Chris Donovan

Hello everyone, 

My name is Chris Donovan. I’ve been recently installed as the new President of the AVA. Some of you already know me, but for those who don’t, I thought you might want to know some of my background.

Early Years
I was born in Sacramento, California in 1952, the oldest of six children and have lived in the surrounding vicinity for nearly all of my life. My wife, Iris – a retired school librarian, and I have two children: a son who lives in Maine, a daughter residing in San Francisco’s East Bay Area, and one grandson.  I worked as a community-based pharmacist for 43 years before retiring in 2018. I have had the pleasure of being an AVA member for the last 25 years, serving as Vice President for the last 3.

Starting Out
I was infected by the the collecting bug at age 6 when my father introduced me to collecting U.S. pennies. (He, himself, had a collection as a child). We would spend many hours searching through loose change. My mother’s father encouraged the pursuit. He was widowed and would make trips to Stateline, NV / South Lake Tahoe, CA to gamble. He loved playing the slots and would bring home bank sacks full of coins to peruse.

School Years
Over the years, my collection grew from pennies to nickels, dimes & quarters. By jr. high, we were also collecting stamps ( my father – the U.S. issues and me – the world). I absorbed so much geographic knowledge from philately. In high school, as a member of 4-H, I had numerous entomology projects. My insect collections won awards at the California State Fair. (At one time, I even considered making Entomology a career).

Other Collections
I’ve been collecting most of my life and plan to continue until I’m no longer able. Some of my other collections include: engraved token collectors and transit memorabilia, Pharmaceutical memorabilia, Irish Beleek Parian China, Christmas Seals and Pez figurines to name a few.

So why transportation tokens?
My father’s father had been employed as a motorman. He operated streetcars for the PG&E System in Sacramento City.  After 26 years of service, he retired at age 68 when the System was taken over by Sacramento City Lines in 1944. In the late 1980’s, I started up with TT’s. I had found a few tokens in my grandfather’s effects (as well as his hand punch, union membership certificate and some other items). I started looking for more at street fairs, coin shops and shows. My goal was to assemble a poster-sized display board of all the different types. At one of the shows, a dealer sold me a copy of the 1970 3rd edition Atwood/Coffee Catalog. He said that the prices were not current, but it would give me an idea of how many tokens were available. (How times have changed – the most expensive listings were valued at only $10.00!) I gradually added to the collection.

Joining the AVA
In the summer of 1994, we were vacationing in Seattle. While there, I went into a coin shop. In the display case were a few of the less common Lewiston, ID issues. I started talking to the clerk, a Mr. Sullivan. He suggested that I join the AVA by writing to John Coffee in Boston. I naively asked, “Is he still alive?” (I knew that John Coffee had been listed as the editor in that third edition Catalog – 25 years previously – and could he have possibly passed away?). Mr. Sullivan said, “No, he’s alive and well”. Upon returning home, I wrote to John at the address listed in that 1970 Catalog. I received a gracious letter/application and joined up.

I’ve always had a love of history.
One can read about things in books, but encountering its relics in the flesh is far more rewarding. At museums, I read almost all of the exhibit signage. I want to know at what I’m looking and it’s significance. Many times, there is an interesting back story. Transportation tokens are history. They chronicle the progress of urbanization. I’ve heard it said that when you hold a token in your hand, you’re holding a piece of history.

New Friendships
The world of transportation tokens in some ways does not mirror its larger numismatic cousin. There is no official grading system. Therefore, not as much attention (and the accompanying pricing pressure) is given to “condition”. It’s a great camaraderie. Most everyone I’ve met is honest, openly helpful and friendly. No one is trying to make a “quick buck” by scamming other members.

Annual Conventions
Attending the annual Convention gives you almost a sense of one big family. Subsequent Conventions feel like family reunions. Where can you make new friendships, tour a museum/ ride a vanishing transit conveyance or experience a part of America previously unknown to you all the while advancing your collection? Traveling to and from the Convention also has its perks. You can stop off at attractions, towns, cities, national parks, zoos, or attend baseball games at stadiums along the way to mention a few.

My wife and I like to travel.
There’s so much of the world to experience. When possible, we try to fit transit-themed attractions into our itinerary. We’ve toured the British Transit Museum in Coventry Garden, ventured “The Tube” and double decker busses throughout London; zoomed about on the Paris Metro; traversed the Panama Canal; ridden the trams of Melbourne and Christchurch as well as the water taxis of Sydney. In America, we’ve used the “T” in Boston and the Subway in New York to get around; explored the NYC Subway Museum in Brooklyn; ridden the horse drawn City History Carriages in Charleston; “buzzed” around the Everglades on an airboat; used the ferry systems around Seattle, the San Juan Islands, Victoria and Vancouver, BC; not to mention, closer to home, the San Francisco Cable Cars & BART. There are plenty of non-transit destinations  There is still so much more to see. 

Our Main Focus at AVA
Though the side benefits are wonderful, ultimately, the main focus of our organization is our collections. I would like to encourage everyone to make better use of the Advertising Section of The Fare Box. IT’S FREE!! Covid-19 and it’s restrictions have greatly reduced our abilities to acquire/ dispose of tokens and will continue to do so for some time to come. We still have the internet (and snail mail) with which to communicate. Just because you don’t have a computer doesn’t mean you can’t participate. Those members without computer connections can still put a stamp on an envelope. In the days prior to computers, mailed lists, correspondence and telephones worked quite well. They still work. Let’s use them. So, long-time collectors look in the back of drawers and under piles of papers – maybe you’ll find a forgotten duplicate. List it. “Pass it along”. It’s doing no one any good just hiding there. Newer members, “Ask for it”. If we don’t know you need something, how can we help you acquire it?  We, the membership, (I mean each and everyone of us) can be our greatest resource of tokens.