As an ALPCA member, I subscribe to the ALPCA discussion group, wherein there is often much discussion about the club’s workings, regional meets, and such. A couple of weeks ago, there was an open message of thanks. David Cole, member 3073, was publicly thanking Roy Harvill (#8369 in Washington State) for sending him a free Washington plate out of the blue, with the number 3073 on it. Roy has a way of doing this from time to time. Shaun Auchinleck, member 7415, chimed in to say that he had previously received a Washington plate containing the number 7415, also from Roy, and also as a surprise gift.
I myself am the grateful recipient of one of Roy’s gifts. Last year, on my birthday, I opened a sturdy envelope that arrived unexpectedly in the mail, only to find a cool Washington state passenger plate with my own ALPCA number on it! I thanked Roy and told him that I was A-OK with it.
This got me to thinking about other plates that I have received over the years as gifts from kind people, both within and outside the hobby. Long ago, when I was a young and nearly-penniless collector, I would sometimes trade them away to try and build up my collection. However, I haven’t done that for a very long time. I now make a point of keeping plates that have been given to me, whether or not they are from places that I actively collect. So, for this installment of 2Cents, I’ll take you on a small tour of my collection and salute the other folks, like Roy, who have contributed to it in the form of a kind-hearted gift.
We’ll go in chronological order, starting with a plate that I received from an true gentleman named Larry Smith, without whom I may not have become a plate collector in the first place. Larry was a good friend and neighbour, not only in the city where we lived, but he also had a cottage right next to ours on Northland Lake, in the Algoma wilderlands. One day in the summer of 1984, Larry invited my sister and I on an errand run to nearby Searchmont, which included a quick trip to the town dump. It was there that I saw a plate on an old station wagon and desperately wanted it. We had no tools, so I went back weeks later with my dad and unbolted it, and so began my collection. Later that year, Larry noticed that I had cobbled together a small display in my room, and one evening he brought over a matching pair that had belonged to his adult son. They were the first matching pair I ever had. I traded the rear, stickered plate to a collector in Georgia soon after I joined ALPCA, and kept the front one. My later efforts to recover the rear one proved fruitless, so I jumped a 1984 sticker from another plate onto this one, just to remember. The mate is out there, somewhere.
Next comes this Alberta passenger plate. I had been collecting for about a year: Scavenging, really, from the local dump when I could hitch a ride there with my dad. A married couple—Joe and Sue Kin, friends of my family—went on a trip to Edmonton, Alberta. While there, they bought a car—A Ford Fairmont, if I remember correctly—and drove it back home to Sault Ste. Marie. They promptly had the car registered with Ontario plates, and gave the single Alberta plate to me. The white base with orange letters was pretty new at the time, and to me, it was pretty exotic. It was the first plate I ever had from a place other than Ontario, and would remain the only such one in my collection for several years.
In 1998, I moved to Maryland for a couple of years’ work experience. Many of the other Generation X-ers who lived in the greater DC area were also transplants from other places, as was a girl I dated for a few months. She had moved there from her home state of Ohio, and by the time we met, she had already been in Maryland for several months. Eventually, she figured out that I collected plates (which isn’t a topic for date conversation until after she knows you’re not nuts). She was never one for accumulating objects, and happily offered me her old Ohio plates, which had only been used for a few months. Elyse probably doesn’t think often about me, since it’s been twenty years, and that goes both ways—but I do have a permanent memento of her, stashed away in my collection.
Once I joined ALPCA, I befriended former ALPCA President Ernie Wilson, who happened to live in Sault Ste. Marie. Ernie was very kind to me and gave me a whole stack of plates for next to nothing to help get my trade stock started. Later on, I developed a taste for repeating numbers, although I hadn’t been lucky enough to find a perfectly repeating plate. In 2001, I assembled a small display called “Close But No Cigar”, wherein plates were hung that were one digit off from being perfect repeaters. One of the plates in the display had come from Ernie. He saw a picture of it in the ALPCA Newsletter and was amused, and he sent me a 1963 Ontario plate that was also a near-repeater. That Ontario plate, like many others that Ernie had, was issued in Sault Ste. Marie (I now collect plates, old and new, that were issued there).
Also around 2001, I was living in an older neighbourhood of Ottawa alongside many embassies and ambassadorial residences. I was hell-bent to get a new reflective diplomat plate, and to that end, I prepared a series of letters and sent them to all the embassies. Some gave me no response, whereas others wrote back on fancy stationery to say that they had nothing to contribute, but wished me luck nonetheless. I did hit paydirt with the Romanian embassy, which invited me to present myself to receive spare plates that they had. I went straight there with the letter, was admitted through security, and brought to a reception room. After an awkward exchange with a junior-level clerk, he was able to figure out who had written the letter and he located the plates. Neither was reflective, but one of them—a dateless 1987 XTS plate—is quite rare and still resides in my collection. I still have all the return correspondence from the embassies, including those operated by Turkey, Egypt, Switzerland, Britain and Germany.
A few years later, former ALPCA President Mike Weiner had a ton of surplus personalized plates and he was actively trying to sell them to collectors. I never paid much attention, because my name isn’t very common. Most people who have first names that sound phonetically like mine are named “John,” which is not my name, and so I’ve never been interested in digging through piles of vanity plates just to see non-spellings of my name. Similarly, there are not very many Uptons around. It sounds like it should be a common English name, but it’s not. There are far more Suttons, Pattons and Eastons than there are Uptons. Anyway, Mike surprised me a couple of years later by sending a couple of free “Upton” plates my way. A kind gesture. I’ve since reciprocated by purchasing all my poly storage bags from him whenever I’m low.
An old friend from work enjoys travelling around the world with his wife, and they’ve been to pretty much every warm destination I can think of. They lived for two years in the Philippines, and as I write, they are exploring underwater caves in Mexico. They have brought a plate back for me on two occasions. They visited Bonaire, in the Netherlands Antilles, where there are many expired plates available for sale in gift shops. Another year, Richard and Frances visited St. Maarten, and brought back a bus plate for me. I enjoy that one, since the number is visibly low, and the vehicle type is self-evident.
My mother knows of my affinity for old plates, and all my rummage-sale instincts have come from her. She enjoys a good garage sale / junk store when she sees one, and she spotted this Northwest Territories snowmobile plate for a no-brainer price and enclosed it with the family Christmas parcel one December. “You probably don’t want it, or maybe it’s junk,” she’d say. “You can sell it if you like.” But I won’t.
A few years ago, I met a former collector named Dave Yavner who lived in a suburb of Montreal. He originally came from Ontario and was quite active in collecting plates through the mid-1960s and early 1970s. Some of the plates he had appeared to be unissued leftovers or turn-ins from the “new plate each year” era, and I suspect he was right in there with the Wayne Plunketts and John Craigs of the collecting community at the time. Anyway, Dave was soon moving to the east coast to retire, and wanted to sell his plates. I visited him and bought a large quantity of plates from him, but not all. The following year, I went back with a friend and we picked up the rest. I was just about to leave, when something occurred to Dave that he hadn’t mentioned before. He dug into a box and pulled out an old plate, hand-painted and worn. According to his info, it was a Pakistani police plate. It’s small for a car plate and has two mounting holes in the centre, on the top and bottom, as if it was once bolted to a vertical bar. It could be a motorcycle plate, but I’m not sure.
At the Acton swap meet a few years ago, my good friend Bill Thoman gave me a plate as he was packing up, toward the end of the day. His son serves in the Canadian Forces and had been posted to Afghanistan. While there, he was able to collect a few plates for Bill, and this is one of them. It’s hand-painted on a piece of light-gauge steel, with the Arabic numerals reading 864, apparently from Kandahar. I admire and appreciate the efforts of our military veterans, and as Bill saw fit to gift this plate to me, I am proud to keep it in my collection as a memento of the Thoman family.
The final plate in this installment is a pair of passenger plates from Wolfsburg, Germany. These were given to me by my long-time friend and fellow VW admirer Paul Frater, who works much of the year in Germany and still makes it back to Ontario a couple of times per year. Paul came over for a beer one evening and surprised me with these plates. The original VW factory, built in the German countryside in the 1930s, was accompanied by a planned town, built around it, to house the factory staff. This planned town eventually became the city of Wolfsburg, as renamed by the occupying British forces after Germany’s surrender at the end of WWII. The plates that Paul gave me came from—you guessed it—Wolfsburg.
There are other plates that I own that have been sent to me by friends, either as the “future considerations” payback for a lopsided trade in their favour, or possibly as a purchase for a generously low price. I’ve decided to simply limit this post to those plates that were simply given to me unexpectedly. I hope you have some in your collection, too. If you do, hang onto them. They won’t burn a hole in your pocket, and they’re more memorable than a potential $20 made by selling them on eBay.