By Michael S. Turrini
“Want to go to a coin show?” was the opening question suggested to Donald L. Hill, back in 1968 when he was on active duty stationed at Wiesbaden Air Force Base, in then West Germany. Don’s reply was simple: “what’s a coin show? Hum.” That first venture a half century ago would launch a hobby that would bring Don to serving currently Corresponding Secretary, Facebook Page Coordinator, and Librarian for the California State Numismatic Association (CSNA) as well as like positions for the Vallejo (California) Numismatic Society and the Northern California Numismatic Association (NCNA).
Don, now living in Vallejo, California, remembers that the coin dealers he visited back then were “very knowledgeable and valued their stock in United States Dollars.” “United States coins were purchased by American travelers and expats including service members,” he added. But, his best find was not at his first coin show; rather in change at the base’s NCO Club. It was a $20.00 Hawaiian Overprint Federal Reserve Note, which still remains in his collection today.
Don has been around. Originally born and raised in the Keystone State, Pennsylvania, he has lived in New York City, Southern California, Oregon, Texas, and New Jersey. Holding both Bachelors and Masters degrees, his career primarily was with the old ‘AT&T’ and later with the now gone ‘NECA’, the National Exchange Carrier Association, where he would travel to Alaska and six other Western States to facilitate training. Among his other jobs was the Manager for Seaside, California’s Chamber of Commerce and an Assistant to the engineer-owner of a highway safety company, where he ‘speeded-up’ the process of patent research: “The owner couldn’t comprehend how fast I had researched, located, and delivered a specific patent. The trick was researching a better way to do it.”
Don attended college before and after his Air Force service, earning both a BA and MA degrees. He is married to Earlene Millier now into their forty-fifth (45th) year. Thus, his collecting has had gaps and long period of hiatus. He and Earlene now are settled in their umpteen home in Vallejo, California with three dogs and assorted neighborhood cats. Earlene is not a dedicated collector; but, “She does like silver and John F. Kennedy, and those are her birthday, anniversary, and Holiday gifts,” Don chuckles. Earlene is a recognized knowledgeable Master Gardener and an outstanding baker. Just ask for her homemade chocolates!
Don describes his collecting as “eclectic.” “The coin has to tell a story and spark interest. It has to be more than another hole filled in an album” is his admonishment. “This is why I enjoy shipwreck coins: these do have a story of history, tragedy, and adventure,” he added.
“I have a small inexpensive copper coin from the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. My story is that before he left on his famous voyage to the discovery, Christopher Columbus spent the coin on a farewell drink in Cadiz, Spain. Who is going to argue that possibility?” Don states.
Lately, Don has expanded his pursuits to purchasing “all those annually issued sets I missed decades ago because of schooling or career.” His specific United States passions are Franklin Half Dollars; but, he is developing a significant collection of the short-lived rebellious Nigerian province Biafra and its coinage and currency plus stamps, ephemera, and exonumia. Not to be limited, his newest pursuit is the coinage of Malta and the George Cross: “Both the coins and the stamps, because the story of the heroism of Malta endured during the Second World War.”
His memberships included the American Numismatic Association (ANA), the already mentioned California State Numismatic Association and the Northern California State Numismatic Association (NCNA) plus several local northern California coin clubs, and thanks to fellow collecting sojourner Scott D. English, Executive Director of the American Philatelic Society (APS), “I joined the APS. Why not? Collect Biafra and Malta stamps!”
After fifty years of varying levels of intensity and coupled with his current involvements, Don has developed some suggestions for hobbyists, any hobby. “Study first. Read the book. And tabulate your budget. These are simple truths but the foundation of a solid hobby enjoyment,” he advises. “Also research on-line. There is much to learn on the Web,” he included.
Being married for soon five decades, Don smiled when he added “to include your spouse in your hobby, for the obvious reason that you two live together.”
Don also reminds “don’t accumulate but give thought to purchases.” “When at a coin show, walk the entire show, take your time, converse with dealers and others. If you leave a coin show with spending money still in your pocket, you have lost,” he jokes.
Don’s judgements note that “the Mint sells too much. Also, our hobby remains one catering to the educated, overlooking the great social fellowship of being with like-minded hobbyists. The social aspects of our hobby are its great asset.”
His five decades in various careers and locations have been enriched by his mentors, “those who excite the hobby”, such as the late James H. Laird, the ‘great’ ‘Doctor’ Lloyd G. Chan, Scott D. English, Jeffrey L. ‘Jeff’ Shevlin, ‘Jim’ Gallegos, plus Michael S. Turrini, as well as Maria E. Stillwagon.
Ending, Don continues his hobby with his next acquisition “to have a story to tell.” “But if a very rare Six Pence from Biafra were available, well, need to talk to Earlene first and then buy it,” he laughed. “Maybe Earlene would allow that purchase,” Don hopes.
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