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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.

Old antiques a man alone can entertain

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

I was stoked, stoked, stoked to go to Acton this year. I had about the busiest winter of plate collecting ever, having bought three big lots and two smaller batches of plates while the snow was flying, so-to-speak. I added a bunch of plates to my collection, put some stock in my YOM pile, and came away with some neat traders, so I was quite itchy to make my way to the spring swap meet in Acton to do some buying, selling and swapping.

It has become an annual ritual for my pal Eric Vettoretti and me to make the trek to Acton. We get up early, meander through Ontario looking for little-known antique shops that may have plates, and then crash at the Motel 6 at the Winston Churchill exit of the 401. This year we tried heading west out of Ottawa along Highway 60, through Algonquin Park, and then south along Highway 11 and then 400. We passed by a couple of places too early in the morning—we were getting used to seeing “closed” signs. Note to selves—don’t get up so early next time.

The first place we found that was open was around Huntsville. Eric found a pair of 1964 plates that he picked up, but other that that, there wasn’t much to see. Then, as we got onto the southbound lanes of Highway 11, a few interesting places came out of the woodwork. The first place had a couple of plates and signs out front, amongst a clutter of assorted automotive junk. It looked promising enough for us to turn around, but when we got there, it was shuttered with a sign telling is it would be open in May.

Just north of Orillia, we found a series of four places within one mile. One was a big antique barn, which had a king’s ransom of wood furniture, a bunch of old pop bottles strewn on a table outside, and an aggressive rooster guarding the place, but no plates. We continued down the road and saw Tiny T’s Flea Market. “Yeah!” we said. It was on the far side of the divided highway, so all we had to do was exit at the next ramp and turn around.

No more than seconds later, we passed a place with a “Highway Recyclers” sign. “OH, YEAH!” we yelled. We had heard about that place, and with a name like “Highway Recyclers,” they were bound to have some plates. I found the next offramp and was just starting to move over when we saw yet another pile of junk on the far side of the highway with a sign containing the word “market”. “HELL, YEAH, BABY!” we howled. Just imagine—three junky flea markets within a mile of each other. I began to feel as though my ultimate plate collector’s dream had come true.

So we turned around and stopped at the first market. Books, 1970s furniture, VHS tapes, and dirty toys. No plates. Oh well—there were two more markets to check out.

The second market, “Highway Recyclers,” turned out to be the most stupendously awful pile of societal detritus that I had ever smelled. I can’t even begin to describe the place, so maybe the pictures will give you an idea of the absolute squalor in which the proprietors worked (and probably lived). I couldn’t believe a place like this could be permitted to remain open—The place was a fire hazard, and the narrow walkways between broken windowpanes were nothing short of flagrant danger. They had a few plates, but they were even less desirable than the so-called establishment in which they were housed. I needed a shower upon leaving.

The third, Tiny T’s, had a run-down indoor showroom, but the assortment of plush toys sitting out in the rain basically told me that there would be nothing of interest to find. Strike three.

I eventually picked up a YOMable pair of 1967 plates from an antique shop near Alliston, but aside from that, the most interesting thing that happened was on TV while we were watching the hockey playoffs.

Fast-forward to our arrival in Acton the following morning. We got there about 20 minutes early, but unlike last year, the doors were open and a few collectors were buzzing about, unloading their wares. I paid for two tables because my trade stock had essentially doubled since last time. Still, everything fit into four Rubbermaid bins, although they were indeed heavy.

I greeted Paul Cafarella, who had done me a big favour the week before and bid on my behalf at an auction the weekend before in Milton. It was a toy collector’s estate, and it included former Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s number 2004 plate from 1971, and Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s number 2000 plate from 1960 (I own the mate, and almost bought this one from Joe Sallmen a few years ago, but let it go). I asked Paul to bid on the Lt. Governor’s X1 plate from 1950, and he was able to win it for me. I paid Paul what I owed him, but I still owe him a big favour.

I have learned that if you want to sell plates, they’ll go twice as fast if you lay them down on the table, so I covered my tables with plates as much as possible. I had steady traffic the whole time. The few times I was able to vacate and go browsing myself, I was a minute late. Dave Steckley landed a primo pair of 1939s just before I saw them. Eric made one of the day’s big catches with a 1951 diplomat, and some YOM possibilities that made me envious. Eric also picked up a 1943 overstamp from Terry Ellsworth. I have one too, but nowhere near as nice as Terry’s.

I picked a few current Ontarios from Jim Becksted. I like to keep current plates in my collection, but I can never recall the letter combinations I need, so I wound up buying four of them to make sure that part of my run is covered somehow…. and that almost much sums up what I bought in terms of my collection. Almost.

I brought my YOM stock for the Old Autos crowd, and to my surprise, I sold three sets (36, 50, 69) plus a 1959 set from an earlier arrangement. I was particularly happy to move the 36 and 50 pairs, because they represented the last of my start-up YOM stock from way back when. Why they didn’t sell before now is a mystery to me, because they were pretty nice.

In the past few years, I have refrained from writing about a certain individual who attends the Acton meet sporadically (although never officially, since he never pays the admission fee). I figure he’s been the butt of enough jokes and comments without me adding more fuel to the fire. But of all the log-jammed, helluva-ditch, blunder-trucking stunts I’ve seen someone pull, this by far is the most astonishing.

The individual walked in with a run of Ontario motorcycle plates going all the way back to 1917. The plates were absolutely stunning, to put it mildly.

Oh yeah, and they were for sale, too.

Eric, who is a mild-mannered and polite guy, said to the unnamed individual, “These plates are truly exceptional… Your collection is very impressive.”

To which, the individual scoffed, “Of course they are. I’ve been collecting them for years, after all.”

Now, the details of the sale are not my business, but the unnamed individual was selling, and there was another collector who was very interested in buying, and negotiations began. I don’t know exactly which plates were transacted, but the unnamed individual easily brought $10k worth of plates cradled in his arm as he walked through the door, and a person with whom I spoke said that values of $7k and $8k were mentioned in the negotiation. I returned to my own business, but noted with contempt that the Acton meet was the venue that was making this multi-thousand dollar sale possible, and the seller still refused to pay his $5 entrance fee. Think about it: If the sale had indeed been $8000, the entrance fee to the swap meet would represent less than one-tenth of one percent of the sale. Is it too much to ask this guy to fork over his $5 like everybody else?

Moving on to more pleasant things, I was pleased to see Joey Koldys at the Acton meet. It had been years since I last saw him, probably at the ALPCA convention in Providence. At any rate. I think this was his first time coming to Acton. Joey was the guy who first introduced me to ALPCA back in 1995, after some sleuthing on my part and a lucky exchange of letters. Joey collects highway signs, too, and had a few for sale. Eric picked up a nice Vermont Interstate sign from Joey. Joey also got me into collecting bus destination rollsigns (I’m a casual, opportunistic collector, whereas Joey is big into it).

Paul Frater, an ex-Ontarian who now lives in Germany, timed his visit to Canada to coincide with Acton. Paul had a bunch of awesome German plates at his table, plus various international plates. I went through an International collecting phase a few years ago, but when I realized that such beautiful plates weren’t ever going to be displayed in my modest home, I decided to curtail that aspect of my collecting. I don’t collect internationals anymore, but I enjoy looking at them. Paul was last in Acton, oh, about five years ago. I’ve known Paul pretty well through that time. Eric started going to Acton about four years ago, and of course, I’ve gotten to know him pretty well also. But what I didn’t realize until they shook hands was that neither Eric nor Paul had actually met each other before. It’s interesting how people you know in the same circle sometimes don’t overlap, although you assume that they do.

Steve Waldron had brought some containers of Ontario plates to sell in bulk. I don’t consider myself a bulk buyer, but I bought three collections last winter, so maybe it’s time to change that self-perception. I looked through a couple of the bins. The one I liked the most was the 1950 – 1967 bin, but there seemed to be a lot of dirt and rust for the price. I re-considered buying the bin, and countered at a lower offer. The plates were in an expensive cargo bin that would cost close to $20 at Home Depot, so I said I’d take the plates only and leave the bin if he accepted my offer. That seemed fair to both of us, so I loaded the plates into a container of my own and returned his bin. There were about 80 plates in the lot, which meant that I was coming home with more plates than I brought, although I still made money at Acton overall.

I had lots of action at my table until the crowd subsided around noon. As I was putting my plates away, I noticed that I hadn’t sold all the good stuff yet. I still had a Canada Forces plate, historic vehicle pairs, old stuff, diplomats, and a number 11 Saskatchewan plate, all reasonably priced. The happy clatter of tin punctuated the drive back to Ottawa—another Acton in the books.

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