In the 1970s, the entire population of Kentucky’s south-central Barren County, just north of the Tennessee border, was about 28,000 souls. Nearly half of those Kentuckians lived in the county seat, the city of Glasgow. Most of the rest made their homes in 500 square miles of farmland and towns and unincorporated small communities.
It was in one of those communities, Slick Rock, a few miles outside Glasgow, that a boy named Delma Kenneth Romines was born on November 8, 1935.
In his grandfather’s day, Slick Rock was home to fewer than 100 people; it had a post office, but no railroad service. When “Del” was born in the middle of the Great Depression, it wasn’t much bigger.
The boy took an interest in coins at a young age—the story of many collectors who stick with the hobby for a long time. His early fascination was with die varieties. In 1948, a few years after the first Handbook of United States Coins was published (1942), young Del made a numismatic discovery. He found the first 1943-P Jefferson nickel with the 3 in its date struck over a 2—a mistake of the Philadelphia Mint’s overworked staff overusing their coinage dies, completely understandable in the context of wartime pressures on manufacturing.
Over the next couple years, Del discovered similar die varieties in the Lincoln cent and Mercury dime series.
This early mania for metallic mix-ups followed Del Romines for the rest of his life. He would later estimate that he was the discoverer of 50 percent of the doubled-die coins known to collectors up through the half dollar denomination, and 25 percent of the repunched mintmarks.
Del Romines didn’t just study metal, though; he worked in it. He was an instructor for Naval Ordnance in Louisville, the “Gunsmiths to the Navy,” which produced ordnance for the United States Navy during and after World War II. (Del was himself a veteran of both the Korean conflict and the Vietnam war.) Over the course of his life, he privately minted hundreds of tokens and medals for the hobby community.
Romines was also a pioneering researcher in the subject of hobo nickels—Buffalo nickels carved into amusing or fantastical new designs by wandering workers in the 1920s and 1930s.
“A hobo nickel is carved as opposed to engraved. Little by little, metal is shaved away or mounded to create a miniature bas-relief sculpture. Historically these coins were made by hoboes, itinerant workers, who often traveled by hopping freight trains. The hobo’s tools were primitive and consisted of awls, nails, pocket knives, a small hammer, screwdrivers, and even found pieces of metal which were manipulated into makeshift tools. A metal ‘punch’ was also hammered into the coin to create a divot for an eye, an expanded nostril, or texture for hair.” This description comes from the Original Hobo Nickel Society, a group of hobbyists who study and collect these interesting pieces of Americana.
Del Romines wrote two books on the subject. He championed and helped popularize this niche of the hobby, and always shared his knowledge, especially with young numismatists.
Although he passed away in 2013 (in Louisville), the name of Del Romines will always be associated with coin collecting in general, and hobo nickels in particular—a unique connection the Commonwealth of Kentucky can be proud of.
If you’d like to learn more about the history, artistry, and collecting of hobo nickels, visit the Original Hobo Nickel Society online at www.hobonickels.org.
To explore all things Barren County, visit www.betterinthebarrens.com.
Dennis Tucker, Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, is the publisher of Whitman Publishing, a leading producer of storage and display supplies, reference books, and other resources for collectors and hobbyists. He was commissioned a Kentucky Colonel in March 2021 for his career in book publishing and his promotion of the Bluegrass State’s status as an important subject in numismatics. His column “From the Colonel’s Desk” explores the Commonwealth’s diverse connections to American coins, tokens, medals, paper money, private currency, and related artifacts.