SSoIH Jewish Nickel Header

The Jewish Nickel 

If you're looking at this page chances are you either have a Jewish nickel or have heard one of the many conflicting stories around the Internet regarding the Jewish nickel and the Hobo nickel.
Jewish Nickels were tokens sold in quantity, predominantly on the East coast and were also available for mail order from magazine ads as well.  They were marketed as a novelty coin to fool the people who received it.  On the back of the Jewish nickels were the three "Pawn Balls" and the text "Good Luck".
There are at least two types of Jewish nickels (Type 1 and Type 2) with the possibility of a third type with "Jewish inscriptions" on the reverse.
Hobo Nickels are altered coin currency where the coin is altered (carved or engraved) into some form of miniature art.  Back in the day these were carved by migrant workers, aka Hobos (hoboes) traveling via the railways, however not by purchasing a train ticket but by hoping a freight train to their next destination or "hop".  Hoping freight trains was (and still is) a hobos way of traveling to find work and to travel across the country for free (as long as they don't get caught by the railroad police (The Bull). 
If you talk to any Hobo who has ridden the rails most all of them will tell you that they have seen a hobo nickel in their travels.

The first story is a news clipping to the editor of Antique Week regarding "setting the record straight on altered nickels".  It reads:

Altered nickels

To the Editor: I'd like to set the record straight.  About a month ago, Antique Week printed a filler that said "hobo nickels" were made by itinerants who exchanged them for a small sum of money or for a meal.  This is incorrect, revisionist history.

The nickels in question were altered during the Depression of the 1930s, by jewelers and engravers.  These skilled craftsmen scraped, filed and incised, changing the Indian of the "Buffalo nickel" (at the time the circulating coin) into a satirical Jewish profile.  The finished product was universally known as a "Jewish nickel," and the stereotype was a bearded man with a large nose wearing a derby hat.  Hoboes may have had the time, but they did not have the skills and tools to create these miniature works of art.  Until the late 1930s, one could buy these "Jewish nickels" in New York coin or curio shops for a dollar or so.  No doubt these nickels were made by jewelers and engravers in other major cities.

To this day, it isn't unlawful to mutilate coins; the law just prohibits passing the coins after mutilation.

J. Duncan Campbell

Harrisburg, Pa.


SSoIH note:  The great depression was from August 1929 to March 1933.

Alterned Nickels Article

Another piece found on the internet was from the forums of where someone was looking to identity a Jewish nickel token.  The post reads:

Last week Bob Leonard wrote:

The ethnic slur nature of the original "hobo nickels" has been swept under the rug by modern collectors, but it is established by the existence of pot metal tokens imitating this design on the obverse, with the pawnbroker's three balls on the reverse.
Bob Van Arsdell provided the above image of the piece referred to. He provides the dimensions as:
Weight: 6.7419 gms
Diameter: 23.62 mm

There was an auction from that had a Jewish Nickel along with a Silver Masonic Penny Shekel token.  The auction listing listed the Jewish nickel as a "Pawn Broker token in zinc"

*443 United States. Pair of Tokens. 1) Pawnbroker token in zinc! 24mm, with stereotypical "Jewish" face on obverse and Pawn broker symbol and Good Luck on reverse. 2) Silver Masonic Penny Shekel token from Sterling, Colorado. This last is a double Sterling issue as it is from the town of Sterling in northeastern Colorado and is marked Sterling in incuse letters to note the silver content. As I write this the town of Sterling, has just been flooded as the South Platte River has overflowed its banks as the result of the massive rain that hit Colorado for five days in mid-September. Two better, Jewish-related, tokens. The first VF-EF, the 2nd F-VF. $40+?

The KOIN-X-CHANGE Shop in Chicago Illinois held an auction on August 14, 1935 which offered item number 482 and 532.

482. Jewish Nickel, a clever pocket joke, More fun than a wooden nickel.

532. Jewish Nickel, a clever pocket joke and a reminder?

An Auction held by M. Joe Murphy in Phoenix, Arizona on September 19, 1942 offered item number 384.

384.  JEWISH NICKEL. Not legal tender but a very clever pocket piece.  Obv. Jew's head, Rev. Jewish Inscriptions, a piece that you'll have more fun with than a wooden nickel, odd, retails at 25c. Uncirculated. 

Note:  It is interesting that they state on the reverse of the Jewish nickel is "Jewish Inscriptions".  We have not seen an example of this Jewish nickel.

An article from 1985 mentions Jewish Nickels.

That particular section of the article reads:

There were all sorts of lucky coins, too, including one called "The Jewish Nickel," which depicted the profile of what was supposed to be a Jewish man on one side and a three-balled pawnbroker's trade sign on the other.  The coin was made as a humorous novelty.

Lucky Rings Article

Listed in The Pittsburgh Press, March 21st 1920

A Laugh and a Sale

Jewish nickel:  best seller out: everyone buys:  sample 10c: 3-25c: 20-$1.00; gross $5.00.  P. Lewis.  2849 Normal.  Chicago.     321wp

SSoIH Note:  A gross is 144

ADVERTISEMENT - Johnson Smith & Co.

The Jewish Nickel - A Very Clever Pocket Joke

With a few of these Jewish or Yiddish Nickels, you can have no end of fun.  Hand it to a friend, street car conductor, or a storekeeper and watch his face as he examines it.  It is made of silver finish white metal.

No. 2136. Jewish Nickel price ....... 5c

3 for 10 cents, 1 doz. for 30c postpaid.

SSoIH Note: The description states "It is made of silver finished white metal".  In the photos below you can see how the silver finish has worn off over time.

Jewish Nickel Ad

ADVERTISEMENT - Johnson Smith & Co. (1940)

The Jewish Nickel - A Sensation

With a few of these Jewish or Yiddish Nickels, you can have no end of fun.  Hand it to a friend, street car conductor, or a storekeeper and watch his face as he examines it.  Resembles an ordinary nickel in appearance.  The figures printed on the Yiddish Nickel are plain and easily seen.

No. 2136. Jewish Nickel. Postpaid ... 5c

3 for 10 cents, 1 doz. for 30 cents postpaid.

Johnson Smith and Company's Mammoth Catalog of Novelties circa 1920s

Johnson Smith Co Catalog circa 1920s

Johnson Smith and Co - page 301

Johnson Smith and Co circa 1920s

The Jewish Nickel appears on page 200 of the Johnson Smith and Company's Mammoth Catalog of Novelties 1947 edition.

SSoIH Note: We don't have an image for the item, if anyone has this catalog and can send us a photo of the Jewish Nickel item we would be grateful.  It would be similar to the Johnson Smith advertisements above.

Novelty Catalog Cover

The SSoIH Collection

Item 1: The Jewish Nickel - Type 2

This Jewish nickel with the "single" hat brim on the obverse and the straight bar for the "Pawn Balls" on the reverse.

Diameter:  23.24mm

Weight: 6.6 grams

The SSoIH Collection

Item 2: A clipping error of The Jewish Nickel - Type 2

This appears to be a clipping error of sorts of The Jewish Nickel.  Again with the single brim hat on the obverse and the straight bar on the "Pawn Balls" on the reverse.

Diameter:  23.24mm

Weight: 5.8 grams

SSoIH Jewish Nickel Collection Photo

The SSoIH Collection

Item 3: The Jewish Nickel - Type 1

This Jewish Nickel features the hat brim with the addition of a hat band featuring a centered bow on the obverse and on the reverse you'll find the curved bars for the "Pawn Balls".

Diameter: 23.60mm

Weight: 6.75 grams

Jewish Nickel - Type 1 image

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