Coins & Money

Why “Hobo Nickels” Are So Special to Coin Collectors

A Hobo Nickel was a Great Depression era novelty hand carved by people illegally riding trains in search of work. The art that hobos created has become highly collectible. The big question now is how much they are worth — and Heritage Auctions has dedicated an entire auction to them.

The Fred Avan Collection of Hobo Nickels Showcase Auction is on April 11, 2022 at Heritage Auctions. The Buffalo Nickel was the standard coin used and skilled artists could turn the Native American head into a hobo figure. These figures generally look right out of a John Steinbeck novel. The better the image the more likely someone would buy it in whichever town they were passing through.

And what about that price? Like all collectibles the most desired examples were selling for tens of thousands in 2021. Images included herein are from Heritage Auctions.

Collectors Dashboard evaluates high-end collectibles as an alternative asset class. This means collectibles nickels with art hand carved are attracting the same capital that could have been invested into stocks or bonds. Many of the nickels now cost thousands of dollars. Collectors with a passion to own rare varieties for years frequently have to compete directly against investors whose only desire is to make a profit in the future.

Here are examples sold by Heritage Auctions that first peaked our interest at Collectors Dashboard. These are not sold or desired because they are coins but instead bought by collectors as art pieces that are each considered unique or one of a kind. A serious collector will notice trends and familiar technique by artists lost to time but given nicknames that other serious collectors will recognize.

Multiply Plated Bert Nickel, Signed “31” on the Hat Band Bow sold for $20,400.00 on June 18, 2021 after 21 bids.

Hobo Nickels, Multiply Plated Bert Nickel, Signed "31" on the Hat Band Bow....

According to Heritage Auctions Bertram Wiegand was born circa 1890 and began carving nickels in 1913 or thereabouts. He is widely recognized among collectors as the master carver who transitioned hobo nickels from curiosities into a viable folk art form.

Bert’s Lady, One of the Artist’s Finest Efforts, Superior Quality Carved c.1939 sold for $31,200.00 after 19 bids on January 22, 2021.

Hobo Nickels, Bert's Lady, One of the Artist's Finest Efforts, Superior Quality Carved c.1939....

1950 Carving by ‘Bo’ Hughes, Well-Documented Cameo Nickel sold for $20,400.00 on January 22, 2021 after 15 bids.

Full Cameo Carving, Bo’s Brother, Signed GH 51 and Dated 1919. Bo Hughes often memorialized his brother, who died in (or about) 1919 as a casualty of World War I. The nickel sold for $16,800.00 on June 18, 2021 after 19 bids.

Hobo Nickels, Full Cameo Carving, Bo's Brother, Signed GH 51 and Dated 1919.. ...

Heritage Auctions did not provide estimates but has these examples coming for sale on April 11, 2022 (Images by Heritage Auctions):

  • Classic Hobo Nickel by the Early Artist, “Wrinkles” with 311 page views and a current bid of $210.00.

Hobo nickel

  • Classic Hobo Nickel by “Virtuoso” with a current bid of $330.00.

Hobo Nickels, Classic Hobo Nickel by "Virtuoso." Although the date is removed on this nickel, it is likely a 1913 host coin, as are...

  • Classic Hobo Nickel by “Flat Nose”, classically carved on a 1913 Type Two Nickel with a current bid of $310.00.
  • Classic Hobo Nickel by ‘Sharp Ear’ carved on two sides with a current bid $240.00.
  • Classic Hobo Nickel by featuring a popular artist who gave each drawing an adam’s apple with a current bid of $230.00.

Now you know what a Hobo Nickel is. And now you know that they can sell for more than just a pretty penny.