Flipping a coin is not a game of chance but a beloved avocation for numismatics expert Bill Fivaz ’56, who has been collecting coins since 1950.
By 1988, Fivaz had developed an interest in die varieties, features on coins that identify them from other strikings of the same date that make them more valuable.
“A close friend in printing convinced me to author a reference book for collectors so they would be aware of these treasures and enjoy a new approach to the hobby,” Fivaz says. In early 1989, the first edition of The Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins hit the market.
“It was an instant success in the collector community and repeat printings sold out immediately,” he says. Volume 2 of the sixth edition will roll out at the American Numismatic Association convention in Pittsburgh in August 2023. Updates for each edition consist of price changes and additions in coin series that have come to light since the previous book, he says.
Hundreds of die varieties are ultra-valuable, Fivaz notes. Currently, those include the 1961 Proof Franklin dollar with a doubled die reverse (tails), the 1919-P Mercury dime with a doubled die obverse (heads), and the 1916-P Buffalo nickel with a doubled die obverse.
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At Hamilton, Fivaz majored in fine arts. “I spent some time, probably more than I should have, away from my studies, cataloging a large coin collection in the library,” he says. “College Librarian Walter Pilkington was happy to get some semblance of order to the collection for a future sale.”
After graduation Fivaz entered the U.S. Navy but before that married Marilyn, a College health Center nurse he met visiting his future best man who was injured during a Hamilton football practice.
“My first and only job after the Navy in 1959 was in sales with the Nestle Company,” he says. During his 37 years with the food and beverage giant he became district sales manager in Atlanta in 1975, retiring there in 1996.
Fivaz sold 95 percent of his coin collection at a national numismatic convention in 2003, but to keep busy he continues to buy and sell collections and mentors young numismatists at the Metropolitan Coin Club of Atlanta.
As to the future, “I guess the main priority is trying not to expire before the date on my credit card,” Fivaz says with a chuckle.