Depending on where you got your information on Collecting Tramp Art, some collectors say Tramps did not make these famous art pieces as believed. So, where did they come from?

At the end of the civil war and the major stock market crash of the 30s, there was an influx of talented, educated and just unemployed people riding the rails looking for work. Some say they produced this form of art during their lonely hours and days.

In my thinking, Tramps would be considered a modern-day homeless person.

Wikipedia says; Tramp means “walk with Heavy Foot.”

That would explain a lot about Tramps; they were known for rail hopping and did an awful lot of walking.

I tend to think in America, these people riding the rails to someplace, anyplace, did indeed, do some of these artistic carvings.

And why would you think they didn’t? They had the means, certainly the time to make these pieces of art, and especially during the thirties, there were many talented and unemployed people roaming the country.

So during their travels from here to there, they kept busy by carving out their art form. Supposedly they made these pieces from discarded items such as empty cigar boxes, wood crates, and I would assume anything they could use or find to pass the time, and they mostly carved these pieces out with a pocket/jackknife.

Tops cigar box

This is not saying other people didn’t pick up the trade. Anyway, whoever whittled or carved these items, such as jewelry boxes, tables, small and large home decorations, lamps, etc., out of discarded wood, are highly collectible today, no matter who made them. Quickly found cigar boxes in those days, and they were the most widely used for Tramp Art.

A few years back, I made up a draft on Tramp Art, and I thought I’d blow the dust off and freshen up my article. I found myself having to rewrite the whole thing, only because the beliefs have now changed on the origin of Tramp Art or maybe, … I’ve just changed my thinking and found more updated information?

Even though the tide has changed a little on the origins of Tramp Art, one thing is for sure. They are still a unique form of expression from hard-working individuals with a lot of time on their hands. (No two are alike).

But, if we assume tramps did play a part in Tramp Art, they certainly did have the time for such an endeavour. If you had no talent before making this art form, you would certainly learn how to do it. Staying busy during their sometimes long in-between jobs and dark, cold nights would make sense to me.

So through all reality, the word “Tramp” sounds like a negative, harsh word for an unfortunate group of people trying to stay active, busy, and alive through their hard times.

So whoever made these art pieces got quite creative and talented enough to even sell their carved goods/art for a bit of cash or food. Of course, these pieces weren’t considered an art form until the 1950s, but still quite different looking, even in those days.

In my estimation, Tramps or whoever made Tramp Art in their day was our first version of Recyclers, by using an old discarded material to create something new.

History of Tramps & Hobos

They both shared the same rail system, may be transferred to the same boxcar, and I’m sure they ran into each other everywhere.

They even shared the same code/language, but they supposedly were two different types of people, workers, and … none workers.

Tramp Art is part of our history and may be considered a dark period in North America and Europe. There always were, and always will be, poor, unfortunate people just trying to make everything work in their lives, so whatever the origin of Tramp Art, these unusual pieces of art are highly collectible today.

The recorded time period for “Tramp Art” was from 1870-1940, but most say that the depression period in America was the worst or the best time for these art pieces. Some also would put that period around the civil war.

Note: In 1940, the war was raging in Europe, and every able body was needed elsewhere, which must have broken the trend and or that period in time for Tramps and Tramp Art. But it did bring in a new period of ART, “TRENCH ART.”

(One of my following planned postings.) “TRENCH ART”

After saying all that about “Tramp Art,” and we all know if there is money to be made, then a person might suggest that any groups of people would try their hand at making “Tramp Art.”

And why not! In those depression years, everybody tried to make a few extra dollars, but these pieces of art would fall under the category of “Folk Art.” Remember, Tramp Art wasn’t recognized until after the Tramp Era, which was around (the 1940s), and most collectors agree that the art form was handmade by hard-working people.



I’m neither a collector of Tramp Art nor a fine arts and crafts professor, but I am interested in our history and, maybe, sell a few oddities along the way.

Google tramp art for an interesting read. “HOBO Art”

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