Carved nickels appeared about the same time as the Indian (Buffalo) nickel was issued in 1913. Hobos (not to be confused with bums, tramps or yeggs [see below]), were traveling men who worked for food, shelter or offered services such as lawn or wood cutting or “handy man” type repairs.
For some reason, the Indian’s portrait became an attractive canvas and hobos quickly learned that carved nickels could be traded for a meal a bath or money. The hobo culture was temporarily short lived and many wandering men returned to society during the prosperity of the 1920’s only to return to the hobo life during the depression years of the following decade.
Here are some definitions:
Carved 1937 Indian (Buffalo) Nickel
For more info on Hobo Nickels, see: The Original Hobo Nickel Society