Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Hobo Nickle of the Depression : a Folk Art

I have two Hobo Nickles that I've acquired over the years. They are descended from an old folk art of carving low denomination coins into art items of higher value. A poor mans way of making what they have more valuable as a barter item. From 1913 to 1940 the American buffalo nickle was the raw material from which these folk art items were made.

Working with all sorts of carving tools. These itenerant artist could turn the Indian and the Buffalo into tiny items of folk art like this:

"The Indian portrait or the obverse side of the nickel was altered and carved into portraits of clowns, women, men, other Indians, friends, loved ones, figurals and self portraits. The buffalo or the reverse side of the nickel were turned into men with backpacks or other animals such as donkeys or elephants. Like the Victorian Era Love Tokens, Hobo Nickels were inscribed with dates, names or other inscriptions.
Hobo nickels, were carved by the homeless during WWI and during the Great Depression. Hobo Nickels were traded for meals, a place to sleep, a ride, or other favors. Some were carved with images of loved ones as mementos. Each Hobo Nickel has a story behind them. These stories speak of a generation of men and women who struggled to survive, yet kept their faith in our Creator, themselves, and the American dream.
They may have been wanderers, but they worked hard for what they needed, helped each other, and honored an unwritten code of honor and respect among hoboes.
Hobo Nickels are still being carved today. Individuals who carved the Hobo Nickels have brought this area of folk art to another level. The images are contemporary and often abstract with modern imaging." Source
I'm going to show numerous versions of the "Hobo Nickle". The Internet has many many sites to tell you about these nickles, old and modern.