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First started as "My 2 Cents" in 1997, I have written posts numbering into the hundreds. It will take some time to resurrect the older posts, so keep checking back. They will include meet reports, travelogues, and news of interest to Ontario licence plate collectors.

Gettin' my fill in Orillia

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

I packed light for the Barrie auto market this year—maybe a little too light. I have begun abbreviating my return trip there into a 24-hour affair, so I don’t have to take as much camping gear and I can get home on Saturday and still have Sunday to recover. However, in my haste to leave after work on Friday, I forgot to bring a towel, so I couldn’t shower (good thing I was travelling alone). I also forgot to bring my hiking boots, so I had nothing but a pair of sandals—none too comfortable considering my eight hours of walking through the market. I should bring my wife’s step-o-meter next time so I can estimate how far I walk—I’m guessing at least ten kilometres. So as much fun as Barrie was this year, when I got home I was filthy and my feet were killing me.

The sun rose at opening time, 7 am, just when I was crossing Oro-Medonte Line 8 to get from the parking field to the flea market. It took about an hour for the majority of the vendors to crawl out of their campers and open up their tables. It was a chilly morning with dew all over everything. It made a strong case for keeping one’s car in a heated garage—there were some rather delicate cars there that would have had no business being driven in rainy weather—and although there were no clouds in the morning sky, these cars were absolutely drenched in dew.

There are good deals all over the market, and there are bad deals, too. I have become more tentative when I come across a set of plates or a box of cheap tools. I have taken to writing the location of the vendor down so I can come back later if I don’t find anything better. I know a good deal when I see one, but if I want a set of $10 plates, and the vendor wants $20 for them and won’t haggle, I just jot the site down and move on. Maybe I’ll be back, or maybe not.

It took about three hours for me to make my first purchase of the day, and it was an impulse buy, at that. The keychain guy was there, engraving custom words on little plastic rectangles made out to look like Ontario plates. For five bucks, I had him do up a keychain tag for Greta, my ’71 Super Beetle. I had the license number engraved on it, white on blue, so now I have the next best thing to a DAV tag.

I picked up a couple of 1983 bus plates with natural stickers—not very exciting, unless you collect that sort of thing, as I do. The same vendor had an old porcelain King’s Highway 3A shield in pretty nice shape. She knew what it was, and it was priced accordingly. I’m not into signs enough to fork over lots of cash for one.

One interesting surprise turned out to be what I think is a Canadian Forces Base motorcycle plate, from Summerside, PEI. It’s a small plate and starts with an M, and was issued in 1982. The ALPCA Archives contain CFB Summerside, but the info is minimal and I don’t know for sure why the plate has an M.

I was walking over to a vendor who had crates of plates on a table, and I noticed his trailer with doors open, displaying a few neat Ontario plates. I’ve seen his trailer before. Two plates caught my eye immediately—One was a really cool 1945 prototype sample plate, with white characters on a dark geen background. Ontario has never used that combination for passenger plates, so it stuck out very clearly to me. Beside it was a 1948 prototype sample, with colours reversed from normal. I struck up a conversation with the vendor, who confirmed my fears that neither plate was for sale. Apparently, he had obtained them only two weeks before at an estate sale. Wish I’d seen that one!

For the past 14 years, I have been on the hunt for an Ontario plate that contains my ALPCA membership number, 7135. I missed the mark by the second-narrowest margin possible— I found a 1972 pair, number 7133. I hate 1972 plates, though—they’re so boring and so plentiful, so in a way, I’m glad I didn’t find my long-lost number on the year I like the least.

Gentle reader, you may recall my encounter in June with the Barrie flea market vendor who I dubbed “the connoisseur.” This is the fine gentleman who apparently thinks his plates are made of gold, and panicked when I picked up a nearly worthless pair of bus plates from his table (priced handily at $40). Anyway, he was back this time around, with many of the same plates available. Also, he had a board of miscellaneous displayed prominently. The most interesting of the bunch was an Ontario diplomat (good find), on the undated base (tightly controlled, and thus, very uncommon to find). It was 105-CDB, of the older, non-reflective variety. It was a front plate, though-- straight, but beat up. I inquired about the plate. I knew exactly what it was, but maybe he didn’t.

He did. “Oh, that plate is for a diplomat. It’s very rare to find.”

“How much?” I asked.

“Oh, well…” he drawled, pretending at something. “I haven’t decided whether or not I want to sell it yet.”

What the connoisseur meant to say was, “It’s for sale, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have brought it. I want you to offer a ridiculous amount for it because I don’t really know what it’s worth. So, to save face, I’ll pretend that I’m not keen to sell it. How many fifties do you have in your wallet?” Well, that’s how I interpreted his response, so I left. I wasn’t going to play the game. Besides, I already had one, and in nicer condition, and it wasn’t worth the aggravation to negotiate over what was basically trade stock.

I did the standard YOM prospecting that I always do, and once again, I exploited my pattern recognition skills to the max. Each pair of plates I brought home for YOM purposes turned out to be clear—I batted 1.000. I came close to buying a couple of pairs from a guy who said he got his pairs from a buddy at the MTO (I didn’t ask him why they would still have 1960s pairs). He said that his pairs were checked and the numbers were “good.” I had a funny feeling about them, so I jotted the numbers down to check them later. Know what? He was full of it. Neither pair had clear numbers. The same happened with another set of plates with a different vendor. It was a 1940 pair that was labelled with tape as “good for YOM.” I recognized the number instantly as something that wouldn’t work, but I wrote the number down and checked it later. And just as I thought… it was no good. Never trust a flea market vendor.

I passed by a vendor who was selling a few plates, none of which I really needed. I left his stall and was heading on my way when I looked back and stopped in my tracks. On the side of his tent were a bunch of ads to sell larger items he kept at home. The ad that caught my eye was of a license plate collection. I looked closely at the picture, and saw that it contained a 1903 Ontario leather plate, both rubber varieties, the 1911 porcelain, and everything from 1912 on up. It also contained window stickers for 1944 and 1952 (too small to see if they were the usual counterfeits), and even a 1952 Ontario dealer plate, number 694M. That’s only the second 1952 dealer plate I know of—a very rare type, indeed. As most plate geeks know, Ontario didn’t do car plates for 1952, and only produced plates for trailers, dealers and motorcycles. I have a really nice ’52 trailer and cycle, but not a dealer. This collection was looking better and better. The run contained lots of neat short numbers and promising YOM candidates, presuming there were pairs. Then I looked at the price: $2500. That would be a steal if the collection was all it was cracked up to be. I went back to the vendor and inquired with hope, but I suspected it was too good to be true.

As it turns out:

  • The 1903 leather is a fake.

  • The 1905-1910 rubber plates are fakes.

  • The '12 through '16 plates were painted (some would say faked) by Repaint Roy.

  • He had sentimental attachment to many of the plates, which were pairs, and was selling only one from each pair, thereby nullifying the YOM potential.

Given these facts, I surmised that the 1944 and 1952 stickers were also fakes, so the only plate of significant value would have been the 1952 dealer. Sure, there were other Canada and US plates in the run, and a few internationals. And he thought it was worth $2500? That amount was clearly an overbid on this Price Is Right showcase—I could almost hear the failing trumpets and the “you lose” buzzer from the TV show.

The morning turned to afternoon and the stock car track next door began its monotonously ascending buzz. When I was done looking for license plates, I switched modes and went shopping for other stuff. I picked up a set of rotary buffers for my plate restorations over the coming winter. I also bought an old fire helmet for $2 (I need it as a prop for my job as a high school teacher).

The car sales corral had been relocated to the brown field this year, and it was a pretty good idea to move it to a higher-traffic location from its previous location way out by the highway. It also had the effect of pushing the brown field vendors closer to each other, so there were very few empty spaces. I checked out the corral, as well as the car show field, and snapped some pictures. There were only a couple of YOM-plated cars to be seen this time. The most interesting vehicle was a white ’63 Plymouth that was posed with police lights on the roof and hood (just sitting there and not actually mounted to the car). There was no police livery painted on the car, though. There were two boards of state trooper license plates that were leaned up against the front of the car. I instantly thought of Normy, and wondered if he put part of his prized plate collection on display.

On that note, I headed for the car and broke the speed limit to get back to Ottawa in time to put my daughter to bed. My pregnant wife gets tired in the evenings, and I promised I’d be back early. Baby number two will arrive in February, so my priorities will shift next year; I’m not counting on attending most of my usual plate-related events. I took one last look at the field in the rear-view mirror, knowing that I might not be back for a while, before hightailing it home with the cheerful clatter of metal plates in the trunk.

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