Clement Schettino (1953-2020)
Remembering a Great Friend and Collector
It was with great sadness that I learned on Thanksgiving Day the passing of my dear friend, numismatist Clem Schettino. With so many great memories of our adventures together, I struggled, wondering how I could even begin to explain the impact Clem had on my, and so many others’, lives. And as it sometimes happens, and only with the truly great friends, your mourning is interrupted by laughter when you find yourself reliving the friendship from the very beginning…
We were at the Cincinnati EAC Convention and those who attended will remember the “interesting” hotel in Kentucky (not Ohio) designed like a castle. The party didn’t end after the Thursday night EAC reception, and Clem was on a mission to drain every last drop of leftover beer from the kegs. Clem scoured the near-empty room for anything, and anyone, to save the beer. He filled five pitchers to the absolute brim and handed me, a 15-year-old kid, two. We tiptoed through the hotel halls trying not to draw attention but laughing way too hard and certainly too loud as Clem tried to balance three full pitchers of beer. Then, a security guard wisely informed us that I, a minor, probably shouldn’t be helping appropriate alcohol. Undeterred, Clem continued onward, now sloppily carrying all five pitchers, sloshing beer all over himself as he pushed forward. Lesser men would have made two trips, but Clem began belting ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday‘ at the top of his lungs in defiance, arriving at his hotel room a hero to the small, but thirsty, after-convention party he’d invited. That was the beginning of our great friendship, but the end of kegs at EAC Conventions.
Clem was a founding member of C4, at that time specializing in New Jersey Coppers, Fugios, and several other colonial series. Many people may not know that during the first C4 Convention auction, the Fugio collection (auctioned after John Griffee’s NJ coppers) was Clem’s.
In the years to follow, Clem became a pioneer in the study of British and Irish counterfeit halfpennies and farthings, undertaking early serious work on creating a collecting system for these understudied pieces. Anyone who understood Clem as a collector realized that when he started researching a new series, he went ALL the way. Clem’s larger-than-life personality belied a highly organized collector with endless enthusiasm for research. During his study, Clem amassed one of the finest collections ever assembled, discovering and obtaining many new and unique varieties, and acquired thousands of pieces.
Clem had three standout priorities in his life, coins coming in a distant third. First and foremost, he was a dedicated family man. He absolutely adored his loving wife Lynn and his sons Alex and Angelo, and they were often by his side at coin shows across the country. Second to that, his friends and the coin community.
Clem truly loved coin conventions and was always excited and happy before a show, knowing he would soon be right in his element. If you needed him afterward, you knew to check the hotel lounge, where he would be celebrating the day, taking upon himself the responsibility to ensure everyone around him was having the best time they could possibly have. Clem loved life and had a way of bringing a smile to everyone’s face, telling jokes (some even at his own expense), stories, or reassuring someone for the second time in twenty minutes that he loved the new coin they just bought. Nobody cared more about his fellow collectors than Clem, and he is responsible for happily mentoring and inspiring many C4 members active today. He was generous and delighted to share his knowledge and welcomed anyone that shared the passion – even me as a lost teenager that night at the Cincinnati EAC Convention when he readily adopted me into a community that has since defined my life. Clem was my loyal and passionate friend who never had a bad thing to say about anyone he cared about which is one of the best qualities I learned from him.
Clem left us with many stories I would love to include here, which would take up hundreds of pages, and all of them are worthy of print. But, almost all C4 and EAC members have a story, or a dozen, to tell because everyone who spent time with Clem emerged a better collector and a better person. His name and memory will never be forgotten in the collecting circles, and I look forward to future nights at the lounge after a long day on the bourse, going around the room, sharing stories and memories of Clem for many years to come. Rest in peace my friend, you are remembered dearly for taking coins and your dedication to your family seriously, but wisely not taking life too seriously, enjoying all it had to offer and thus, shaping all of us for the better.
I’ve always found it easy to write – sometimes just a title will pop in my head and an article will soon follow. Fingers poised above keyboard, and off they go. Sure there will be changes, revisions, additions and the like, but the main part of what I want to put on paper is there. Until now. I have typed up over two dozen one-page articles about Clem Schettino, and they all lacked something and were sent to the trash can. This is, by far, the most difficult thing I’ve had to write, and I finally figured out why. If you knew Clem, then nothing more needs to be said about him other than how we will all miss him. If you didn’t know Clem, then the loss is yours and no words on a page can ever truly capture the man – and you wouldn’t believe half the stories even if we put them all into print.
I’ve known Clem Schettino over 30 years. We had an interest in the same stuff, we collected the same stuff, we competed for the same stuff. Sometimes I would outbid him on something and he would be the first to say “good coin.” More often than not he would outbid me, because like everything he did in life, he did coins all-in. If a cool counterfeit came up on eBay he wasn’t afraid to put in a 4-figure bid on what the rest of us thought was a 3-figure coin and pay whatever it cost to buy. More often than not he was right – he knew something about the coin that the rest of us failed to see, whether it was a condition rarity, an interesting die state, or a coin that linked two different counterfeit families together in a surprising way. Clem wrote no books, and only a couple articles, yet one would be very wrong to assume that meant he didn’t know much about a topic; Clem was usually one of the smartest people in the room, even when that room contained experts and scholars – and those experts knew it too. Even though our hobby is fairly egalitarian, Clem was that rare person who could call the richest or wisest collectors and know that not only would they pick up the phone, they would be happy to talk with him for hours.
You always knew when Clem was in the room. He was loud – but the loudness was usually the laughter of whoever was hanging around him. Clem had the rare ability to laugh at himself – an even rarer gift in a hobby where too many take themselves too seriously. To Clem, coins were FUN, to be enjoyed and shared, and that was how Clem viewed life in general. Clem had some rough patches, as does every life, but they never got him down for long – he wrung every drop out of life and loved it all. His love for his family was total and unquestioned. His love for his friends was the same.
The group of people I knew when I first started out in this hobby has grown smaller and smaller with each passing year. Some were people I saw only once or twice a year at a show, others were very close friends. Each one of those losses hurt however, and with each one gone, the hobby seems to become a little less enjoyable. Clem was one of a handful whose absence I will feel for the rest of my own life – and I suspect it will be the same for everyone who knew him. There will be no one to fill his shoes. Clem was unique – and our lives were the better for having him in it. We’ll raise a toast to you in Baltimore, my friend. You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten.
John Kraljevich (JK)
If you were charged with casting a Broadway production about the Founders exclusively from the ranks of C4 members, Clem would have been Sam Adams or Paul Revere. That workingman’s Boston accent would have sold the character immediately. The portly belly, graceless gait, and unforgettable toothy grin would have endeared him to the audience and helped him steal every scene.
Clement V. Schettino did that on every real life stage he ever walked onto. He wasn’t just a character. That word is used euphemistically in these parts to cover all sorts of weirdness. Clem wasn’t all that weird, Clem was just an original. He was totally himself, incorrigibly authentic whether swilling beer in a $35 hotel room crowded with rapscallions or standing at a swanky mahogany bar letting someone buy him a drink that cost damn near as much.
It’s impossible to describe Clem. Clem was a collector, first and foremost. He loved this stuff. He loved having it. He loved finding it, sure, but he loved owning it. He loved talking about coins, about rips, about fish stories involving the deal that nearly was but got away. He knew he knew as much as those far wealthier and better lettered than him. Clem mused to me more than once, confiding in a dago welder’s son with whom he felt a kinship, that he couldn’t believe that someone like him would not only end up being friends with doctors and lawyers and titans of industry, but that they were the ones asking him for information or a shot at a coin in his collection.
Clem loved his friends. He’d hug me, call me Jawnny in that bottle-it-and-sell-it accent, and tell me he loved me. He loved talking about his friends, his frenemies, and the late and lamented. He’d cuss and swear and gesticulate while talking about the people he knew and had known. But as much as he loved his friends, he loved his family more. He was so proud of Alex and Angelo, so eager to share Angelo’s joys and successes, Alex’s brilliance and how much he loved his brother. And he knew Lynn was a saint for putting up with him and his foibles, keeping a family with three overgrown boys together with patience and humor and grace. I don’t know how often he told Lynn he appreciated her, but his friends sure knew.
I’ve known Clem for more than 25 years. Do the math. I was a teenager, interested in the same odd back alleys of colonial numismatics, drawn to his eagerness, looking forward to the day I was old enough to join one of these poker games whose late hours meant Clem never wasted a nickel on an early bird badge. I watched Clem grow from an exuberant collector to a pioneering numismatist to a proud expert. His knowledge of circulating counterfeit British halfpence earned him a legacy, not only for his expertise but the way he damn near single handedly created a new field of study by sheer force of will. He knew New Jerseys, Fugios, cobs and Spanish colonials, and more. Hell, he and I once bought an old keg together that ended up in a museum.
Clem was a creature I got to know because I went to coin shows and so did he. Later, I’d see him at auctions or at my apartment in New York or at friends’ social gatherings, but Clem’s natural habit was coin shows. Small ones in New England, where I’d drive down from Wolfeboro and see a familiar face ambling in. Big ones in Baltimore and Orlando and Boston too. It breaks my heart to lose Clem. The news made me sob at my kitchen table like I haven’t sobbed in a long time. But it also breaks my heart than in whatever form our weird little world takes after 2020, as fewer folks attend coin shows and some swear them off completely, plenty of folks will never get to meet a Clem.
If you never met him, you missed out. He’s gone and there will never be another. Yet our collegial arena, our bizarre barnyard of creatures great and small, is full of big personalties, great people with warm hearts, that you’ll never get to know at a computer. A burger and a beer with Clem isn’t the same as a Facebook post. A smoke break on the sidewalk will never compare to an email. Clem — and all the Clems — can only be experienced in person, gonzo and real and bewildering and brilliant. With Clem’s passing, the golden age of my coin show life seems diminished, with little hope of regaining its brilliance. I hope the next guy in line takes the time to meet the next Clem and make himself a lifelong friend. Our marquee is down a bulb, and it’s never getting replaced.
The worst part of being the kid in this business is seeing my friends die. The best part is getting to have had such great friends for so long.
So long, Clem.
In a normal year, my annual journey to Baltimore in November for the C4 Convention and Whitman Coin Show would have been highlighted by spending a good chunk of time with Clem, sharing laughs, teasing each other about marked prices, politics, and lots more, while just overall having a lot of fun together. But as we know, 2020 has not been normal in any way. The news of Clem’s sudden and unexpected death on Thanksgiving has provided me with yet more evidence of 2020’s often tragic craziness.
Clem and I were usually about as far apart in our politics as we typically were on the marked prices on his envelopes (and I hasten to say that I am sure he would laugh heartily upon reading that). Yet, in both arenas, we were able to respectfully “agree to disagree,” and to frequently come to an agreement that brought smiles to both our faces.
Each November, in Baltimore, at his bourse table, I’d meticulously go through his many boxes of stuff, asking questions, commenting, sharing ideas, and sorting selected items into three basic piles: (1) ones I really want, and we’re close on price; (2) ones I want if we can close the price gap significantly; and (3) I’m almost surely dreaming, but it will be fun to try. And I’d bring my own dupes to try to swap, so he could tease me and dicker about mine as well.
And when Clem needed a break from his table, if I was within earshot, or actively digging through his boxes, he’d leave me “in charge” of his table. We agreed that I’d give him a call if anyone wanted to try to strike a deal on something. And meanwhile, I could continue to look through his stuff and make my little piles. He might be gone for a half hour, he might be gone for two hours. When he returned, he’d always thank me for watching his table, and ask me how my hunt through his stuff was going.
I’d usually make a joke that my answer would depend on whether any beer had been consumed during his break. And again, we’d share a hearty laugh. And then we’d deal. I was always humbled by knowing that he trusted me so completely that he felt comfortable leaving me “in charge.” And I always appreciated how willing he was to share his knowledge, and listen to my wild ideas. Consequently, I always was willing to “stretch” a little more on a price negotiation, attempting to factor in some bit of monetary value for his open sharing of knowledge and expertise with me, as I expanded my interests beyond my comfort zone. We were, in a word, friends.
R.I.P., buddy. I already miss you!
I was very saddened to hear of Clem’s passing. I had just spent time with him (outside) in mid-October, and he was as full of life as ever that day. I’m glad I had that final time with him, the last of many coin visits to his house in Saugus, MA over the past 17 years or so. Clem was the first person to get me into colonials, and his enthusiasm was infectious. He would meet up with Frank McGrath after local shows and he would invite me along, which was a treat for a newbie and made Clem happy to see a new collector blossom. He persuaded me to join C4 and to come to the conventions, then occurring in Boston. Trips to his house would last hours past the time I thought it would, as we both loved to talk coins, look at my recent purchases, and view coins or images of coins he had to show me, followed by lunch at one of his favorite area restaurants (my favorite: “The Tides” overlooking the ocean in nearby Nahant). Not once did I leave his house without some new purchase(s) (including from my last visit), and every single coin or book from him is a treasured part of my collection. And for several years we would leave the Baltimore show together, sometimes with Mike Wierzba and others too, to eat at a certain restaurant at the airport and fly home together.
Perhaps my most memorable experience with him was driving together to and from Roger Siboni’s barbeque, staying at the worst hotel I have ever (and will ever) stay in. Being with Clem was always fun, and the time flew by. He was a great guy with a big heart and a bigger personality. And I soon discovered the other side of Clem: a serious, intense and very organized researcher who had an uncommonly sharp memory and a very sharp head for coins. He liked to say that he would “research the snot” out of a new coin. He gave me an unpublished photographic book of his New Jersey collection, and I regularly refer to it. I learned a lot from him about collecting colonials, forming a numismatic library, how to approach coin shows, and more. He has truly influenced how and what I collect. Rest in peace, Clem, you will be greatly missed.
“Clem was my friend. Over the last 35 or so years, we would hang out at coin shows, and sometimes we would share a hotel room. Often, we would look at and talk about our coins; more often, we would drink beer with our friends late into the night.
Clem was generous with his time, and his knowledge of colonial coins, with advanced and beginning collectors alike. He was a patient teacher and always the mentor, especially regarding contemporary counterfeits.
He was passionate about his collecting, and his other interests. He loved his family, and his friends. My heart hurts that he is gone. Clem was my friend.”
I rec’d a text yesterday about Clem’s death. It saddens me greatly. I just wish to add to the choirs of people commenting on him. Clem was the first colonial dealer I ever purchased a Connecticut from. I had known him for all of 45 minutes when he asked me to watch his table for what I though was a short restroom break at the Drawbridge Inn in KY. Over an hour later, Clem finally returned with a beer in a paper bag for me. From that day on we were friends. I enjoyed Clem very much. I will miss him calling me in that thick accent of his. I will also miss the stories of his smoking in places that it was clearly impermissible to smoke and seeking my legal advise on his imagined lawsuits against the hotel that was charging him extra. When I told him once that he had no case against the hotel, he walked off disappointed. When I asked where he was going, he told me he was going to go smoke in the hotel elevator since they could not fine there—as far as I know he did just that. Clem burnt the candle at both ends. A life joyful lived. One must admire a man who dances to his own drummer. I think David Palmer has the best Clem stories, none of which are suitable for publication. I know that the C4 convention will not be as much fun for me without Clem.
A sad day for our hobby and we have had too many sad days over the recent past. I am so sorry to lose Clem. Many of my coins have his pedigree. I remember going to his room after the C4 auctions with a large noisy group and bringing my bottle of single malt scotch with me to share along with the other things. Ringo was often sharing a room with him or adjoining his. He at one time was barred from the hotel due to late night noise, and smoke pouring out of his non-smoking rooms!! However, he and Byron were the two that really got the ball rolling on counterfeit coppers. Without them we would still be working off of Anton/Kesse. I hope he rests in peace and that his family’s grief is brief.
Being unique was Clem’s charm. He was always sweet to me and made me laugh. I can’t really recall any specific thing Clem did that made me laugh. I only know how he made me feel – like life was good. He was always celebrating, in one way or another. He was funny. Naturally so. Clem being Clem was funny. And he supplied us all with endless fodder which entertained us immensely. Clem was always laughing at himself, too. He made other people feel good by sharing his humor, his kindness and his hospitality. For example, Last year I had a flight with a stop-over in Boston. Out of the blue Clem offered to drive to Boston to meet up for drinks and show me around. That’s the kind of man he was – big hearted. He clearly loved his kids, spoke about them all the time and was SO very proud of them. I hope they know. One of the things I admired most about Clem was how he lived every day as if it were his last. He went for the gusto. No holding back. Coin shows won’t be the same without Clem. A life too short. I will miss him.
The Famous “Clem Head”