COFFEE, John Main Jr., of Brookline, MA, died Tuesday, May 8th, 2012, in Brookline at age 83. He was a Unitarian Minister, longtime Professor of History at Emerson College, and an avid collector of transportation tokens. He was born November 20, 1928, in Tacoma, WA, to John Main Coffee and Lillian (Slye) Coffee. He attended public schools in Tacoma and Washington, DC, and graduated from the Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, VA, in 1947. He earned a bachelor's degree from Yale University in 1951 and two master's degrees in Divinity and Theology from Harvard Divinity School in 1954 and 1956. While at Harvard, John was editor of The Scribe, the Divinity School student publication. He was ordained into the Unitarian ministry in 1954 and was installed as minister at the First Church in Roxbury, MA. For 20 years at First Church, John was very involved in the Church's youth group, "The Putnam Guild," making lifelong friends with many in the group as well as others throughout New England who were members of the Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) movement. He also served as president of the Boston Ministers Association.
In 1966, John's teaching career began almost by chance. The dean of Emerson College, Richard Pearce, was a deacon at First Church, and invited John to teach history part-time. In 1970, he became a full-time faculty member and taught a variety of courses, among them Western Civilization, History of England, The World Since 1914, U.S. Constitutional History, and History of the Bible. Fiercely devoted to his students, and outspoken against the Vietnam War, John was able to save many boys from the draft through his testimony. One of the most beloved teachers at Emerson, John is a rare two-time recipient of the College's Gold Key for outstanding teaching (1987 and 1993). He is also the co-author (with Richard L. Wentworth) of A Century of Eloquence: The History of Emerson College, 1880-1980, published in 1982. After 39 years of teaching at Emerson, John retired at age 76, receiving the title of Professor Emeritus in 2005.
At age 11, John began collecting coins, an activity that led to token collecting. He became one of the founding members of the American Vecturist Association (AVA), the only national society of transportation token collectors in the United States. Organized in 1948, the AVA began with 33 charter members consisting mostly of bus drivers and a few numismatists and college students; since then, its membership has grown into the hundreds. From 1949 to April 2012, he was Editor of approximately 775 issues of the AVA's monthly newsletter, The Fare Box. He is also co-editor (with Harold V. Ford) of The Atwood-Coffee Catalogue of United States and Canadian Transportation Tokens, now in its 6th edition (2007): it describes in detail, and gives the approximate market value of every known transportation token issued in the US and Canada. John's other token-related publications include the books Automobile Washing Tokens (co-author Harold V. Ford, 1986), and Land Company and Real Estate Tokens (1991), as well as numerous articles. Until his death, John owned the largest collection of transportation tokens in the world. "The thing about tokens," he once told Newsday, "is that they give you a wonderful sense of this country. A quarter is a quarter, no matter where you are, but a token from Ashland or Mount Vernon has a character all its own. It is a piece of history and a part of American character."
A diehard traveler averse to flying, John drove or rode trains across the U.S. every summer for decades. He loved to explore small towns where he could collect and research old and new tokens. He was a welcome visitor of friends in California, and of his mother in Tacoma. Never married, John is survived by loving friends, students, and fellow collectors.
A memorial service will be held on Monday, June 18th, 2012 at the First Church in Boston from 1:30p.m. to 4:30p.m. and will include a reception.