J.T. Stanton, one-half of the creative team (along with coauthor Bill Fivaz) behind the Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins, died October 19, 2018, following a brief illness, at the age of 66. He was surrounded by his family at the time of his passing.
If you asked J.T. what his initials stood for, he would reply, “Just Terrific!” (Actually, it’s Jeffery Thomas.) He was born in Macon, in the heart of Georgia, about 85 miles south of Atlanta. J.T.’s career was in retail management and printing, but the hobby community knew him best as a professional numismatist and educator who helped popularize “cherrypicking”—the art and science of closely examining what appear to be normal coins, looking for doubled dates and other die anomalies that reveal them to be rare and valuable varieties.
J.T. and Bill debuted the first edition of the Cherrypickers’ Guide at the January 1990 Florida United Numismatists show in Tampa. They sold out the 500 copies they brought to the show and gathered a backlog of orders to be mailed. The first print run of 3,000 books sold out in less than 10 months. Word-of-mouth publicity and excitement in the numismatic press convinced the authors to create a second edition, with more listings, the addition of retail values, and other improvements. It took collectors about six months to snap up the second edition’s print run of 5,000 books.
The third edition featured about five times as many varieties as the first. It went into six printings totaling more than 28,000 copies—a best-seller in the antiques and collectibles market.
By the fourth edition the Cherrypickers’ Guide was so large it had to be divided into two volumes. Volume I covered half cents through nickels. Whitman Publishing acquired rights to the book and published volume II, with half dimes through silver dollars, gold, and commemoratives, in 2006.
I first met J.T. Stanton in December 2005, in Atlanta, after Whitman bought the Cherrypickers’ Guide. He was 15 years into his journey as one of the most famous popular names in the hobby—but he was as humble, down-to-earth, and good-natured as anyone I’ve met. He insisted that we put him up at “the cheapest hotel you can find,” and not make a fuss. We had breakfast at the local waffle place.
J.T. was always forward-thinking, upbeat, and optimistic. He cared deeply about the hobby and coin collectors. “Above all,” he and Bill have written in the Cherrypickers’ Guide, “always use courtesy and respect in all your dealings, be honest, and always act in a professional manner. You’ll make some friends along the way, and we guarantee you’ll come out ahead in the long run.”
Over time I would learn some of Bill Fivaz’s “J.T. stories.” In the mid-1990s, the two of them flew out to Colorado Springs to teach a class at the American Numismatic Association’s Summer Seminar. When they unpacked their suitcases, Bill realized he’d forgotten to pack his undershorts. J.T. kindly drove his friend to the local K-Mart to restock. Later in the week, Bill was auctioneer at the Young Numismatists benefit auction. He ballyhooed a “Mystery Lot” that saw spirited bidding and finally sold for $400. J.T. insisted that Bill open the Mystery Lot in front of the audience. Turns out it was a pair of his “tighty-whiteys”—J.T. had purloined them after they arrived at their dorm, had everyone at the ANA Summer Seminar autograph them, and put them up for bid as a prank. “That pair of underwear appeared in at least three more YN auctions over the years,” Bill recalled, “and in the last one, they’d been ‘slabbed’ between two pieces of plastic. Thanks, J.T.!”
The last time I talked with J.T. was a few months ago when we had several conversations about coins and life in general. He and his wife of 38 years, Susan, had recently moved from their longtime home city of Savannah to Townsend, Georgia, about an hour south and slightly inland. “I love it here,” he told me. “I feed the deer twice each day, and the freshwater lake is 75 feet from my back door. Every day Susan and I are down here we enjoy it more and more.” He talked about having privacy but also the advantages of a community. “And I’ve always loved nature,” he said, “so this really is a slice of Heaven.”
Our last acts of collaboration as publisher and author/researcher illustrate J.T.’s generosity to the hobby. When I told him Whitman needed some photographs of modern Lincoln cents, Roosevelt dimes, and Washington quarters, he threw open his entire image library of coins. He said if there was anything he hadn’t photographed yet, to just let him know. And if one of the large groups of photos weren’t in the style or format we needed, he could reshoot everything in three weeks.
When J.T. passed away, he had been happily selling coins on eBay (with more than 17,000 positive transactions), was still very active in discussion and analysis of die varieties, and had pitched a new book idea in recent years. Just a few days before he passed, I was telling several others on the Whitman staff about J.T.’s generosity in sharing his excellent high-quality photographs. His death took us all by surprise. Bill Fivaz attended his funeral, which was held at Radiant Life Christian Fellowship in Savannah on Monday, October 22, with his cousin, The Reverend David Stanton, presiding. Other numismatists at the service included Kyle Vick, Tony Mesaros, Bob O’Brien, and Jim O’Bryant.
J.T. is survived by his wife, Susan; sons Jamie (Meredith) and Jeffery (Liz); grandchildren Henry, Thomas, and Katie; sister Barbara (Kirk); and “many dear cousins and his loyal dog Kobe.”
“He had a deep appreciation for the military and never passed up an opportunity to thank a member of the Armed Forces for their service,” his family noted. They suggest that remembrances be made to the Wounded Warrior Project, PO Box 758517, Topeka Kansas 66675-8517.