The hobo nickel, a unique American folk-art form, gets its name from Depression-era hobos, who used a pocket knife to alter the image on Indian-head nickels. Often the Indian was altered to depict a bearded hobo wearing a derby, but religious and political figures, animals, celebrities, and so on, were also favorite subjects. These miniature art works were often traded for food or lodging.
The modern day hobo-nickel carver isn’t limited to using a pocket knife down by the railroad tracks. Many use sophisticated pneumatic tools under a stereo microscope to hand-engrave works of art that go on to become prized showpieces in very prestigious collections.
For this piece, I transformed a 1913 Indian-head or buffalo nickel into a portrait of Julius Caesar using portions of the original Indian’s portrait. Caesar is framed with deeply sculpted scrollwork and sports a raised 24K gold headpiece with individually carved leaves. The date and the word “Liberty” are preserved.
All work was done with the GRS® GraverMach AT system (now the GRS® System 3 Deluxe Engraving Kit).
For more information on the fascinating art of hobo nickels, visit The Original Hobo Nickel Society’s website. For step-by-step tutorials on hand engraving, visit my website at iGraver.com and while you’re there check out The Engraver’s Cafe, the world’s largest hand-engraving forum.