The Michigan State Numismatic Society
Ray Dillard, How I Began Collecting Coins
How I Began Collecting Coins
Featuring Ray Dillard Winter 2016
By Dany Rothfeld
I tried for a few years to interview Ray Dillard, but for various reasons the interview did not materialize. This time I got lucky, sat down with Ray and did the interview. Here is Ray’s story.
Ray Dillard was born in Parma, Missouri, in the southeast corner of the state. Ray was the tenth of eleven children, and his family owned a farm. At that time a large family was an asset. However, once the Depression arrived, the family lost the farm, and a large family became a liability.
When Ray was three years old, the family moved to Flint, Michigan, where his father found a job in the auto industry. The work was undependable, and the family moved back and forth between Michigan and Missouri a number of times, which was difficult. Ray says that because of this he remained in the first grade for two and a half years. Going from school to school toughened him up. Being a poor southern kid, he had to fight to be accepted.
When Ray was in his forties, he began collecting coins. On his daughter’s 16th birthday, a friend gave her a big piggy bank. Ray decided to help her fill it up. A friend advised him that when they empty the piggy bank, they should keep all pre-war coinage. He knew nothing about specific dates or Mint marks at that time. This got Ray started collecting coins. He began collecting all U.S. coins, buying albums and filling the holes. Once he completed a set, he decided to upgrade it. He ended up with two sets of almost everything.
“Some fellow” became obligated to Ray, and he had collections of Canadian coins. Ray settled for this collection, and added to it. He accumulated a large set of Canadian coins, including coins from most of the provinces. He also became involved with Canadian tokens. He says they were “tremendously interesting.” Ray’s favorite saying on a Canadian token was, “No labor, no bread.”
From there, Ray began collecting Mexican coins. Thus, he had collections of the North American continent. He says he had a respectable collection that Heritage auctioned off in the mid-1990s for about $160,000.
Ray had a dealer he liked in Flint, who helped him build up a “type set of U.S. coins.” This same dealer had a gold set that he wanted $820 for. Ray thought that was too much at the time, but later paid $8,500 for the same set.
Ray had a brother who had a 1932D quarter that he thought was quite valuable, and Ray eventually purchased his collection. He says his brother-in-law gave him a considerable amount of advice about coins.
Ray went back in time, and described how he became involved in the elongated coin business: When he was nine years old, he went to the World’s Fair in Chicago and got an elongated coin with the Lord’s Prayer on it. Many years later, after he retired from GM, he saw an article in Coin World about a man who had several coin elongating machines. One of the things the man printed on elongated coins was the Lord’s Prayer. Suddenly Ray remembered the elongated coin he received as a boy. That enticed him to purchase a machine in 1982, for which he paid $2,900. He turned this machine into a business to help finance his coin collecting hobby and keep him involved. Ray took it around to local shows and had a good time.
He was at a mall show one time, and a local reporter interviewed him and took pictures. The reporter wrote an article in his syndicated paper about Ray, giving him free publicity in various parts of the country. In 1986, he was contacted by Al Bobrofsky and Chuck Fenwick, who was the president of MSNS at that time. They asked him to come to their show.
Ray developed a relationship with the Elongated Coin Collectors. He asked the ANA if he could bring his machine to the ANA Convention and make a special coin design for the ANA. After a few years, his idea was approved. Since that ANA show in Detroit in the early 1980s, Ray has not missed even one. There was a time when Ray attended 10 major shows around the country each year.
Ray said that after becoming involved in elongated coins, he began collecting only those from the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair, but later expanded to cover all older ones. He accumulated the largest collection of older elongated coins ever assembled. Unfortunately, Ray’s briefcase with a very rare elongated coin was recently stolen in New York City. In it was the Pike Souvenir of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the “king of elongated coins.” At that time, he had two of them. He had bought the second one for $1,800. When the seller later wanted it back, Ray said he would sell it back to him for $2,000 if he couldn’t get a better price at the ANA in New York. That’s the one that was stolen. The other one, which he had in his own collection, later sold for $4,400, which is a record price for an elongated coin, surpassing the one sold by Bob Hendershott for $4,250.
Ray also has collections of post cards, pop bottles, matchbook covers, etc.. He says that he has a fabulous collection of Masonic memorabilia. Right now he’s not collecting anything “because of [his] age.” He’s trying to sell, as no one in his family is interested in continuing his collections. These days, Ray’s son-in-law helps him at shows with the moving of equipment, merchandise and driving.
Ray says he rushed through high school “because of the draft.” He was rejected for duty in WWII, because of a “bad arm.” Ray tried to enlist in every branch of the service, but was rejected. Everyone was super patriotic at that time. Ray had three brothers, three brothers-in-law and one sister-in-law who were all in the service during WWII. All survived.
At one time, Ray was an assistant manager at a theater in Flint, making 35 cents an hour. After being rejected for military service, he decided he wanted to continue his education, but since he had finished high school in two years, General Motors Institute told him he lacked two credits, which he made up at night school. However, fate came into play when Ray met “the love of my life.” They were both nineteen-years-old. Their marriage lasted 62 years. Ray has two daughters, four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and even one great-great-grandchild.
Of the many numismatic awards that Ray has received, the one he treasures the most is the Numismatic Ambassador Award. It was awarded to him by Cliff Mishler. He also received the ANA President’s Award, the Smedley Award and the Adna Wilde Award, as well as the highest award from MSNS and the CSNS.
Ray has conducted a coin club at a local middle school for the past 15 years, and advises students to collect things that they are interested in, and research and learn more about what they collect.
Ray is one of the more recognizable ambassadors of the hobby around the U.S., wearing his blue MSNS blazer and a constant smile. I will always remember when I first started exhibiting in the early 1990s, with little experience. I did not know that I needed a cloth cover on the bottom of the show case. Ray gave me a cloth to cover the bottom of the inside of the case where I put my exhibit. Whether as an exhibitor or a judge, he always tries to help others.
Ray passed away on March 8, 2020 at the age of 94.
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