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2CENTS ARCHIVES

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.

Making the 2023 Ontario Souvenir Plates

It was a summer afternoon in 2022: I found myself at the town park in sleepy Rossmore, Ontario, swapping plates with Dave Steckley and Eric Vettoretti. It was a sunny, breezy afternoon. Aside from the goings-on of three plate collectors, the park was devoid of activity.


That afternoon, I acquired a few ALPCA Convention souvenir plates. I kept a couple of them, but the rest were destined for my trade bin. Most of them were made by Motor Vehicle License Systems (MVLS), based in the USA. MVLS makes actual street-legal plates for a few jurisdictions, including several US states and Caribbean island nations. When I looked MVLS up online, I discovered the company has a Canadian branch!


ALPCA souvenir plate for the 2015 Convention in Rogers, Arkansas. Made by MVLS.


My mind wandered as I looked at the souvenirs. ALPCA is an American organization, with only one of its regions, out west, reaching north of the border into Canada. I had once looked into starting an ALPCA region that included the Canadian half of the Great Lakes region, but there were a lot of administrative barriers, and I scuttled the idea. Never before had a souvenir plate been made for a Canadian plate event, ALPCA-sanctioned or otherwise... to my knowledge, anyway.


My mind continued to wander over the next couple of weeks. Could I design something? Should there be a reason behind it? How much would it cost? Would anyone buy it?


I brought my old hobby notebook on my annual beach vacation. We stay in a rented cabin on the north shore of Lake Huron. The cabin was built in 1946, and it has barely been updated since. It’s a great spot to lose myself in thought. I pulled out a pencil and started sketching a few ideas:


 

First idea: I imagined the 1960s version of the Trillium logo, with maybe the Lt. Governor’s crown, and a period-correct typeset for the various legends. I wanted to go retro, with symbiology that was clearly a throwback. I included the "2023" based on the idea that both Grimsby and Acton would be marking twenty years since their respective 2003 inceptions. Technically, with the COVID pandemic, they were held only eighteen years out of those twenty. But I didn’t want to let a technicality get in the way of a fun idea. So I just used the 2023 calendar year.


 

I drew another idea, this one featuring the three-leaf provincial shield, which hasn’t been featured on a licence plate since 1920. The maritime provinces used their shields on their plates, so why not Ontario? I further imagined the classic subway tile font used by the Toronto Transit Commission, and sketched that as the province name. It was an interesting start, but these were two unrelated ideas, and I wanted the design to reflect the reason why the plates were being made. Aside from possibly looking cool, I couldn’t think of a reason. With this idea stalled, I started again.


 

My next idea fed from the design of older Ontario vehicle ownership papers from the 1930s. Those permits typically featured the full provincial coat-of-arms with the moose-and-deer holding the three-leaf shield. The coat-of-arms was centrally placed within an ornate horizontal bar that read “PROVINCE OF ONTARIO”. I imagined that motif near the top of a licence plate, maybe saying “collector permit” instead of “motor vehicle permit.” And maybe the embossed number could be the sequential part of the permit serial, which often appeared in red.


 

Of these three ideas, the first one had fallen together the easiest. I opened up Photoshop after my vacation was finished, and set to work generating the largest version possible. If this was indeed going ahead, the artwork would have to be of a high resolution.


To get the correct Trillium monogram and “Ontario” typeset from the mid 1960s, I took a close-up photo of a plate envelope from my collection. Even after removing the colour and playing with the contrast, the graphic was still grainy with rough edges. It wouldn’t do as-is, so I had to manually reconstruct those edges in Photoshop.



I added the crown from a high-resolution scan of a 1963 Lt. Governor plate, and used a vintage-but-plain typeset for the rest of the legends. There wouldn’t be enough room at the bottom for the “2023,” but I needed to at least acknowledge the year. To do that, I opted for a 1974-82 sized “validation sticker,” and I made it red to match the crown. As a subtle echo to Ontario plates and highway signage of the time, I used a flat-topped three.


I briefly considered what colour to make the background. I first thought about doing white-on-blue (shades of 1965). But given that this was my first attempt, and the background would be reflective, I felt the safest route was to keep the design white with black numbers, as a nod to Ontario’s 1962 and 1964 plates. I added a thick black border. I wanted an embossed border as my first choice, but I would settle for a graphic border if needed. In the blank area where the embossed serial would go, I just entered the random number that I’d sketched: 27. No special meaning there.


The first Photoshop draft, as submitted to MVLS. The border was intended to be part of the graphic.


If this souvenir plate was to commemorate the Acton and Grimsby meets, I would need the blessings of Dave Steckley and Don Goodfellow, the founders and chief hosts of these meets. Further, I sensed an opportunity to do some fundraising: Don had booked a much larger venue for the upcoming 2022 Grimsby meet, but it was triple the price, and it wasn’t known as to whether he’d break even. Selling the plates as a fundraiser would support the meet in the event that attendance alone didn’t cover it.


I contacted MVLS with my design, and the pricing made the project feasible. It would work if I pre-ordered 50 plates, but I had to break the 100 barrier to get the price point I really wanted. MVLS ordinarily charges a design fee, but since I had mine pre-designed and of ample resolution, I was able to bypass that fee.


I had a couple of die set choices, both of which were fairly generic. One set featured squared-off digits, whereas the other featured rounded digits. Neither die set had been used to make any Canadian plates of which I’m aware. I expressed interest in using a Waldale-style die set, with its flat-topped threes, which have indeed been seen on many Canadian plates. It was possible to use Waldale dies, but it would take time to liaise with Waldale, and that would delay the production timeline. MVLS would be able to ship the order to me the week before the 2022 Grimsby meet, provided I chose one of their in-house die sets. So I chose the round dies, which were easier to read.



Dave and Don liked the plate idea and endorsed it. MVLS got back to me with a rendering of the final product. I was very happy with it, and I was convinced that it was worth a college try. I set to work promoting and taking pre-orders. I didn’t know if people would be interested, but I needed a minimum of fifty to make the project fly. I used Facebook to reach most people, and emailed a few regular meet attendees who didn’t use social media.


The rendering from MVLS, with the embossed border.


While collecting orders, I was very clear that the numbers would be sequential, going from 1 upwards. I was holding back the first ten plates. Some would go to those involved with hosting the meets, and we’d auction or raffle the others. I was left hanging by a couple of characters who pre-ordered, only to see them bail out at the payment stage when they were reminded they couldn’t have their own special numbers (e.g. 777) beyond the serial range. If I let one person do a special order, I’d have to open the floodgates to everyone. Ordering special numbers out-of-sequence causes complications and delays, and I was firmly keeping this simple.


I ended up getting about 80 pre-orders in all. Dave and Eric agreed to take ten more each, to get me over the 100 mark. The idea was that I would re-allocate their extras toward late orders, and it would give some extras to sell at the door in Grimsby. I followed suit and added ten more of my own, bringing the order up to 110. In the end, I ordered 111 plates, reasoning that the triple-number craze might generate extra funds. I had to pay for this entire order up-front, but I was optimistic that I’d be able to sell the thirty extras.


With the order size set, I asked people to submit several numbers that they wouldn’t mind having between 10 and 110. I feared there’d be a stampede for the repeat-digits like 66 and 99, but everyone put variety into their requests. That worked well, as the vast majority of people received at least one of the numbers on their wish lists.


My contact at MVLS stayed in touch reliably, and he sent me a picture of plate number 1 just as the order was being boxed up. The plates looked great, but the digit “1” resembled the more-squared die set, as opposed to the rounded one that I had chosen. I was a little confused, but still happy that they were being shipped out on time. I would have a few days to sort out the orders and match names to numbers.



The parcel arrived, and I eagerly opened it up. The plates were gorgeous! As an added surprise, I found out then why the digit “1” in the picture looked different than expected: They used the Waldale die set after all! I sent an excited email to the MVLS rep. He revealed that they were able to make it work within our timelines by shipping the graphic blanks to Waldale in Nova Scotia and having them embossed there. He figured I’d be pleased. That was an understatement… I was positively over the moon! They were truly all-Canadian: Canadian-designed plates to support a Canadian event, with the plates punched with Canadian-style dies in a Canadian factory!



We had about five days to go before hand-out at the Grimsby meet. I realized at this time that neither Don or I had arranged to have a long-distance award made for the meet. A minor oversight, but we needed a remedy. If I was on-the-puck, I might have ordered one more plate with the letters L D. But it was too late for that.


I got to work in my shop to make a topper that would match the plates. I used some hand-snipped sheet metal, primed and sprayed white. I wouldn’t be able to custom-order vinyl lettering in time, so I found a retro-looking font, printed it on a large sticky label, and used a hobby blade to cut the letters out, leaving a stencil. I stuck that on the topper, sprayed it with black paint, let it dry, and peeled it off. It was clearly hand-made, but didn’t look bad. I used one of the late Bill Thoman’s lettering quills with some 1-shot paint to make minor corrections to the spray job. Lastly, I added a couple of red crowns using a silicone stamp that I made a couple of years previously (just poured the liquid silicone into the rear of a stripped 1937 plate). I normally use the stamp with an ink pad to sign letters. Using red paint with the stamp proved to be tricky. I had to practice on one of my “to-be-restored” plates in my YOM business pile. The crowns came out cleanly enough.



I posed the finished product with one of the plates, and they paired well. Not like Merlot and filet mignon… more like craft beer and wings.



I brought everything to Grimsby for the meet on November 5th, and the plates were well-received. I had about 20 extras remaining, but they sold out briskly. I held number 111 back until I got home, to see how much we could get for it as a DOND listing on our largest Facebook group. Bob Cornelius Jr. put in a healthy bid, and I knew exactly why he stepped forward. His father, the late Bob Cornelius Sr., had ordered “111” as a vanity plate in the 1980s, during the first weeks that such choices were available in Ontario.


In the end, the sale of these plates raised $363.86 for each of the Grimsby and Acton reserve funds. Luckily, Grimsby 2022 was so well-attended that it paid for itself through admission alone, but the added money will start a cushion that Don can use for paying deposits, which were previously out-of-pocket. Those funds belong to the Grimsby meet in perpetuity.


In response to the huge attendance surge in Grimsby, Dave has since moved the booking for the Acton meet to the arena’s main hockey pad, which offers about triple the space as the previous curling pad that we were using. Of course, this is much more expensive to book in advance, so the Acton share fundraiser turned out to be timely and useful.


And finally, for those who are interested: What happened to the plates that were numbered one through nine? They all went to their new homes at the Grimsby meet on November 5th. Here’s the rundown:


9 - Door prize (I don’t recall who won it)

8 - Door prize (winner: Scott C.)

7 - Auctioned (high bidder: Terry E.)

6 - Auctioned (high bidder: Don M.)

5 - Auctioned (high bidder: Keith M.)

4 - Gary E. (co-host emeritus of Acton meet, 2003 - 2022)

3 - Jon U. (co-host of Grimsby meet since 2010)

2 - Don G. (host and founder of Grimsby meet)

1 - Dave S. (host and founder of Acton meet)






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David Steckley
David Steckley
Apr 02, 2023

Great article Jon! As always I appreciate this kind of write up since it is archival history, forgotten if not recorded! And kudos to the team at MVLS too. (Dave Steckley) And the financial 'gift' to the Acton kitty was timely as you say!

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