[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]
New Terms and Old Terms with New Understanding
Numerous new terms have been researched, studied, added, or deleted, and many older terms have been updated. Following, in alphabetical order, are these terms, with photographs where available, and historical information gained from many years of study and research:
ALL DEVICES: Some artists use various devices such as a raised metal ear, raised metal hat band, raised metal collar, and/or other devices in their art work. When a known artist has combined basically all or several of the known devices used by that artist, the type carving is called an ALL DEVICES carving. One copy of an “all devices” carving is known to have been made by “Bo” in 1927. It is pictured under EARLY ARTISTS AND THEIR CARVINGS.
ANNEALING: The process of using heat to soften work hardened metals. Earlier speculation was that annealing was used by some hoboes to soften the nickels which were being carved. Since the original speculation, fairly solid proof of this taking place has been obtained. In 1984, a partially carved nickel was located in an old “Hobo Jungle” (which was believed to have been last used in the early 1940’s) near Bridgeport, Indiana, near the Southern Railroad, and on the banks of the Ohio River. The coin was found with a metal detector in ashes under about eight inches of flood buildup dirt. After talking with the local land agents, it was determined that the dirt and silt buildup over the ashes would indicate that the coin, or at least the ashes, had been there for 30-50 years. This would place the coin being dropped in the ashes between 1935- 1955. Using the average, the coin was possibly lost in the early 1940’s, or around the time of the last known use of the hobo camp. The coin could not be identified when first located, and was severely cleaned for identification. The ashes and other elements in the soil had taken their toll. After cleaning, the coin was only about one-half the normal thickness, and the diameter was reduced by about 0.020 inch. The carved side of the coin was facing up and away from the ashes, and did not receive the deterioration which the reverse received. This coin (pictured below) is in the Miller collection in South Dakota.
A few of the carvings by “Bo” have strong indications of “Heat Toning.” A careful microscopic study shows that some areas of heat toned surfaces had been cut after heating. This information, combined with the “nickel in the ashes” (pictured above), is relatively strong proof of the annealing of some nickels prior to or during carving. The following photograph shows one coin which was “flame” annealed.
Even though the photograph is not in color, heat toning can be seen around the ear.
ARTIST’S (MEDALIST’S) ENGRAVINGS: Coins which have been carved by professional medalists who are true artists. These coins are neither “Hobo Nickels,” nor are they “Neobos.” True artists of these types of carvings do not try to convince collectors that their coins are hobo nickels. Some of the carvings may be signed and dated by the artist. Values are based entirely on the merits of each carving. Caution should be used by the “Hobo Nickel Collector” in purchasing high grade carvings as hobo nickels. It is sad to say, but all artists who produce these types of carvings may not be as honest as the medalist of the engravings shown below.
Following are two photographs of “Artist’s (Medalist’s) Engravings.” The first photograph is on a carved buffalo nickel, and the second is on a carved Jefferson nickel. Both coins have been assigned a carving number (serial number ?) by the artist, and are signed “RL 93” on the uncarved side of the coins. Ron Landis (Master Engraver) of the GALLERY MINT MUSEUM in Eureka Springs, Arkansas was the artist of these carvings. See MODERN ETCHINGS or CARVINGS, and NEO-BO.
“Christ” by Ron Landis
“Indian” by Ron Landis
Artists initials-”GH 51” carved by George Washington “Bo” Hughes in a jungle in Florida in 1951.
ARTISTS’ INITIALS: In the original research and writing, there were indications that it may be possible to identify many of the Hobo Nickels from the artists’initials. There are three factors to consider in this area:
(1) Several of the first coins seen with unknown artist’s initials in the first book have since been identified as being the works of a hobo by the name of “Weasel.” The initials on the coins were probably those of the individuals of whom Weasel was trying to portray.
(2) Since the first book was published, many forged initials and fake coins with misleading initials have been seen. The use of the initials as an identifier can be used only by the extremely knowledgeable in this field.
(3) Only after an artist and his works have been positively identified can the initials be used as identifiers. This can be done only after numerous carvings have been examined, and a thorough understanding of the artist’s patterns, tools, etc is gained.
ARTISTS’NAMES: As with the initials, it was once believed that many hobo artists would possibly be identified in the near future. Just as with the initials, this turns out to be a near impossibility due to the many faked coins and the neo-bo’s. Only the very knowledgeable can possibly determine if in fact the names are correct, and they should not be used as positive identifiers. Following is a photograph depicting a “Greek Athlete” by “Bo.” This carving also displays “GEORGE H.” on the neck of the athlete. This is one of the very few times known where “Bo” spelled out either his named or a portion of his name on his carvings.
“BERT” carvings were originally misidentified as almost always having the “LI” & “Y” of LIBERTY removed to leave only “BERT.” Through additional information and considerable detailed study, it has been found that actually “Bert” usually only removed these letters when customers wanted his signature on the coins. Possibly as many as 90% of his works did not carry his name. “Bert” is also know to have carved not only the buffalo nickels, but Indian Head Cents and Lincoln Cents as well, and possibly at the request of a customer, other denomination coins. See HOBO CARVINGS for a “Bert Lincoln” which was confirmed and later stolen from the author. For additional information on “Bert,” see EARLY ARTISTS AND THEIR CARVINGS.
During the original research for the first book, carvings examined pointed to the possibilities of identifying other “Hobo Artists” from their work, and from their initials which they placed on their work. After the book was published, numerous fakes were made in two ways which created problems with identification:
(1) Hundreds of thousands of neo-bos were punched and offered as genuine, of which many had the fake initials as well. Several dealers nation wide are still offering the “neo-bos” as “hobo nickels.”
(2) Several authentic hobo nickels were altered with various initials in the attempt to convince others that their coins were of known artists. Careful study of most of the fake initials usually proved the initials to be fake, but the damage had already been done to the hobby, and this area of research ceased. To be as certain as possible that your coins are genuine, send them to a reputable authentication service for certification/registration and photographing.
AUTHENTICATION: The process of closely examining an identifiable carving to certify it’s authenticity, the artist who performed the work, and any other valuable information which can be ascertained from the inspection. One major point to remember is that all authenticators or certifiers are human, and as such, they can make mistakes. Many times these mistakes are made through insufficient information, and additional information is received after the certification. See CATEGORY RATINGS.
“Bo” many times would place “Bert” on coins. These were usually portraits of “Bert”
Believed to be a portrait of “Bert” by “Bo” / Believed to be a portrait by “Bert”
AUTHENTICATING TIPS: Each hobo nickel is a different carving. With the numerous artists and techniques of the past, the outlandish number of “neo-bos,” and the many different ways to fake a coin, many times it is almost impossible to properly authenticate a hobo carving. Following are some points to search for: (1) *When offered coins which are claimed to be those actually shown in any book or publication, check all details very closely. If even one minor detail appears to be different, it is probably a fake. There were thousands of “copied” “Bo’s” which came from two different sources:
(1a) From Pennsylvania, a man who claimed to have been taught by “Bo.” All of his claims were proven to be false, just as his reproductions which he offered as “Authentic” works of “Bo” were fake. Before “Bo’s” hand injury, all hair was always carved. Most of the neo-bos from Pennsylvania have identical curls or swirls which is proof positive of a punch, and can be easily detected under macroscopic inspection. One report stated that this individual was a mine worker, and had never seen the railroads except for the cars which were being loaded at his work site.
(1b) As a special favor to a “sob story” from a man in Florida, several photographs were sent for that individual to use in conjunction with talks at his coin club. Either this individual or some of his coin club members were very artistic, as hundreds of fake copies hit the market from that area of Florida. Exercise caution, and get your coins authenticated.
(2) For all practical purposes, the last of the true art works of “Bo” were made just prior to a major hand injury in 1957, and from about 1963 through about 1979. In over 15 years, all of his coins should have taken on a natural tone except cases where dull tooling and/or punches were used. In these cases, grain and molecular structure of the compressed metals may have been considerably disturbed. Toning from dull tools or punches will sometimes appear to be artificial.
(3) The nasty black “Bo” coins were punched after his hand injury, and numerous household chemicals were used to tone the coins. This artificial toning was to satisfy many collectors who insisted that a hobo nickel could not appear unworn. One household item used was chlorine bleach. Bleach and the U.S. Nickel just do not go together, and they will usually turn black. Even though they are black, the authenticated copies are still the works of “Bo,” and the bleach was part of his work. See “BO” RELEARNING COINS, and TONE.
(4) On hundreds of coins of which the authenticity is relatively certain, about 90% were carved on high grade coins. Buffalo nickels were still in wide circulation well after WW-II, with many being EF and better. If the amount of wear on the carved side is considerably less than that of the uncarved side, exercise caution.
(5) Check the edges of coins to see if two halves of “Hobo Tokens” have been mated. Some are being offered as authentic obverse/reverse carvings. See BONDED FAKES.
These are only a few of the many points to search and study, and to list all would be a book in itself. Exercise caution and good judgement, rely on your knowledge, and have your coins authenticated.
* NOTE: Common sense can be your best defensive tool when purchasing coins which are advertised as “Hobo Nickels.” If a dealer or collector has a large number of coins for sale, the probabilities are that they are “Neo-bos.” This is not to say that there are no large hoards which may some day surface, but extreme caution should be used.
BEARDS: See HAT STYLES AND BEARDS.
“BERT” CARVINGS: Hobo carvings by Bertrand “Bert” Wiegand. “Bert” carved coins from about 1913 through about 1949. Following are only a few of many carvings by and/or of “Bert.” Numerous other photographs of his works can be found throughout the book.
“BERT” and “BERTS”: “Bert” is the shortened form (monicker) of Bertrand Wiegand, one of the “Kings of Hobo Nickels.” “Bert” or “Berts” is a general term applied to all carved coins which have been attributed to BertrandWiegand. BERTRAND “BERT” WIEGAND: After years of searching for additional information on “Bert,” the following is the accumulated information to date. Even though there is no documentation on this information, it is being thoroughly researched by a newspaper editor who is considered by the Georgia Correctional system to be the authority on chain gangs in Georgia.
Portrait of “Bert” carved by “Bo” in 1933. This is the best known early carving of “Bert” by “Bo.”