Carrying on the tradition of the hobo nickel, a sculptural art form that transforms small currency coins, artist Shaun Hughes has blown us away with his delicate hand engraving. The art of the hobo nickel has been in practice since the 18th century, when artists began using coins as a form of expression. Especially popular in the United States, the Buffalo nickel was a favorite for artists, as its thickness allowed for finer detail.
The UK-based Hughes is part of an increasing wave of contemporary carvers who have helped revive the practice of currency carving after a decline in the 1980s. While he engraves a variety of forms into currency, we’re especially keen on the floral scrollwork that defines the majority of his oeuvre. Twisting through the portraits or creeping into the backgrounds, the fine lines give the currency new depth. With incredible detail and precision Hughes transforms these small-denomination coins into pieces of fine art, many of which are for sale via eBay. Part of his success lays in his ability to add to the coin while maintaining a balance in the final result. The surface is not busy, allowing the eye to appreciate how his engraving enhances the pre-existing lines of the coin.
Hughes shares his process via his YouTube channel, which contains his hobo nickel work, as well as informational videos about hand engraving equipment.
All images via Shaun Hughes.