It's January... a time when very little happens in my collecting world, and usually, I have trouble finding subject material for the next 2Cents installment. So, I'll just put this sign up for the next few weeks, throw a log on the fire, and spend a bit more time reading!
2018, for me, was an eventful year of collecting plates. It had a little of everything. I acquired some quantity, which is always fun to sort through, although it can take weeks. I was also lucky enough to add some quality plates to my collection. Some of them are rare types that I had been attempting in vain to find for the better part of 30 years. Conversely, I found one super-rare type that I didn't even know existed until it surfaced this year. And there were still other plates, which I knew were out there, and I had been more-or-less waiting for a few years an opportunity to "be there" when they were poised to change ownership. This installment of 2Cents is a retrospective look at the year of this collector. These images have either been shown on a limited basis on social media, or just ended up on the cutting room floor. It's a good opportunity to liven up a plate collector's winter hibernation period. Here we go:
Repeating numbers have long been an interest of mine. I've always wanted to have a small display of Ontario repeaters for each numeral, and thanks to my pal Eric Vettoretti, I was able to cover "second base" last winter with the acquisition of the 1965 motorcycle plate with all twos. I proudly posted this picture to social media, and I'm very happy to have all ten of these in my collection.
I collect Ontario ephemera that relates to plates and old road signs. I own a hardcover drivers' education textbook from about 1972 that has a few interesting pictures of roads and vehicles of the era. This publication was one of the last before Ontario switched to the metric system and debuted a new generation of symbol-based signs that are less dependent on words of the English language. When I was travelling to Acton with Eric Vettoretti and Dave Grant, we took some detours, and found ourselves east of London at former Highway 74. I once made a bicycle trip from my home to Belmont, and I rode across the overpass shown in both pictures. I photographed the interchange from the passenger seat while Eric drove westbound, but when my 2018 picture didn't match the 1972 version, I realized that the older image is facing eastbound. So I cheated and used Google Street View to come up with a match. Highway 74 was downloaded to Middlesex County back in the 1990s and is no longer signed with a King's crown. It's interesting to see that the grass median has been eliminated and the highway is now six lanes instead of four. Same overpass, though.
A guy I know in Ottawa makes rustic art out of barn board, licence plates, and old wooden hockey sticks. I've been supplying him with very common run-of-the-mill Ontario and Quebec plates for the past few years (don't worry, plate geeks, I don't send him diplomat or dealer plates). I ran into him at an artisan market last spring and I had a bunch more plates waiting. His art is pretty awesome, and rather than take money as reimbursement, I asked if I could have one of his pieces. This Blue Jays logo is made entirely of plates screwed into a beautifully weathered piece of barn board. There's a bit of artistic licence here-- The white background came from a New Brunswick truck plate, and the red maple leaf came from a 1972 Quebec plate... but the Jays bill themselves as "Canada's Team" and they do play a couple of games each year in Montreal, so it still fits. By the way, you can see the artist's work at brokenstick.ca.
In the days before the Internet, licence plate collecting was a little-known hobby. I myself collected avidly for a dozen years, thinking that I was the only plate collector in the world, before I found a news article about ALPCA member Joey Koldys online in 1996. Before the Internet, it was newspaper items that introduced a lot of new people into the hobby. This is an old newspaper clipping that came in a box of plates that I bought.
When I first started collecting, the local dump was my primary source for plates, and it had a lot of quarterly Ontario truck plates. My first concerted effort to collect an entire run came just after I joined ALPCA, and I focused on quarterly trucks. I lived in southwestern Ontario, where there are a lot of farms, trucks, and antique joints, so it wasn't long before I completed that run. From there, I went on to collect mainly Ontario passenger plates, and I left trucks alone. I started collecting trucks in 2018 after a chance encounter with Eric Vettoretti wherein we split a pair of 1930 plates. Once I cleaned it up, there was just something about it that grabbed me, and so I started collecting old trucks and trailers, after just bypassing them for so many years. I used to let a lot of nice ones go, but now, they stay.
I paint. And not only as a means to restore plates. Sometimes, l'd use my late grandmother's oil paints and just come up with something. I painted a picture of a lighthouse that my dad and I explored on a deserted island in Superior. I also did a couple of cartoon-like animals for the baby's bedroom when my wife and I were expecting our first child. I once used a round stone and painted a picture of the beach cabin where we stay in the summer. And one day, this year, when my kids were feeling creative, we bought some small canvases and let them doodle. I decided to paint my old 1971 Beetle, and inexplicably, a 1967 Ontario licence plate. The point isn't to be logical... it's just to let the picture guide itself. This is what I painted that day.
When I restore plates, I prefer have them sandblasted first. Sometimes it can be time-consuming work, especially when the nozzle is clogged, or the intake hose isn't sucking up the blasting medium. Often, I have someone do it for me, but there are times when I can go to the shop and just do it myself. I had a low-number 1933 truck plate to do (keep reading). While I was at it, I stripped a few other plates, and snapped a selfie. The face shield is because there isn't a perfect seal between the cabinet and glass, and occasionally a fragment of blasting medium ricochets through the tiny gap.
Here's a beauty that I didn't know existed until I saw it. This plate is the epitome of what I want my collection to be about... weird stuff in great condition that makes you wonder what was going on behind the scenes. I have no idea what the significance of the number is. My guess is that this was a blue prototype for the 1973 annual issue, before the decision was made to renew a multi-year plate with stickers. Note the absence of the usual sticker box in the lower right corner. Ontario alternated between light and dark colours in its later years of annual plates. Had Ontario continued that pattern, 1973 would have been a blue plate, like 1971 and 1969. I already own a white version of this, with a different number, and a sticker box at the lower right, which I guess was a revised prototype after the decision had been made to make 1973 a multi-year renewable issue.
This is as wide a shot as I could take of the Ontario plate display at the Swigart Museum in Huntingdon, PA. I went there with my son in July as a detour on our way to the ALPCA Convention in Valley Forge. Some real gems to be seen here, not the least of which are the rubber plates (777 is a pair) and the 1944 and 1952 dealer plates. And the cancelled 1944 windshield sticker. Stunning stuff. Don't bother trying to contact the museum about buying their pieces... they've heard it all before and have stonewalled thousands of people in response to such requests.
I mostly collect Ontario plates, but these were included in a batch of them that I bought in the summer, and they were so pretty that I couldn't just swap them away. I've long loved the tri-colour design of Yukon's pre-1962 Yukon passenger plates. The die strike was rather forceful when the 1958 plate was made, and the inner circle of the 8 was punched right out of the plate.
I enjoy visiting car shows, especially when I stumble on examples of my own restoration work. This 1950 Chevy fastback, which I saw in July, bears a fully-restored pair of 1950 plates, officially registered under the YOM program. There are only two members of the Coachmen car club left, and they were both parked together at this show. Both of them had a slick cast aluminum plate with the name of the club. The other members have either passed on, or sold their vehicles.
I obtained this NWT plate from the late Bill Verbakel, back in the fall of 1995. He lived in Sarnia, which was just an hour away from my then-home in London. I had just joined ALPCA and was writing letters in response to the folks who had written to welcomed me into the club. E-mail was not yet the norm; I had it, but very few others did. I exchanged letters with Bill, and arranged to pay him a visit. My first experience at being gobsmacked by a basement full of plates happened in Sarnia at Bill's place. He was very welcoming. It was there that I learned of the existence of the Ontario Papal motorcade plates, in the form of a photograph that Bill had pinned to the wall. Bill knew that I was a starving student, and cut a generous deal to help get my collection going. One plate I acquired that day was this '74 NWT bear plate. My dad isn't into plates, but he always liked the NWT bear and I gave this one to him for Christmas. He hung it in the change room of his newly-built sauna. We're not talking a cedar-lined room in the basement: My dad's sauna is a small shack in the forest. The plate has hung there, in the same spot, for over 20 years.
When I was visiting my childhood home of Sault Ste. Marie this past summer, I discovered an antique store I'd never seen before. My expectations were low... I would just have been happy to find a nice set of 1973 plates with a letter combination that I remembered as a kid. But suddenly, I found these, and I took an antique-store-floor shot. The seriffed "J" is a super-rare die variant in Ontario... only a few series around WHJ through WJK had it. I'd been searching for decades for one, and was beaten to the punch a couple of times at swap meets. These are worn, but they cleaned up somewhat, and now they're mine.
These are hanging in a small museum on the Trans-Canada Highway, not far from where we spend a week each summer at a beach cabin. They're all singles, all original, and according to my research with Ontario Motor League Road Books, most of these plates were issued in nearby Bruce Mines. That happens to be the closest town to where my wife was living when we first met, 60-odd years after these plates had been used.
2018 was a productive year for me in terms of collecting. I buy large lots so I can filter out the YOM-able pairs for my business, upgrade my collection, add to my die variations, and eventually, trade with other collectors. My luck tends to come in binges, and the stars aligned one weekend in August for me to take a carefully-choreographed trip across Ontario to buy no fewer than four collections of plates. I was fairly quiet about it because I needed a lot of time to sort through them all and make the careful comparisons as to what to keep and what to trade, and I didn't want to face an avalanche of requests. It took weeks to go through everything. These pictures, taken partway through the weeks-long sorting process, show a portion of what I brought home. You can click these three pics to enlarge them.
Of the four collections I bought in August, one was quite substantial and had been on my radar for a number of years. This picture shows the upgraders and downgraders together. I kept the pair together, since my main goal in collecting passenger plates is to do pairs. A big part of collecting the really old items is to recognize that you're really a steward——a caretaker of history——and it's important to recognize the responsibility of maintaining their integrity. Their historic significance of the pair would be sadly diminished if they were split up. As for the 1910 "white bar" issue, I stuck with the one I already owned, which is the highest number known, and it has a slight edge over the 9221, condition-wise. I'm still looking for a pair of white bars, but in a perfect world, I'd somehow uncover number 9738 and reunite them. The downgraders in this picture have already moved on to good homes.
It's real, and it's spectacular. It was never moistened and affixed to a windshield, and it still has the printed instructions on the reverse side. It's frighteningly delicate... attempting to crease or fold it would snap it in half, most likely. This came from the same collection as the rubbers. There are a lot of fakes out there... people who have found pictures of them, printed them, laminated them, or used some weird slop to slather them onto a piece of glass, and a lot of these flea market fakes have the same number (I'll catalogue those fakes some other time). I photoshopped the number in this picture... my 1944 Ontario windshield decal does not bear the number 335555. If you ever see this easily-recalled number for sale in a flea market, know that someone used this picture to make a fake. I'm not going public with the number on my decal, so that when either I or my estate sells it, there won't be any fakes out there with the same number to bring its authenticity into question.
Just a good, old-fashioned licence plate wallpaper image. These are a few of the plates I didn't keep after I finished sorting through everything I brought home in August. Nothing special... each one has a dent, snip, extra holes, or rust, or is common enough to be non-essential to most collectors I know. These went to the artist I mentioned before at work at brokenstick.ca.
You don't see motorcycle dealer plates every day. I saw two of them at once at the fall Barrie market. They're often beaten up when I see them, with extra holes and parts snipped out. This plate was mounted on a three-wheeled motorcycle that was on display. There was another one, too. but I like the number on this one better.
My haul after Barrie in September. I posted this on social media, but not on the 2Cents I wrote about this particular adventure. I dig the street signs, which are embossed aluminum and were made for Kirkland Lake, but never used. I didn't mean to buy two 1933 trailer plates. I bought 15449 to fill a hole in my run, and then I upgraded it an hour later when I found the stunning 9490. All of these went into my collection except the surplus 1933 trailer, which I think sold at Grimsby later in the fall.
I'm getting okay at this restoration thing. I bought this plate as a crusty-rusty curiosity in Strathroy, back in April, on my way to Acton. I love low numbers. There was absolutely no paint left anywhere on this thing... it wasn't displayable by any stretch of the imagination. The metal was thick enough, with no perforation, so I did about 20 cycles of priming and sanding until I got it as smooth as I could. That took forever. Actually, it took five months, while piggybacking on my YOM "production line" through the summer. Once the surface was ready, detailing the characters was the easy part.
This plate (a single, shown front and back) came from one of the collections I bought in August. I had no idea this plate was even there until after I was headlong into organizing. At face value, it's not much to look at, but it became a keeper when I noticed the message painted on the back, in thick, sloppy, oily paint. Did someone fancy himself a calligrapher, back in the day? The paint is pretty old, and could have been applied anytime from 1917 to the 1940s or later, but I have no reason to doubt that it was just reused as a sign in 1917, since it was a convenient piece of tin, already paid for and of no further use.