Latest edition of ‘Mega Red Book’ features Great Depression hobo nickels

The third edition of “Mega Red,” the “deluxe edition” of the Guide Book of United States Coins, officially debuted at the Whitman Coin and Collectibles Baltimore Expo this March.

It’s the latest expanded version of the iconic “Red Book,” which has sold more than 24 million copies since 1946. With pages 30 per cent larger than the regular edition, and weighing in at 1,504 pages—more than three times the regular page count—the new deluxe edition includes “more historical information, extensive grading instructions with enlarged illustrations, a special hundreds-of-pages in-depth feature on Shield, Liberty Head, Buffalo, and Jefferson nickels, and valuable essays on collecting and investing in rare coins,” according to the Whitman website.

‘HOBO NICKELS’

Among the book’s special features is a nine-page full-colour appendix detailing the history and value of hobo nickels, which are U.S. Buffalo nickels that had one or both sides altered by someone outside the mint in an attempt to replace the original design with another image. Common changes included carving a bearded man wearing a bowler hat out of the Indian; carving a donkey out of the buffalo—or turned sideways, a man carrying a knapsack—or adding political or social messages.

This form of folk art was popular in the early 20th century (from the 1910s through the 1940s), reaching its height during the Great Depression. According to the Original Hobo Nickel Society (OHNS), people would engrave miniature works of art to sell or trade for a ride on a train, a meal, clothing, or a night’s lodging. These hobo nickels are very collectable. In 2014, an example featuring both obverse and reverse carvings and graded as “Superior” sold at auction for more than $22,000 USD. The Money Museum of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) also displays a collection of the coins.

ILLUSTRATED APPENDIX

The Mega Red’s illustrated appendix pictures dozens of hobo nickels from the classic, later classic and modern eras with enlarged photographs. It references the research of numismatists such as Stephen Alpert, Marc Banks, Arturo DelFavero, Don Farnsworth, Bill Fivaz, John Kraljevich, and Del Romines. Each level of the grading system for hobo nickels (Superior, Above Average, Average, Below Average, and Crude) is illustrated with examples. Included are hobo nickels created by the most famous carvers of the Great Depression—Bertram “Bert” Wiegand and his protégé George Washington “Bo” Hughes—as well as artists whose real names are lost to history but whose styles are identifiable (Peanut Ear, Traveler, Rough Beard, and others). The works of well-known modern engravers such as Ron Landis, Joe Paonessa, Alex Ostrogradsky, Howard Thomas, Chad Smith, Keith Pedersen, John Schipp, and Aleksey Saburov are also discussed. The appendix also includes a feature on the only classic-era hobo nickel carver of whom a confirmed photograph exists: William Sharples (1902-71), a tool and die engraver from New Jersey.

BIG & USEFUL

Billed as the “biggest, most useful Red Book ever,” the Mega Red measures seven by 10 inches and has 1,040 more pages than the regular edition. The larger size and increased page count combined make Mega Red five times bigger than the regular-edition Red Book. It prices 8,200 items in up to 13 grades each with 48,000 individual values and 15,400 auction records covering circulated, Mint State, and Proof coinage. The book is illustrated with 7,000 images, including 2,434 that are new to this third edition.

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