By Michael S. Turrini
“You might laugh that our family’s pet desert tortoise named Lexie, at 80 pounds, is an asset to my coin passion,” chuckled Larry Casagrande of Clayton, Calif.
“We have a bearded dragon, a type of lizard; tortoises; four cats; and Sophie, our dog, who rules the house,” said Larry. “But Lexie eats the grass in our large backyard, which saves time to cut the lawn, giving me time for my coins.” Nancy, Larry’s wife, is the family’s “pet curator.”
Lawrence K. Casagrande is not new to our world of money, having started, as so many, as a youngster, with his father bringing back silver dollars from Nevada casinos.
“I began at age 13. I became fascinated with the dates, the age of the coins, and in short order, visited local coin shops around the East Bay, as well as did some mail orders,” he recollected.
One local coin dealer had two businesses: TV repair in the rear and coins in the front.
“He advertised as ‘TV Patio and Coins,” Larry joked.
Larry lived then in Richmond, Calif., at the time a major industrial and manufacturing community, across from San Francisco. Due to a career training program in Richmond schools, Larry, at age 19, began with Chevron, still a significant presence there.
“I started as a trainee at the Richmond Refinery, and over the next 38 years advanced into middle management with quality control,” he said. “Thanks to Chevron, which assisted my higher education, I just retired this August 2019. Now, it’s time for my hobby.”
Larry has specific passions: first is United States certified coins in a complete type set.
“I have most all, from 1793 to 1964, in circulated and Mint State,” he explained. “Left are about eight to 10, the really tough and expensive. But, my goal is to finalize this set within the next five years. The approach is not all at once but one or two per calendar year, when the one that I want crosses my path, you might say.
“The key element is simply patience, with the goal in sight.”
His recommendation is coins in AU to MS-63, which are slabbed or raw.
“The grade is secondary to the eye appeal. Don’t forget that,” he said.
“Toward this approach, you should not branch out too much,” he commented. But Larry does have two other numismatic interests.
He is pursuing classical commemoratives, maybe not at the same intensity as his goal-oriented United States type set, and nicely toned coins or “coins with color,” as he calls them.
“I was attending the neighboring Redwood Empire (Santa Rosa, Calif.) Coin Club, when its secretary, the greatly respected Dr. Charles Catlett was displaying coins that had survived the recent wildfires that destroyed much in the northern California area, including his home, completely,” Larry explained. “Charles offered a 1964 proof set that had toned – changed into beautiful colors – due to to the fire. I immediately purchased the set.
“The colors were exceptional, he recalls. “With those, I continued to search for naturally toned coins, even contacting national specialists and learning the difference between artificial and natural. To display a spread of toned coins just excites and fascinates.”
Larry would gladly pull from this collection his toned coins and speak for hours to fellow hobbyists about the range of colors and hues.
To achieve this passion and knowledge of specialized and high-end collecting, Larry does offer some thoughts: “First, work and listen to a few quite knowledgeable dealers. Develop a relationship. Stop at their bourse tables at coin shows, telephone them and examine their stock,” he explained.
“The next is imperative: learn to grade. Even if it’s slabbed, still learn to grade and submit for the CAC green sticker,” he urged.
“Also, consider attending the American Numismatic Association Summer Seminar; that’s where the experts are. Attend and learn.”