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Tramp Art is a type of Folk Art, and collecting it these days is “hot.” Tramp Art in America dates back to the Civil War through the 1930’s, and there are thousands of tramp art objects in circulation. Boxes and mirror frames which sold for a few cents in the late 1950’s, are worth hundreds of dollars today.

Tramp Art is a wanderer’s art form, so there are no written records of the carver’s work. Typically, tramps and hoboes would congregate around campfires, where they would sing songs, recite poetry, and create their own individual works of art. The hoboes would usually whittle while tramps would carve, using the wood from free supplies of cigar boxes and fruit crates.

Tramp Art comes in a great variety, from small boxes and frames, to large furniture and intricate objects. The artists were usually untrained craftsmen, people who wanted to decorate everyday objects, using the chip carving method.

Chip carving consisted of notching and layering, with each succeeding layer made smaller, creating a pyramidal design. The carver had to have the time and patience to create a finished piece of art. He had to notch-carve each piece of wood many times, then layer it into a recognizable object. Often he would add even further decorations to the piece.

Inlaid decorations were another common feature. Geometric patterns of circles, squares and triangles were the most common type of applied inlaid decorations. Hearts and stars were popular symbols, and sometimes the entire object would be made into a heart shape.

Finishes on these tramp art objects were usually lacquer or stain, although paint was also used. The value of tramp art varies according to size, detail, surface and complexity of the object. If you’re a new collector, be aware that unethical dealers try to pass on newly made objects as old.

Tramp art, which gained popularity in the 1970’s, is a “hot” collectable today, and there are several Internet sites that deal in the sale of this craft.