalo nickel which contains FIVE CENTS. The solid line at the top of the exergue is frequently used as one edge of a walking stick (Kelly or Bindle Stick) on a carved reverse of a “Hobo with walking stick.”
FDR NICKEL: Possibly a unique hobo nickel by “Bo” with the typical mule (donkey or jackass) without the shack in the background. The carving also displays “FDR IN 40.” The owner of the coin insists that the coin was probably carved in 1939, but the author believes it to have been carved in 1940, in which year the majority of political campaigning took place. This particular carving pictured below is somewhat unique in various ways.
(1) The coin on which it is carved is a 1938-D, MS-65.
(2) The “D” mintmark is a repunched mintmark (RPM), and is listed by CONECA (a national variety club) as RPM #2. The RPM puts the coin in the VARIETY COIN CARVING category. See that term.
(3) It is the only political device carving (political nickel) by “Bo” known to date with any particular affiliation other than the donkey or elephant. See POLITICAL NICKEL, and RARE COIN CARVING.
FEDORA: A hat style frequently seen on hobo carvings See DOMED HAT CARVING.
FREE TIME CARVINGS: Term used to describe the most elaborate carvings which apparently took many hours (possibly days on some) to accomplish. From the art work on some coins, it is relatively apparent that the artist had considerable time on his hands, and probably only a few nickels to carve. To while away the time, it is believed that many of the extremely delicate and/or complicated carvings were made. For photographs, see CAMEO CARVINGS, and EARLY ARTISTS AND THEIR CARVINGS.
FOB NICKEL OR CARVING: Watch fobs which either had a hobo carving inserted into or affixed to them, or a fob with a coin which was altered into a hobo carving at a later date. Some fob nickels were holed instead of being secured in a bezel ring. The following coin is in the collection of Don Haley of Florida.
FOREIGN CARVINGS, and/or CARVINGS ON FOREIGN COINS: Although these types of carvings are not considered as “hobo nickels,” the possibility does exist that they were carved by members of the world order of “Vagabonia” (see that term in GLOSSARY OF HOBO LANGUAGE at the end of this book), and are fun to collect. Throughout the world, numerous carved coins exist, and are highly sought after by many. One of the most common to be found in this hemisphere are carvings on Spanish 5 and 10 Centimos, such as the ten centimos pictured below which is in the collection of Joaquin “ P A C H E C O ” Monserrat of Puerto Rico.
GRAVER: Synonymous with CHISEL. See that term.
HAIR STYLES: The various hair styles may many times be used to help identify the subject on a carving. It can not, however, be used to determine the approximate date which it was carved. To many “Hobo Artists,” the Indian’s profile or the buffalo were the same as the block of stone to a sculptor, to be transferred into subjects of his or her memories. The carvings many times depicted memories of the past, and these memories were not placed on the coins until many years later.
It was thought at one time that the self portraits of “Bo” could be used to guess his age at the time he carved the coin. As it turned out though, many times “Bo” would carve his self portraits depicting various times of his life. Within any given time, he was subject to carve a “Slick Faced Bo”; a young “Bo” with only a small amount of facial hair; a full head of hair and a full beard; an early stage of balding; midway in his balding stage, and finally, the complete bald, as seen in the last photograph.
At the time the author met “Bo” near Gnawbone, Indiana, “Bo” had already reached his near maximum of baldness which was apparently about the same for his last 30 years or so. By comparing some of the cameo carvings of 1950-1957 with (supposed) pre-1950 self portraits, it can be easily seen that he had been making his total bald carvings since the mid to late 1940’s.
Of the following photographs, the first depicts a self portrait of “Bo” which was carved and presented to a rancher’s mother in 1941. Assuming this to be a good likeness, the hair appears to be full. The second photograph is a portrait by “Bert,” and was originally believed to have been carved around 1942 because of the reuniting of “Bert” and “Bo” in 1942. Since “Bo” was probably about totally bald by 1950, it must then be assumed that the carving was made well after 1942. It is also apparent (using the known information from the hair on the carvings) that “Bo” started balding at a very rapid pace – from a full head of hair to totally bald in less than 10 years. There are also other possibilities. In the first photograph above (“GH 41”), “Bo’s” hair appears to be deliberately combed across the right side of his head – a possible attempt to cover the early balding?
HAT STYLES AND BEARDS: It was originally believed that the hat styles played an important role in the identification of the portrait on the carved nickels. This is still partially true, but primarily on “Shop Keeper’s Tokens,” and not on many of the actual “Hobo Nickels.”
A thorough study in libraries and private collections of photographs of hoboes and books pertaining to hoboes was conducted. This material covered the time span from *1895 to 1939. From all photographs and books, there was no standard head gear worn by any of the hoboes, but basically any form of head gear to keep the head protected from the weather. Even though a few hoboes were possibly recognized by their head gear, it is strongly believed that the hat was a simple method used by many of the wandering artists to simplify the carvings, and reduce the amount of detailed carving which was needed to carve the various forms of hair.
*NOTE: It is very interesting to note that the majority of photographs examined (which were taken in 1895) were usually of men who were just about the correct ages to have been “Civil War Veterans” Most appeared to be the very late fifties through the early seventies.
Many times the head gear on actual hobo nickels was used to identify a trade such as a hard hat for a construction worker (Bridge Snake), a base ball cap, a jockey’s cap, a skull cap, or some other form of head gear which is associated with a specific trade.
On rare occasion, the hat was the positive identification, such as the hat worn by Emmett Kelly. Another hat style which may be an identifying factor is pictured to the right of Emmett Kelly, and may well be depicting “Pacheco,” a TV personality in Puerto Rico. Their hats were part of their trade marks. Both Kelly and “Pacheco” could normally be identified by their hats. Other identifiable hat styles were jockey caps, and baseball player’s caps. According to information received in the mid 1980’s, if a carving looks like “Bo” and is wearing a baseball cap, it is probably a portrait of “Ralph” (a look-alike hobo acquaintance of “Bo’s”) by “Bo.” If the portrait does not appear to be “Bo,” it is just a baseball player. Following are four different hat styles which depict different occupations. The first coin resembles the hat worn by “Pacheco,” a TV personality in Puerto Rico. The hat is one of his trade marks. The last photograph is a more or less typical “dead brother” by “Bo.”
Although many hoboes did wear beards, possibly as many as 75% of the photos examined showed most hoboes with no beards. There were numerous hoboes with large sideburns and moustaches though. Even though “Bo” was wearing a beard when he was interviewed, there are many self portraits of him being beardless. No doubt the beards played a major role in cold climates where any form of warmth was welcomed. There is one major exception to this information. Photographs of hoboes attending the National Hobo Convention at Britt, Iowa and other conventions have shown about 60% of the hoboes with beards. The following photograph shows one of the most ornate beards seen on a hobo nickel, and is believed to have been carved by “Bert” prior to entering the chain gang in Georgia.
After the thorough study of the hundreds of photographs, it is now believed that the beard on the hobo nickel was merely an easy method of covering the distinct Indian profile. Since many beards were scratched or punched into the nickels by the not so skilled artists, this somewhat supports this belief.
“Bert” and “Bo” were true artistic masters, and were not afraid to stray from the normal techniques of the not so artistic carvers. It was not uncommon for them to carve very delicate and complete heads of hair, and sometimes beards on the bare headed subject. The true artist did not have to disguise or deceive—he was an artist in every sense of the word. Refer to the first portrait carving of “Bert” in the “Cameo” coins which were carved by “Bo.” It is obvious that “Bo” had no fear of the delicate work, nor did “Bert” as is exemplified in the following carvings of a woman in 1939, possibly a second cameo carving with “BW 51,” and possibly an obverse/reverse carving of the same lady who had apparently passed away in 1941.
It has been noted that usually not one, but several features were used to identify the subject by the more talented and accomplished artists. Ears, noses, hats,
beards, hair (curly, straight, etc.), and other identifying features were used by the true artists. The “would-be” artists merely carved, punched or scratched.
The research also brought out many other interesting facts. In the first HOBO NICKEL BOOK, the mention of “coins in a series” carved by the same Hobo artist was made. Both the hat and beard styles are positive identifiers for these carvings. Since those photographs appeared in the book, numerous other carved coins of the same series have been located and examined. There are several of them carved in the same year which show that not only did the wanderer carve and give the nickels to his temporary employers, but several have been examined which captured his travels as well. The travel carvings (as shown below) normally depicted a location and date.
The above three photographs of his carvings show that this one migrant worker was on the road for at least seven years. The final photograph in the series
shows that he had finally returned home, apparently he had worn a beard while on the road, and it was shaved in the 1936 self portrait. Notice the same general hat style on each carving, but some may have had a sagging brim. For additional photographs, see YEARS OF WORK.
HIGHWAY HOBO: Term with two general, yet similar meanings:
(1) Term originally applied to wanderers who owned their own mode of transportation, but basically wandered most of their life. These highway nomads usually had a permanent mailing address which may be only a Post Office Box, but was a necessity in order to maintain a driver’s license, license plates and insurance for the vehicle. In the “Hobo Nickel” field, Willard Chisolm (WC) is probably the best know “Highway Hobo.”
2) A general term used to describe many of the modern day hoboes who maintain a permanent job and place of residence. Many of this new breed of Hobo enjoy the freedoms of the rails, but want the security of being settled down. Many of the hoboes who attend the annual hobo convention at Britt, Iowa are “Highway Hoboes.”
HOBO: Term with two meanings:
(1) According to numerous hoboes, the term should be used for vagrants, tourists, or migrant workers only when referring to all as a general group. It should, however, be used all of the time for the hobo artist, and for any of the wanderers who constantly traveled and normally worked only long enough to gain enough funds for their next journey. Even though during the “great depression,” there were many “hoboes” who did function as “migrant workers,” they did so only until times became better. The migrant worker was a migrant worker before, during and after the depression, and it was and still is their permanent way of life. The plural for the “person” hobo is HOBOES.
(2) Used by many collectors as the shortened singular term for “hobo nickel,” or “hobo carving.” Plural for the hobo coins is HOBOS.
HOBO BUTTONS: Term with three meanings:
(1) Buttons which were hand made by Hoboes by carving them from wood, bone, or other materials.
(2) Normally brass buttons which have been struck from coining dies and portray a Hobo.
(3) Hobo tokens which have been converted into buttons.
HOBO CARVINGS: *A general term covering all carvings which are believed to have been done by hoboes. This includes many early 1800’s coin carvings, a few on Indian Head and Lincoln Cents, and carved wooden items. Possibly even the “Potty Dollars” or any “Potty Carving” may have been related to the Hoboes. The following photograph is of a “Potty Dollar.
Following is one example of a Lincoln cent which is strongly believed to have been carved by “Bert.” The belief is not so much the removal of “LI & Y” from LIBERTY, but more from the style of work, and some of the tooling marks. The coin is a post 1918 Lincoln, but from studies of the normal toning and texture, it is believed to have been carved after the “Great Depression.” It is carved on a double hubbed die (possibly an unlisted variety), but the wear on the major lettering which is remaining is too great to specifically say for sure. “LIBERTY” resembles a worn 1936 double hubbed die which is listed by CONECA (a variety club) as 3-0-V. Some normal diagnostics for a Class VI doubling are also evident as indicated by the arrows: “1” has the typical distortion diagnostic; “2” has the typical extra thickness diagnostic, and “3” has the typical notched corner which is a diagnostic for at least four different classes of doubling. This coin and one other carving on a flying eagle cent were stolen from the author. For additional information, see ARTIST’S ENGRAVINGS, and HOBO NICKELS.
*A Lincoln (1949-D) cent of unknown originand an 1859 “Indian Head Cent” are pictured below. The Lincoln is an “etched” coin (probably around 1960). The 1859 cent is carved, was possibly done during the Civil War, and is a “possible” hobo carving. There is no proof on these coins that they are in fact “Hobo carvings.” To date, only one hobo cent (see “Bert Cent” above) has been proven by tool markings, and other identifying features. If a known artist and his methods can not be proven, they should be called “possible,” “probable,” or “suspect” hobo carvings. Should anyone claim or authenticate a carving as an “authentic hobo carving,” this should be questioned as to the methods used for the proof.
* NOTE: Caution should be exercised on various carvings and etchings, especially on other than buffalo nickels. It is a well known fact that many carvings and etchings were done by many non hoboes. Some of the early works were “joke” coins, some were “protest” coins, some were “puppy love” coins, some were “love smitten” coins, and some were just “idle time” coins by people such as you and the author.
HOBOES: The correct plural of “Hobo” when discussing the person, artist of the carving, itinerant workers, wanderers, vagrants, etc. If discussing the carved coins, “hobos” is the correct plural for the coins, but not the artists.
HOBO NICKEL LOVE TOKEN: When is a carved nickel not a Hobo Nickel? When it is a “love token.” When is a carved nickel not a “love token”? When it is carved by a hobo artist.
The above coin is a “hobo nickel love token.” It is quite evident that this carving does not display the normal talents which were used by the persons who engraved “love tokens.” The Star of David is off center and tilted, and there are different lengths to the star points.
Regardless of the artistic shortcomings, it is more than evident that the artist was talented in areas other than carving. What appears to be a ruby (probably a jewel from a watch) was very cleverly placed in the center of the star, and was permanently crimped into it’s location by the “raised metal” method.
The affection of the artist is shown by his apparent love for “Esther,” whose name appears just above FIVE CENTS. This coin came from one of the main sources of “Bo” carvings, and could have been carved by a friend of “Bo,” and then passed on by “Bo.” One other Star of David carving was examined and was presented to a good friend and West Coast dealer, Fred Weinberg, by Bill Fivaz.
HOBO NICKELS: Generally accepted to be “Buffalo” or “Indian Head” nickels which have been carved by Hoboes from 1913 through 1951. This is basically true with the major exception of the carvings of “George Washington “BO” Hughes,” of which some of his finer carvings are know to exist through 1956, and early 1957. The possibility exists that some carvings by “Weasel” were also made through the same basic period. For additional information, see ARTIST’S ENGRAVINGS, and HOBO CARVINGS.
HOBO PENDANTS: A term which is probably erroneously applied to a type of coin jewelry which was made during WW-II, and sold to the American Servicemen who were shipping out to an overseas destination. The only known copies of these pieces of jewelry were reported as being sold in California by several different semiskilled jewelers. The “hobo” misconception comes from buffalo nickels being used to fashion the jewelry. There were at least three basic types of these pendants:
(1) Some buffalo nickels were machined to the general shape of a dish, a loop would be applied for wearing on a chain, and a photograph of the “GI” would be placed inside the dish shape.
(2) Small pieces of brass which were about the same diameter as the nickel were press formed into a “dog dish” bowl shape. The brass was soldered to the buffalo nickel, the coin would then be placed in a type of bezel ring, a photograph of the “GI” placed in the dished brass, and the pendant was hung on a chain. One such pendant (pictured below) was provided by Jerry Griffin of Dover, Arkansas. The bezel ring on this pendant is broken, and the original photograph was missing. A photograph taken of Del Romines in Vietnam in February 1968 (just days after the major “TET” offensive) was placed in the pendant to show more accurately the original appearance.
(3) Some hobo nickels had a loop soldered to the edge for wearing on a necklace. Following are photographs of a soldered loop and a holed type of carving.
HOBOS: The correct shortened plural term for “Hobo Nickels or carvings” when referring to the actual carvings. When discussing the artists (Tourists, vagrants, etc.) and not the coins, “Hoboes” should be used.
HOBO TOKENS: Term with three meanings:
(1) Frequently refers to “hobo love tokens,” or “love tokens” which were carved on coins by Hoboes.
* Tokens, medallions, or other “die struck” or “cast” items similar to coins which depict a Hobo, or have been copied from hobo carvings. There are a few very rare tokens of “Bo” which are shown below. There are less than 25 copies total of the two shown “Bo” tokens, and less than 20 of the “Knights of the Road” tokens, all of which are in the possession of the author. The “Bo” and “Knights of the Road” test strike tokens were struck in 1981 on U.S. already struck buffalo nickels, one on a jefferson nickel, and on 5¢ & 25¢ planchets using test dies without collars for die studies. The last four photographs are the obverse and reverse of several known “Pawnbroker’s hobo tokens,” with the last of those four being a love token carved on the reverse of one of these tokens. They are not extremely rare, but extremely hard to come by. Most collectors who own them will not part with them, but thousands do exist within token collector’s collections, and may occasionally be found in coin dealer “junk boxes.”
(3) Within Vagabonia (the hobo circuit), any coin or token which depicts a train, a hobo, a railroad bridge, or any device which may normally be found on a “Hobo Carving.” Also, virtually any metal disk resembling a coin or token which bears a hobo likeness, or plays a part in the life of a hobo is considered to be a hobo token. Several hoboes collect all such items as mementos. The following photograph is of a business token issued by “Hobo Jim’s Alaskan Bar” in Homer, Alaska. Attempts were made to reach “Jim’s” to gain information on the quantity of tokens struck, and the possible availability, but the only phone listing was for “Hobo Jim’s” Music Store. The number was tried, but has been disconnected.
* NOTE: Caution should be used when purchasing “hobo nickels.” During the 1930’s and early 1940’s, numerous cast and struck hobo tokens were made which appeared to be genuine on one side, and the opposite side may have been similar to a good luck token, or have some other message on it. Most of the tokens were cast and struck in slightly over nickel size (some were approximately quarter size). Since that time, numerous tokens have been machined (shaved) off to about 1/2 the normal thickness, and have been bonded to authentic “shaved” buffalo nickels. In some cases where a reverse cast or strike was on the token, it and an obverse cast or struck token were shaved and bonded to give the appearance of an authentic two sided Hobo Nickel. Check the rims and edges for any signs of tampering. Check the obv/rev for unnatural rotation. Check the metal for porosity and grain patterns, and check the carved side rim for size. See BONDED FAKES for similar information.
These cast or struck tokens were probably fashioned from original hobo nickels, and extreme caution should be used to ensure that a good coin is not passed up just because it is similar to the pictured fakes. One similar reverse carving of a “Hunch backed bindle stiff” was known to have been carved by “Bo” and was in the collection of a Gary, Indiana collector which had been assembled between 1943 and 1981. This bindle stiff is one of the coins from the mentioned “EISENBACH” collection. Notice the extreme likeness of the cast token to the “Bo” carving. The first carving is a “stiff” by an unknown artist, the second is a “stiff” by “Bo,” and the third is a cast token of a “bindle stiff.”
INTER – ESTING SEARCH AND RESEARCH INFORMATION: For the spirited at heart collectors, there are many possibilities of locating singles or small hoards of hobo nickels. Following are a few tips:
(1) Talk with older (at least 70 years or older) hoboes in your area. Try to pinpoint early year (through about 1948) hobo jungles which were frequently near a RR water tank, a railroad bridge, or a stream near a railroad. The jungle may have been in a small thicket which was normally cleared out in the center. When a jungle was used for many years, the small trees in the thickets continued growing, and the area actually used remained devoid of trees. Many times, the only evidence remaining of a jungle is a wooded area which may have somewhat of a diameter. The trees surrounding these areas may well be in excess of 18”-30” diameter now. Use metal detectors to thoroughly search the areas. Some scratching may be necessary, but try to locate the area of bon fires. Check these areas very closely with a metal detector, or sift the dirt and ashes through coarse mesh (about 0.5” diagonal) wire.
(2) Attend a Hobo Convention and talk with old time hoboes. There can be much learned from them. The National Hobo Convention (which is held each August) has been held in Britt, Iowa since 1900. Several other hobo gatherings have sprung up all over the country. There are gatherings in California, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, and Wisconsin during the spring months. There are summer and fall gatherings in California, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, where both old timers and new comers attend. The following photograph is of “Steam Train” Maury (a former King of the Hoboes) on the left, and George Horton on the right.
(3) Attend the National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa during August each year. There are many old timer hoboes attending, and it could be a cornucopia of coins and information, as well as a gala affair. There are many hobo vendors who have “Hobo Memorabilia” for sale at small tables set up much the same as an outside “Flea Market.” Two photographs follow. The first is of a NATIONAL HOBO CONVENTION in Britt, Iowa post card displaying a hobo with bindle stick, grub box, tomato can, and TOURIST UNION NO 63 is sported on the pocket. The second photograph is of “Traveling Fred” in the foreground and “Man Called John” selling their hand made items at the national convention.
(4) Become a member of the HOBO FOUNDATION which is an historical organization devoted to the preservation of the history of THE GREAT AMERICAN HOBO and his art work. Considerable information pertaining to hobo nickels is preserved there, of which a considerable amount was donated by these authors. For information on becoming a member, write to: HOBO FOUNDATION, 410 5th St. SW, Britt, Iowa 50423.
(5) Learn “Hobo Language.” If you are going to question hoboes, at least know what to ask. Study the glossary of hobo language which is at the end of this book. A “hobo nickel” may not be known by that name to many hoboes, but a “Salve Carving” may be.
(6) Don’t talk to 45-50 year old hoboes and expect to get the best information about hoboes who were carving coins before they were even born. Too many times erroneous statements are made by the younger breed of hoboes about this type of art work not even existing. It may not have existed during their time as a hobo. Just remember that the “heyday” for hobo nickels was from 1913 to about 1933. Most of these artists (if living) would be from about 80 to 100 years old. Even though many hoboes have become very aware of the term “Hobo Nickel,” it is a numismatic collector’s term. If discussing these carvings with hoboes, ask about various types of “salves,” or “salve carvings.” A true hobo will be more apt to understand what you are talking about. See “Salve” in the Glossary of Hobo Language at the end of this book.
(7) Check some of the local railroads. Try to get information about areas where they had the biggest problems with hoboes jumping freights. Also see if the routes have changed any since WW-II. This could give clues to some major towns along the way where hoboes may have peddled their art works.
(8) Check the railways from Florida to Nashville, Tennessee. Locate decent sized towns near these railways, and check around those towns for coin dealers and/or collectors. There may be many “Bo’s” along these routes. Check especially towns which were near switching stations. Many times hoboes would have layovers while waiting for the freight going their way. Check the local population to see if any hobo jungles were in their areas up through 1948.
(9) Get involved with local newspapers. Write articles about the hobo art work, and have the newspapers print your article. Be sure and use “high grade carving” photographs, otherwise, a multitude of “modern trash” (neo-bos) will flood those areas as they have other areas in the past.
(10) Check some of the long time coin businesses in your area. Ask them about other dealers who may now be out of business because of age, then check these dealers to see if they have any information or coins.
(11) Join THE NATIONAL HOBO ASSOCIATION whose address is P.O. Box 706, Nisswa, Minnesota 56467. At the present time, dues are only $21.00 per year, and you also receive a fabulous magazine called HOBO TIMES quarterly.
(12) Don’t just be a collector, but be a searcher as well. Don’t depend on others to get the coins you want when you have the abilities to get them yourself. If you do come upon a good source, then you have hit the jackpot, and you can become a provider instead of a dependent.
This list could go on forever with ways to locate more good carvings, but with just a little imagination, and a lot of work, you can come up with many more ideas of your own. In other words, do as the hoboes do, and hit the road. Also see KNOWN RAILROAD ROUTES USED BY “BO.”
JEWELED CARVINGS: Any hobo carving which has had a jewel of some sort affixed to or set into the carving. The most common jewels seen in this type of carving to date have been the jewels from watches. The following photograph is that of an armadillo with a jewel set into the eye socket. For another jeweled carving, see HOBO NICKEL LOVE TOKEN.
KNIFE CARVINGS: Any carving which can be attributed as being totally knife carved. This type of carving of high quality is extremely rare, and when found, is normally of a relatively crude nature. “Bert” was probably one of the very few who could skillfully use the knife blade in fashioning a hobo nickel. He did use a knife on his first known carvings, but only a few have surfaced which were totally knife carved. The blade and tip of a knife blade are not designed to use on metal, and most lines are usually somewhat straight, many times having the appearance of being somewhat wedge shaped. Following are five photographs of knife carved coins. The first is a relatively crude totally knife carved coin by an unknown artist which came from Attica, New York, and may in fact be a “prisoner nickel.” The second coin is of high quality with a tie pin, the third carving is a knife carved and punched combination, the fourth is a knife carved with the field knife tip gouge-carved, and the last is a typical totally knife carved. See DEVICES “diamond” for another knife carved coin photograph.
NOTE: A strong possibility for the above coins exists and should be explored – many coins of this nature are possibly “Prisoner Nickels.” Since the exact styles of tools used by the prisoners is not known, some of the coins which appear to be knife carved could well be “Prison Nickel Tool Carved.” The coin in the first photograph not only has the appearance of being a prisoner nickel, but was also originally found in Attica, NY, the site of a large prison. The second knife carved coin could also be a prison nickel, and removing the excess metal with a short blade could have been very time consuming.
KNOWN RAILROAD ROUTES USED BY “BO”: Over the past several years, tales of “Bo” in certain areas during specified time spans have been received. In conjunction with the tales, several small hoards of coins which were carved by “Bo” have been located in areas which correspond with the tales. Some of the coins have been dated by “Bo,” of which at least one had a specific city and date carved on it. Using all of the combined information to include the various dates assembled, probable routes used by “Bo” (and possibly “Bert”) have been mapped out. The routes and dates were sent to a long time hobo friend, *George Horton of Iowa, with the enclosed information. George has confirmed that the information was basically good information, and that one portion of the below routes along the Mississippi River was frequently used by the black hoboes.
It had already been fairly firmly established that “Bo” spent much of his early hobo life west of the Mississippi, and this was primarily determined by the large number of his carvings appearing in the Mid Western and Western States. With the earlier information and much more recent information combined, the following is submitted in more or less the reverse order of his Spring travels:
The most recently confirmed location of “Bo” was in Central South Dakota. Using the railroad which would have to have been used, the route used by the author starts much further west than the known point where “Bo” apparently worked during the spring through fall months through at least 1941.
It is strongly believed that “Bo” used the “CHICAGO, MILWAUKEE, ST. PAUL & PACIFIC RAILROAD (C, M, St.P & Pac RR)” which for the following information begins at Rapid City SD. This railroad went south of Sioux Falls, and from that approximate location, he used either or both “C, M, St. P& Pac RR” to basically go to Mason City, Iowa, and/or transferred to the ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD (I.C.R.R.) which went to Waterloo, Iowa. Regardless which of these two routes were used, he almost had to use the “C, M, St. P & Pac RR” to Dubuque, Iowa, to Rockford, Illinois, and then to Chicago.
After a possible short stopover in the Chicago area (one carving dated by “Bo” was CHICAGO 23), it is believed that he hopped the ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD to Mount Vernon, Illinois, to Jackson, Mississippi, and wound up in New Orleans, Louisiana on this same railroad. According to George Horton, The I.C.R.R. along the Mississippi River was a relatively safe route for hoboes, and especially so for black hoboes. He also stated that most black hoboes traveled by night and walked by day, seeking odd jobs during the day. Since “Bo” was a very light skinned person with near white features, he may or may not have used the normal black hobo routes or methods, even though many tales of “Bert” and “Bo” do point to considerable night travel.
Sometime during the time span above, “Bo” reconnected with “Bert,” and it was decided that they would start meeting at a hobo jungle on the Okeechobee Lake in Florida. From New Orleans to this camp was a relatively simple and nearly single line. From New Orleans, it is believed that “Bo” took the LOUISVILLE & NASHVILLE RAILROAD (L&N RR) to Mobil, Alabama, and then to Tallahassee, Florida. He then probably took the SEABOARD COAST LINE (which now owns the L&N RR) to the *hobo jungle.
The above routes would not have to be standard routes, as many alternate routes may have been used, and there is information of “Bo” being in Oklahoma in 1940. This is also the first known year that “Bo” went to New Orleans. One carving which was located in South Dakota (pictured below) has inscribed on the reverse “ORLEANS BOUND 10 41.”
Apparently, “Bo” was not spending the winters in Florida until the winter of 1942. In 1941 “Bo” renewed his ties with “Bert,” and they decided to start meeting for the winters in Florida in 1942. Assuming these dates to be correct, it is assumed that “Bo” spent his fall months in New Orleans, and the winters in Florida. The following photograph is a portrait of “Bert” by Bo, and is signed and dated “GH 41.”
Two or three different mentions of “Bo” being in Oklahoma and other “West of the Mississippi” states (to include tales of being on Indian Reservations) have surfaced. The following coin was purchased in Florida in 1955, and was told to the purchaser by the dealer that it had originally been purchased in Arkansas. It was originally thought that this coin was possibly one of the early 1950’s carvings in Florida, but additional study on the coin indicates that it is probably not a Florida carved coin, but may very well have been carved while on the road West of the Mississippi. The route used by “Bo” from Chicago to New Orleans went through Memphis, Tennessee which borders Arkansas on the Mississippi River. The coin could easily have been sold in the Memphis area. The quality and broadness of the cut strokes indicate it was not a coin made under good working conditions, and may have been carved while on a moving train. It has now been determined that the coin is probably a pre 1950 carving by “Bo.” It is interesting to note that this carving is on a Very Fine D/D Repunched mint mark listed as CONECA RPM #4. The preservation of this coin was fantastic, and the toning is the true rainbow, and not the “sulphur rainbow tone.”
The exact dates that “Bo” started his travels into Indiana are not known, but it is known that he had made ties in the Louisville, Kentucky area during World War II. It is also known that “Bo” spent some time in the Chicago, Illinois area, but it is believed he went to New Orleans from there instead of going to or through Indiana. It is also known that “Bert” and “Bo” sometimes took the “Southern Railroad” across the southern portion of Indiana to Illinois, as reported by the late Tom Deason (a retired railroad engineer.)
Assuming that “Bo” started his major trips into Indiana after the apparent deaths of Monique and “Bert,” this would be early in 1950. The 1950 date is totally speculative though, as “Bo’s” trips into Indiana seemed to be more by design than by accident, and may have made earlier ties while traveling from Chicago to New Orleans. One major point to remember is that many times the hoboes did not necessarily take the train of their choice. Many times they were compelled to take the next available train and make changeovers where necessary to complete their journey. For additional similar information, see INTERESTING SEARCH AND RESEARCH INFORMATION.
*NOTE:George Horton of Iowa is a HOBO HISTORIAN and a VETERAN HOBO. He provides considerable information for the papers and booklets published for the “Britt, IowaHobo Convention,” and contributes a lot to the “HOBO FOUNDATION” which is located in Britt. George stated that the hobo jungle on the Okeechobee Lake was located at the northern tip of the lake near the junction of the Kissimmee River and the lake. This is only a short distance from the “Seaboard Coast Line” railroad. He also may have uncovered evidence of “Bo” being in Iowa many years ago. According to Horton, George “Motormouth” Preston ran a junk yard on the railroad, and owned a gas station (which he opened in 1923) on Highway 30 At Belle Plaine, Iowa. His junk yard was a haven for Hoboes during the hard times of the 1920’s and the 1930’s. Apparently there was a shanty (shanny) which was frequented by the hoboes at the junk yard. The shanty had numerous names and initials carved into it, of which one carving was that of a black hobo, and initials which appear to be “GH.” The shanty is somewhat weather beaten, but Mr. Horton was able to at least get some photographs of the carvings in the weather beaten boards. George “Motormouth” Preston was a noted historian of events which took place along the highway and railway. He appeared on the “Johnny Carson Show” (Tonight Show) for 15 minutes on 21 March 1990. Mr. Preston was a cornucopia of information, but alas, this information will never be tapped again. Mr. Preston passed away at the age of 83 on 12 August 1993. With him went possible information pertaining to “Bert,” “Bo,” and countless other tales of Hobo artists. For photograph of “Steam Train Maury Graham” (former KING OF THE HOBOES) and “George Horton,” see INTERESTING SEARCH AND RESEARCH INFORMATION.
The following three photographs show the shanny, and two closeups of different sections of the shanny. The closeup on the left has the initials “GH” carved just to the left and down from the center of the
photo. The second closeup shows what appears to be the image of a black hobo in the badly weather beaten board.
LEWD CARVINGS: Hobo carvings which are artistic, but many times display carvings which are of the lewd nature. One such carving is shown below, but the lewdness has been covered to prevent the possibility of offending anyone reading this book.
MARCY: The assumed first name of Monique’s “Sugar Daddy” in New Orleans. This name was taken from a carving by “Bo” which depicted “Sugar Daddy” with the typical feather device in the hat. The name “MARCY” was carved onto the neck of “Sugar Daddy.” Monique’s “Sugar Daddy” was reported to be of French descent. As such, the name “Marcy” may have been an Americanized nickname from the French name of Marcel or other similar name. For photograph of “Marcy,” see DEVICES.
MEDALIST (also MEDALLIST): A professional engraver who engraves (carves) or manufactures medals, medallions, or other ornate token or jewelry items. Items manufactured by these individuals should not be included in either the hobo nickel or neo-bo categories. See ARTIST’S (MEDALIST’S) ENGRAVINGS.
MEDALIST’S ENGRAVINGS: See ARTIST’S (MEDALIST’S) ENGRAVINGS, and MEDALIST.
MESSAGES ON COINS: Many messages were carved into coins, of which some were sad, and some were somewhat humorous. Following are photographs of just a few:
The last message would seem to imply that hoboes could ride on the railroads for a 5 cent fare. To a degree, this was confirmed by the late Tom Deason (a railroad engineer from Corydon, Indiana) with whom the author spoke several times. Mr. Deason stated that it was not uncommon for some railroad personnel to shake the hoboes down for petty cash. Many times “salve” (a bribe given by the hoboes) in the form of carved coins or other small pieces of art work were given to the railroad personnel for allowing them to ride the train. If they could pay nothing, they were sometimes thrown from the trains, beaten, or captured and turned over to the “bulls.”
Some railroad personnel were more generous and humane though, and would not necessarily allow the hoboes to ride, but developed “bad vision” when hoboes jumped the trains. On occasion, some hoboes would give the engineer (or other train crew members) carved tokens of appreciation. Some of these carvings may have been coins (hobo nickels), or some form of hand carved woodwork such as a cane or small statue. The small tokens of appreciation which were freely given by the hoboes could be considered as “Salve Carvings,” even though the term “Salve” implies a bribe. For photographs, see SALVE CARVING, COIN, or HOBO NICKEL.
MODERN ETCHINGS or CARVINGS: Term used in the first hobo nickel book to describe what is now called “neo-bos.” See that term.
NEO-BO (plural neo-bos): A new term which is now used to separate the modern etched, punched and carved coins from original hobo nickels. Most of these coins exhibit relatively untalented work which is performed with the aid of rotary files and punches on very low grade nickels. Several hundreds of thousands of these coins have been made, with possibly as many as 100,000 being misnomered and sold as hobo nickels. In the author’s subjective opinion, they presently should have an average value of $3 to 5.00 each. The prices should be determined by the owner, the buyer, and the merits of each coin. Neo-bo coins have been isolated into a group of coins which are basically considered to have been made after 1980, even though a few may have been made prior to that. Many of these coins were produced after an article in Coin
World, but the vast majority were made after the first hobo nickel book was published. Neo-bo coins should be those which are being offered as modern etchings or as “neo-bos.” If they are modern and are advertised as “hobos,” they should be called fakes. Exercise caution on the purchase of many carvings called “hobo” unless they have been determined to be authentic by qualified authenticators. Following are a few points to check which may aid in identifying the fakes:
(1) Most neo-bos are made on low to very low grade $9 to 20.00 a roll ($0.225 to $0.50 each) buffalo nickels, with many being so worn that even a portion of date can not be seen. Always check the carving or punching and compare the wear of the carving or punching with the wear on the untouched side. Most fakes are usually deeply punched.
(2) Most of the earlier modern fakes were copied from George Washington “BO” Hughes’ works which were first pictured in an article in COIN WORLD in early 1981, and in the Hobo Nickel Book. “Bo” did not start using punches until after his hand injury in 1957, and many of the fakes do not show even the workmanship of “Bo’s” worst. If it is on a low grade coin, and has considerable extraneous materials rubbed into the punched design, you can almost be assured that it is not an original.
(3) Possibly as many as 100,000 (probably many more) punched and rotary filed nickels from Pennsylvania alone since 1981 display 2-3 single punches used for all hair lines, and when eyebrows are shown, the same punches were used for the eyebrows. Aclose examination of the coin (pictured below) indicates that the hair took five minutes at the most to punch. One Indiana “Neo-bo” producer stated that he can easily punch out a copy in just about five minutes, and claims to produce approximately 4,000 copies per year.
(4) Check all coins which have extraneous materials rubbed into the punched or carved lines. Be suspicious and cautious of coins which are AU to BU on the uncarved side, and the carved side has heavy extraneous materials – this is a near impossibility. If you see even a slight hint of a shiny substance, it is probably material rubbed into the cuts to cover recent work, poor workmanship, and may be intended to deceive. Coins which naturally gain this extraneous material normally do so in trouser pockets, from the hands, and through normal circulation. A study of common circulated Jeffersons will teach you a great deal. Many circulated buffalo nickels have been cleaned, and can not be used as well as the Jeffersons for the study of extraneous materials. The following photograph shows considerable extraneous materials rubbed into a deep cut for the hat brim. Notice the somewhat granular appearance. This is a good sign of modern fakery.
(5) On numerous coins which are being offered as “Hobos,” there are positive signs of chisel fakery. Many times some of the chiseled areas are visible to the naked eye. They will normally have a very shiny texture, and have the appearance of fresh cut metal-because they are fresh cut metal! Just remember one major point on the coins which display chisel marks – there is a tremendous d i f f e r e n c e between a “carved” coin and a “chiseled” coin. The following photograph shows both a clean and shiny chisel cut mark at the front of the hat brim. Just below that, the fakery chiseling is crude and rough, as though the maker wanted you to notice that a chisel had been used on the coin.
(6) Check the coin surface for heavy abrading or steel wire brushing. “Bo” did use a small rotary tool for a short while when he first started relearning after his injury, but he dropped that method soon after he started because of the “whizzed effect.” “Bo” also used a very fine rotary abrasive on some of his true cameos, but the markings are totally different from brush marks.
(7) The “whizzed look” is probably another point picked up by the cheats, and they were trying to copy the crudeness of “Bo’s” injury relearning period. The following photograph shows very heavy
abrasion from a very stiff steel wire brush. The fascinating point about these brush marks is that this photograph is of the preceding coin. Apparently the Pennsylvania maker was so intent on copying “Bo’s” crudeness, that he paid no attention to the sequences of work in which the originals fell. He brushed first, and did the chisel fakery later. It should be pointed out that this individual did start applying his initials to his coins after some strong comments were made to him by this author. Even though he continued making copies of some of “Bo’s” works, he at least identified them with the initials “JD.”
(8) Basically the only hobo nickels which were made after 1956, and being recognized as genuine hobo nickels, are those made by “Bo.” Learn his damaged hand techniques, and make comparisons. If you are offered a coin which is almost identical with one in either hobo nickel book, and it has not been authenticated, check it carefully, and you will probably find one hair out of place, a slip of the punch or chisel, or other tell-tale marks which were placed on by the modern fakers. Many counterfeiters are really good, but they always make a mini goof someplace, and are usually caught. There is no difference between an actual counterfeiter and a hobo nickel misrepresentative thief.
(9) Check the unpunched side of the coins.Many times they will display considerable flattening from heavy punching while resting on an anvil or similar piece of metal. “Bo” did punch many coins during
his later years, but very few were ever seen with metal displacement on the opposite side from shocking blows. The only metal displacement observed on the unpunched side of his coins was a double image.The holder which “W.C.” had made for “Bo” appears to have been made with T-6 aluminum, a very hard metal. From constant use, no doubt some of the design from the buffalo nickels was pressed into the aluminum. This acted as a reverse die (similar to a clash), and the impressions would be transferred onto or into other coins. These are some of many points which can be used in identifying “Bo’s” later works.
(10) The most important thing is that you as the purchaser must be satisfied. Even if a coin has been authenticated, it is done with the best intentions, but authenticators are human too, and could be wrong. All the authenticator has to go on with this type of material is personal knowledge, knowledge gained from other sources, and a very high knowledge of metal actions and reactions. If you are purchasing, it is still your responsibility to know what you are purchasing, just as on any other coin.
NOSE STYLES: The nose is many times a highly identifiable feature on an individual, and in many cases, signs of considerable effort are evident in the nose area. It may be the shape of the nose, the size, or the indenture where the nose joins the forehead. Even though most of the following photographs are of clowns, it is believed that the distinct shape of the nose played an important role in individual identification.
NUMISCHEATMATIST (Numis-cheat-matist): New term being applied to dealers and collectors (claiming to be numismatists) who knowingly advertise and/or sell modern carvings as authentic “Hobo Nickels.” If they are sold as hobo nickels, the coins are not “neo-bos,” but are fakes by misrepresentation.
OBVERSE/REVERSE CARVINGS: A coin which has been carved on both the obverse and the reverse. Only a few totally fantastic carvings on both the obverse and the reverse of the same coin have been examined. Any collector who owns one of these has not only a treasure, but a triple treasure. A treasure on each side of the coin, and a very rare double carving as well. The following coin is an obv/rev carving. All markers point strongly to the obverse being a “Bo” carving, but the reverse has no indicators to positively point to “Bo” as the artist. This coin was not inspected as closely as it should have been when it came through, and the “DARWIN D.C. 39” was somewhat of a fooler. When the coin was first checked, it was thought to be the work of a gentleman by the name of “Darwin DeCamp” (a jeweler in Michigan). When Mr. DeCamp was contacted, he assured the author that the coin was not made by him, as that is just about his birth year. The coin had been shipped out in the meantime, and additional inspection could not be accomplished.
OBV/REV CARVING: Shortened form for OBVERSE/REVERSE CARVING.
OHNS: See ORIGINAL HOBO NICKEL SOCIETY
ONE OF A KNOWN KIND: Carvings which only one of this particular “type or subject” is known to date. Some of these would include but not be limited to: FDR NICKEL, EISENBACH, etc. This type of carved coin should always be authenticated through the proper channels to insure that they are in fact “one of a kind.” At the time of this printing, “THE ORIGINAL HOBO NICKEL SOCIETY” was authenticating and maintaining records on registered original hobo carvings.
One such “One of a kind” carving is pictured below and surfaced in 1985 in the large collection of a Missouri collector. At first glance, this carving does not seem to be unique in any way, but upon close inspection it is noted that not only is the hat brim “raised metal, but it has been delicately signed, and dated on the ribbon of the band. The initials “GH” are on the left of the ribbon, “ILL” (no doubt Illinois) is on the center of the ribbon, and “22” is on the right of the ribbon. Just being on the ribbon is not so fantastic, but the inscriptions are underneath the raised metal hat brim. Besides the raised metal hat brim, the ear is also raised metal, and the delicately carved beard is of the raised metal (plateau) type.
ORIGINAL HOBO NICKEL SOCIETY (OHNS): An organization which was formed to promote the preservation and enjoyment of hobo nickel collecting. At the time of this writing, the address was:
OHNS Attention: “Bo-ette” P.O. Box 1049 Malvern, PA 19355-1049
PARTIALCAMEO CARVING: Similar to “Cameo,” except the entire field of the coin has not been carved away from the design. Normally the area remaining is the metal between the base of the bust and the rim – the area which has the date. The areas not removed may vary from carving to carving , as seen on the first photograph which is of “Thomas Jefferson.” LIBERTY was apparently left intact to preserve the correct appearance of
a nickel and to honor Thomas Jefferson for his close identification with liberty in this country. Merely removing LIBERTY from the coin does not make a partial cameo—the field around the design (except for the one joining area) must be deep, with a very high rim. Five other photographs follow Jefferson.
PLATEAU: A raised or elevated surface which is normally used on hobo nickel carvings by carving away part of the facial design. The small plateau of metal was then engraved with hair lines. The appearance is that of hair growing from the face instead of recessed hair lines. See RAISED HAIR.
PLUMED FEATHER: An ornate device frequently used by “Bo” to denote Monique’s “SUGAR DADDY.” The device was normally a circular plume (down feather) with a normal feather or feathers extending beyond the plume. There are a few of “Bo’s” “after hand injury” coins which did not have the plume. This device was normally above
the hat band, straight North of the ear. For photograph, see DEVICES.
POLITICAL NICKEL: Any hobo nickel which portrays a donkey, an elephant, or any message of a political nature. Term frequently and erroneously used to describe hobo nickels carved by “Bo” which portrayed a mule with a small shack in the background. The political carvings of “Bo” which began at least as early as 1940, portrayed only the donkey. The carving of mule and shack was of childhood memories, and had nothing to do with politics. The following photograph is of a “Bo” mule and shanny carving. The only difference between a “memories” carving and a political donkey is the absence of the shanny and sometimes a tree.
POROSITY: Having pores. The general appearance of the surface of cast metals and/or vacu-blasted metals. A major factor in determining if a coin is genuine, cast, or vacu-blasted to deceive the collector. Under magnification, the surface appearance of cast metal is normally that of small holes (pores) in metal. The Vacu-blast metal under magnification is more like small dents instead of pores. Both the cast and vacu-blast surfaces have somewhat of a frosty texture. Porosity creates somewhat of a frosty appearance
The frosty appearance is not only created by vacu-blasting, but by acids and other etching devices somewhat like a vibrating (etching) engraver as well. Many times these types of coins are referred to as “Etched.” See ETCHING or ETCHED COIN.
Some neo-bos have been inspected which have been vacu-blasted in an attempt to deceive the collector. Following are photographs of one such coin. See NUMISCHEATMATIST, TINCTURE OF FERRIC CHLORIDE, and VACU-BLAST. The following two photographs are of the same coin. The closeup clearly shows the peened porosity from vacu-blasting or very fine grit blasting.
PORTRAIT or SELF PORTRAIT CARVINGS: Carvings of known persons such as the following photographs. The first is a self portrait by “Bo,” the second is “Marcy” by “Bo,” the third is “Bert” by “Bo,” and the last carving may be a portrait by “Bert.” Many carvings are believed to be actual portraits of unknown people, but only the delicate and detailed style of art work and the subject can normally be used to make a possible determination. The following two photographs are believed to be of actual portrait carvings. The first photograph is believed to be that of “Weasel” by “Bo,” and the second photograph is that of a “Rabbi” by “Bo.”
POTTY DOLLAR or POTTY CARVING: A carving on any denomination coin which has an individual sitting on a chamber pot, especially those carved on trade dollars. See HOBO CARVINGS for a photograph of a “Potty Dollar,” and LEWD CARVINGS for a photograph of a similar carving.
PRICING GUIDE: See CATEGORY RATING.
PRISONER NICKEL: Hobo nickels which were made by prisoners while still in jail or prison. It is extremely hard to prove such coins do exist, but considerable reliable information strongly indicates they do exist. Following are two photographs of carvings which were probably “prisoner nick-els ” carved by “Bert” while on a chain gang in Georgia.
PUNCHED DESIGN: A term with four definitions. Designs or portions of the designs which were placed in the coins with the aid of metal number or letter punches, nail sets, center punches, or
any other type of punch. Frequently head hair, face hair, and ear were punched.
(1) Hobo nickels made by “Bo” after his hand injury in 1957 were totally punched in 1957 and part of 1958. In 1958, “Bo” started using a new holding device, broad tip chisels, and punches which “WC” had made for him. The later hobo nickels made by “Bo” after 1958 were most generally made with the broad tip chisels, and only occasionally were metal punches used. These are the coins which many fakers have tried to copy and offer as original hobo nickels.
(2) Any pre 1957 authentic hobo nickel (regardless of the artist) which was either totally or partially punched. The most common punching was on the hair. The following photograph is an excellent example of totally punched hair.
(3) “Neo-bos” (modern etchings) presently being made by several people, but are being offered as modern coins instead of false claims that the coins are “hobo nickels.”
(4) Numerous fakes which flooded the market after the hobo nickel book was published. Most fakes came from one Pennsylvania collector/dealer with false claims of himself being a hobo, and that his coins were either made by “Bo” or “Bert.” He also claimed that he was taught to carve by Bert.
PUSHED METAL: Term originally used to describe ears, etc. which had been raised by actually pushing some of the metal mass into the shape desired. This term was also erroneously used to describe the RAISED METAL carvings. See that term. There are numerous unknown artist coins which display what appears to be a form of pushed metal, but the residue and wear prevent confirmation.
PUSHED METAL FAKES: Cast HOBO TOKENS (see that term) which have been altered and appear to be actual pushed metal hobo nickels instead of a token. The photo below depicts a cast hobo token which has the appearance of a carved hat and ear, and pushed (raised) metal hair. Many times when both highly artistically carved features are blended with another crude device, it may indicate fakery. For additional and
similar information, see BONDED FAKES, and HOBO TOKENS Note.
RAISED BRIM (Hat Brim): See RAISED METAL.
RAISED COLLAR: See RAISED METAL.
RAISED EAR: See RAISED METAL.
RAISED HAIR: A process of removing a thin layer of the design (such as the face or cheek areas) from a portion of the design mass which leaves a plateau of metal higher than the design. The plateau is then engraved in such a fashion that the hair actually appears to be growing out from the face on the carving. “Bert” and “Bo” were both using this form of carving as early as the mid 1920’s. Following are two cameo carvings by “Bo” which clearly show the “raised” plateau hair.
RAISED METAL: A new term which makes “pushed metal” a nearly obsolete term. The term “raised metal” should be used only when metal has been cut under, raised, carved, and then pressed back into the desired location. “Pushed metal” should be used only when the metal has been pushed into a mass (as a piece of clay), and then formed by cutting, punching or carving. On the first studied copies of the raised metal type carvings, the metal actually appeared to have been pushed (sort of piled up) and then carved. See PUSHED METAL.
Raised metal is a general term which applies to all of the cut and raised metal on a carved coin such as “raised hair,” “raised ear,” “raised collar,” etc.Most generally, hair or other devices are carved under the raised metal, and the raised metal is then laid back down. The raised metal carvings will have a small section of metal cut away from the surface of the coin from three angles, leaving one portion to act as a hinge. The cut metal is then raised, the area under the raised metal is dressed, and sometimes carved.
The raised portion of metal is then carved to the desired shape, and laid back down flat, or to the desired height above the surface below. The following photograph of a carving by an early (probably 1940’s) unknown artist shows the use of “extreme” raised metal on a hat brim.
Detailed raised metal ears may provide a clue to some subject or artist identities. The photos below depict the carved and raised ear of a clown. Extensive metal has been raised and worked to give the appearance of a substance being applied to the real life ear to enlarge it. Some of the large clown ear carvings have highly detailed carved hair beneath the ear.
The next two photographs illustrate basically the standard size ear, and apparently extreme care has been taken for the specific ear size and shape. Two photographs follow which depict the smaller ear style. Most self portraits of “Bo,” as well as portraits of “Bo” and “Weasel” have shown both men to have small ears. “Bo’s” ears were a little smaller than the average ear.
Ears many times received considerable attention, and no doubt they frequently play an important role in the portrait identification. Notice the delicate swirls and deliberate shapes inside the carved ear in the next photograph. The outer portion of the ear no doubt took considerable painstaking cuts and dressing to accomplish.
Other factors to consider in identification may include, but not be limited to name or initials, feathers, jewelry, or stubble beard as shown in the photographs below and below right. Also see DEVICES. Some identifying secondary raised metal characteristics not shown above may include, but not be limited to: specific types of head gear; pipe; hairstyles (especially female hairstyles); a bow tie or necktie, etc.
RAISED METAL BEARD: Only two known instances of metal being raised for the beard have surfaced. In 1981 (just after the Hobo Nickel articles appeared in Coin World), a gentleman from Gary, Indiana sent this author a coin.
The next carving was presented to Mr. Deason, but was accomplished by a not-so-artistic artist. The art work shows signs of talent, but both “Bert” and “Bo” had perception to know that an ear will not extend beyond the hat brim – An early “Mr. Spock” ?
SERIES CARVINGS: Carvings which have been accomplished by hoboes or migrant workers over a large span of time. The carvings are somewhat of a diary to the hoboes or migrant worker’s travels. For photographs, see YEARS OF WORK.
SHOP KEEPER’S TOKEN: Coins which were carved by jewelers in the New York/New Jersey area during the early 1920’s. The carved coins were fashioned much the same as a hobo nickel, but were usually of jewelers quality. Many of these coins had some form of identification carved in for the vendor who passed the coins to his customers. See HOBO TOKENS.
SKULLCAP: A close fitting head piece which is normally worn over the back of the head (the crown), does not have a brim, and is normally worn indoors. A YARMULKE (see that term) is one type of skullcap. All skullcaps are not necessarily yarmulkes, and this fixture alone can not be used to determine that the carved subject is in fact Jewish. The Roman Catholic ecclesiastics wear a skullcap which is called a “ZUCCHETTO. ” See that term. “Beanie” (1940) worn especially by schoolboys and freshmen, and it’s humorous counterpart with a propeller on top are also skullcaps. Some artists have also been pictured wearing a skullcap, not a beret. For another photograph of a carved coin which displays a skullcap, see RAISED METAL BEARD.
STORE CARD: See SHOP KEEPER’S TOKEN.
STUBBLE: Short prickly whiskers on the faces of a few hobo nickels. Stubble is one form of “device” or identifying trait used by “Bo” to help identify carvings of Emmett Kelly. Emmett was probably the most noted clown of all times, with his clown clothing being his major trade mark. Kelly portrayed a Hobo and wore very tattered clothing, to include a tattered hat. “Bo” apparently had seen Kelly on at least one occasion (probably more than once since he left such an impact on “Bo”) and became a f
avorite subject of “Bo’s” artistic talents. “Bo” captured many of the traits of Kelly to include the tattered hat, the stubble on the face (the stubble was probably painted onto Emmett’s face, and not really stubble), the sad look on the face, and the necktie around the neck instead of around a shirt collar. It has been noted that the nose used on “Kelly portraits” has possibly been an identification feature as well. Attempts have been made to locate a large photograph of Kelly’s profile in hopes of either proving or disproving the nose theory, but with negative success. It must also be pointed out that the ears used by “Bo” on most Kelly carvings have been slightly larger than the normal ear, which may have been part of Kelly’s makeup. This has not been proven either because of a lack of Kelly photographs. The carved whiskers are a form of “raised metal,” and appears to be a series of hundreds of small chiseled and raised whiskers.
Following are two photographs of a Kelly portrait carving. The first carving is on an AU 1917 nickel and was probably made in the 1930’s. The second carving is probably on a BU 1935, 36, or 37-S nickel, and was dated “51” by “Bo.” The extreme depth of the field indicated that considerable metal was removed, and this was confirmed by weight. Nearly one half gram of metal was removed in the carving process, and the coin weighs only about 4.5 grams. The normal weight of a BU buffalo nickel is 5 grams. About 10% of the metal mass was removed during the carving. Besides the extremely delicate stubble, the carving also has the raised metal ear with the hair carved beneath the ear. Compare the two different points where the stubble begins. On the complete photo the stubble starts against the hat. On the closeup photo, the stubble starts at mid ear.
The Kelly cameo carving above probably came basically from the same routes of other 1950-1957 cameo carvings by “Bo,” but it is not known for sure. The above cameo was sent to the author in 1986 by a collector in North Dakota. He had owned the coin since the 1960’s, but did not remember the source from which he purchased the coin. The coin is now in the possession of an Indiana collector.
Other carvings have displayed stubble, but were normally crude. Many times the stubble appeared to have been applied with the point of a nail and the use of a hammer.
TINCTURE OF FERRIC CHLORIDE: An etching chemical solution used by some fakers to alter the surface of recently carved or punched coins. The solution is normally used on “no date” buffalo nickels to bring out the date. The texture of a ferric chloride treated coin is a dull, frosty and somewhat darker than the normal texture. The texture resembles that of vacu-blast coins, except the porosity is much finer. These surfaces will normally show even the slightest of rubs. Exercise caution on coins which appear to be dull, frosty, or porous. See POROSITY, and VACU-BLAST.
TONE: When untampered, carved hobo nickels will *almost tone the same as an uncirculated nickel. There were many of “Bo’s” coins which were deliberately toned to a near black to satisfy the collectors who thought all hobo nickels had been in circulation for years and should be black. This was practiced for only a few years during the mid 1960’s to the 1970’s.
* NOTE: Since some molecular structure has been disturbed (shifted metal) during carving or punching, the metals will not necessarily tone the same, but on the skillfully carved coins the toning will be very nearly the same. A dull chisel compresses and smears the metal, and a sharp chisel shaves the metal. The reactions to these two actions disturbs the molecular structure, and creates different types of toning. The two following photographs of unfinished carvings show some of the various textures and toning.
When many of the “Bo” cameo carvings of 1950- 1956 were examined, notes were made in reference to the tone. About 75% of those carvings had a light gold and/or shades of pale red and blue tones. These are of the natural tones of nickels in some environments. It is strongly believed, however, that this particular toning was caused by solutions (such as cleaning agents containing thiourea) which may have been used by “Bo” or one of the dealers in Florida. Since a large number of these coins belong to one individual, the possibility does exist though that the industrial environment which is near his Missouri home may have caused the gold toning.
A second collection which had been stored in Southern Indiana for many years was also examined. These coins which were stored in hard plastic 2×2’s (but not totally air tight), had toned to very pale and light reds and blues. These tones could not be seen with the naked eye, but were very evident under macroscopic inspection. This is a very natural occurrence when coins are properly stored.
Other prized cameos from Illinois (a rural area) were examined, and the toning was somewhat of a pale rose on some, and the normal silvery tone on others.
A smaller collection from Virginia which had been purchased in Florida in 1952 through 1956 was stored in a Whitman folder for several years. Many of these cameo carvings and a reverse “Bindle Stiff” carving had taken on tones of reds and blues similar to the rainbow tones. This was no doubt due to the sulphur content of the paper in the folders.
After studying the collections from Virginia, Southern Indiana, Missouri, and Illinois, and taking into consideration the gold toned coins, the author tends to lean more to the toning being any one or a combination of the following factors:
(1) The actual condition of the coin prior to carving.
(2) Probable cleaning solutions after the coins were carved.
(3) Environment in which the coins were stored.
(4) Containers in which the coins were stored. One natural dark (may be almost black) tone does exist. These coins were not treated with chemicals as were many of the coins which “Bo” produced in the 1960’s & 1970’s. Numerous original coins (most of which were probably produced by numerous artists from 1913 to about 1957) were stored or just set aside in leather purses, or change purses. The die used to color the leather does have a long term effect on the tone of most coins. On the nickel, the colors will normally range from light grays to almost black. All coins checked and tested which had been stored in leather showed that the dark tones were not a form of acid damage, and in most cases could be professionally removed. The majority of the coins which were cleaned by professionals had no signs of etching, or any form of normal acid damage. Do not be fooled by dark coins though, as many chemicals will tone the nickels to a near black color, but most of these chemicals do create some degrees of damage. Most of the coins stored in leather have shown some signs of having some very dark reds, blues and greens which can be seen by turning the coin in different directions under a light source. The various colors somewhat resemble the reds and blues which can be seen on the feathers of a black bird or a raven.
TWO SIDED CARVINGS: * Coins which are carved on both sides. Some may have a carving on one side with a message on the opposite side, while another coin may have an actual carving of different subjects on each side. Regardless which type, either is very rare and highly sought after. The following photographs are of the obverse and reverse of a “Bo” two sided carving. There are reported instances where one side of a coin was carved by one artist, and the opposite side
was carved by a different artist at a later date. The next two photographs are of the obverse and reverse carvings on a two sided carving by two different and unknown artists.
Exercise caution on the purchase of two sided carvings. Some very clever fakes are two halves of “HOBO
TOKENS” which have been shaved and adhered in one fashion or another. Most of these fakes can be recognized. For more information, see HOBO TOKENS and OBVERSE/REVERSE CARVINGS.
The message on the reverse of the above coin was one of four coins which were found in South Dakota in 1968. The above coin had been presented to the ranch owner’s mother in October 1941. This and the other three are now in an Indiana collection.
UNFINISHED WORKS: For unknown reasons, numerous carvings are located which were started, but never finished. The most noted unfinished carving is the one which “Bo” was working on when he disappeared and the unfinished coin was still in the carving holder. Following are two unfinished carvings of which the first appears to be a “Bo” and is also used as a TONE (see that term) photograph earlier. The second is by an unknown-not to artistically gifted-artist. See CARVED REVERSE for another unfinished carving photograph.
UNKNOWN ARTISTS: Any hobo nickel or hobo carving for which the artist is unknown. Probably 99% + of the original artists are not only unknown, but in most cases their works may be one of a kind and can not even be listed under “known works.” Following are a few of thousands of carvings by unknown artists.
VACU-BLAST: A piece of equipment in the “grit blast” family which uses a fine grit which may be glass, or other fine abrasive particles. The basic principle is air pressure blowing abrasive particles against an object for the purposes of cleaning the surface. As the abrasive strikes the surface being cleaned, very light pits or dents are made into the surface, and have the general have been inspected which have been vacublasted in probable attempts to deceive the collector. If an original “hobo nickel” has been vacu-blasted, it has been altered and should be considered as a fake. For photograph of a “vacu blasted” coin, see POROSITY. Also see TINCTURE OF FERRIC CHLORIDE for related information.
VARIETY COIN CARVING: Hobo carvings which are on variety coins such as a double hubbed coin, a repunched mintmark, etc. Two variety coin carvings which are on an MS-65 1938-D/D RPM #2 carved obverse, and an EF reverse carving on a 1938-D/D RPM #2 have been reported to date. The coin pictured (a photograph of a photograph) to the right is a domed hat hobo carved on a 1918/17 buffalo nickel – possibly one of the rarest variety carvings, but not necessarily the most valuable. See CATEGORY RATINGS.
YARMULKE: A skullcap worn by Orthodox and conservative Jewish males both in the synagogue and home. Sometimes used as a device by some carvers to denote a Jewish subject. Caution should be used when stating that a “Skullcap” is in fact a yarmulke, as other religions wear skull caps which are not yarmulkes. A skull cap on a carving does not prove the subject to be of a Jewish subject. See SKULLCAP, and ZUCCHETTO. For a photograph of a skullcap, see RAISED METAL BEARD.
YEARS OF WORK: (Duplicates within the same year do exist.) Many carvings were made and presented to the temporary employers of at least one hobo or itinerant worker. All of these coins were collected in the states West of the Mississippi River, and had been presented to the farmers and ranchers for whom the hobo worked. Apparently the grain crops and livestock took many of the hoboes to the Western states for short periods of time. As mentioned earlier, cameo carvings were not new to the hobby. The following coins were the first examined by this author which were truly cameos. For additional photographs of the following series, See page 55.
ZUCCHETTO: A small round skullcap worn by Roman Catholic ecclesiastics. Similar to the Jewish YARMULKE. See that term and SKULL CAP for photographs.