Next time you have a pocket full of loose change, take a few moments to inspect your coins. You may be holding onto a work of art.
Shaun Hughes engraves coins with intricate and beautiful designs. This process of altering a coin with a new look isn’t exactly novel — people have been doing it for as long as coins have existed and called them “Love Tokens,” or in some cases “Hobo Nickels.”
Hughes took a path that is counter to the direction many travel: He started with a computerized engraver and found it to be too limiting. He quickly moved to hand engraving the fine details and interesting designs of his coins, and even began hand building his own carving tools.
His designs are sometimes whimsical, completely changing the image on the coin. Other times he does intricate patterns and scroll engraving within the boundaries of the existing designs. No matter what approach he takes, his (and other artists’) coins are highly sought after.
“My first coin sold for $3. My record so far is $400 for a buffalo nickel with Groucho Marx, but some by much better carvers sell for thousands,” he says.
You don’t necessarily have to purchase one though. Hughes has made a habit of sneaking some back into circulation: “I’ve put several hundred counterstamped and a few engraved coins out in change for folks to find,” he says.
I get ridiculously excited seeing people make things. I just want to revel in the creativity I see in makers. My favorite thing in the world is sharing a maker's story. email me at caleb (at) make.co or You can find me on tiktok, talking about my animals at TikTokView more articles by Caleb Kraft