In this installment of our series on Exonumia, we explore the beauty and folk culture surrounding Coin Art. Coins themselves are art pieces with highly skilled artists applying their talents to the design and creation of coins and paper money. However, this is not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the art that is made from coins. Coin art comes in all shapes and sizes, and is a great way to bring new life to the many damaged coins out there. However, sometimes the art is in the damage itself.
Coin jewelry is the most popular coin art form. It’s not hard to find coin jewelry. Belt buckles, money clips, rings, and pendants containing coins are commonplace. Custom pieces make great gifts for that hard to shop for numismatist in your family. Of course, placing a coin into a jewelry piece damages a coin, so if you are interested in making a custom jewelry piece, it’s best to use a coin that is already damaged or is in low enough condition that it will not be devalued in the process. When buying a piece of coin jewelry, beware of inflated prices. The coins used are not worth much more than their metal value. Add a bit more for the artist’s time and skill, and that should get you into a fair price range.
On of the most fascinating realms of coin art are Hobo Nickels. Remember when I mentioned that the damage is the art? This is the essence of the Hobo Nickel. Most popular during the Great Depression, people living “life on the rails” needed a source of entertainment during the long hours riding on trains or camped out by the tracks. Some creative individuals took to taking their pocket knives, or a sharpened nail and altering the design on a coin. Nickels were used primarily, but examples of this art form can be found on all denominations. The most common examples of this involve altering the look of the Native American on the obverse of a Buffalo Nickel to look like a miner, cowboy, or baseball player. In spite of the crudeness of the tools used, the designs are quite transformative. Modern artists have taken this a step further using jewelers tools to create incredibly detailed and ornate designs. Authentic pieces are relatively easy to find at coin shows or online. When looking for an authentic piece be sure to look for designs that are relatively crude, and depicting something like a miner with a beard and a broad brimmed helmet. I personally find this type of American Folk art to be fascinating, as it creates such a clear vision of life in another time (my greatest joy in numismatics as a whole!).
Pennies are showing up more and more as an art medium. Being only a couple of dollars per square foot, covering a kitchen or bathroom floor with them provides a wonderfully pleasing look that is not hard to install yourself. Statues, furniture, and other household items made out of pennies are becoming more and more prevalent, and the creativity and usefulness of these objects are often stunning.
Thanks for reading this installment on Coin Art in our series on Exonumia. Tune in for the next series on Coin Anatomy.