I have come to the conclusion that I’m not just a plate collector, but I’m nuts, obsessive, even passionate about my hobby. Why else would I camp for two nights in a tent so I can walk around a flea market at the crack of dawn? Why else would I hop in the car for a ten hour return trip, only to go to a swap meet that lasts a fraction of that time? It personally eats at me when I miss these kinds of events, whatever the reason. At a plate meet, I seem pretty normal from the outside, but in many ways, I’m a raving lunatic.
My pal Eric shared in my lunacy this year by going to the Tinchasers’ Plate Meet in St. Catharines for the first time. I’ve been on his case for the past couple of years about trying St. Kitts out: While I really enjoy the spring meet in Acton, I’d have to say that I prefer St. Kitts, with its confluence of cold weather, coloured trees and musty church-smell at the corner of Welland and Henry Streets. That venue, built in the 1920s, seems to me to be an ideal place to seek out license plates from the same era.
Disorganization was the theme for me from the start. I wasn’t quite ready when Eric picked me up at home for the drive on Friday night. I put my new Premier’s plate down on a table and jogged up to the front door to answer the door. We had arrived in St. Catharines when I realized that the plate was still on said table back at home-- there would be no showing-and-telling for me this year! Then, as we were unpacking our traders in the hall, I realized that I hadn’t put price tags on my new trade stock (about half the plates I brought). People are more likely to inquire about a plate if there’s a price tag on it, so I wasted no time in putting labels on my plates. However, that was a tactical mistake on my part. I found out why later on-- but we’ll get to that soon enough.
I finally had my table set up, and my plates priced, an hour into the meet. That might seem like a long time, but I keep meeting and greeting the folks I have gotten to know well, but only see twice a year, and I spend more time yakking than I do trading. Some notable absences included Joe Sallmen, who gets hassled at the border when he lugs his massive trade stock along, and doesn’t attend regularly anymore (not that I blame him, driving from West Virginia). Mike Franks, who reminds me of myself ten years ago (in university and penniless), was also absent, as was Sam Samis, the biggest fan of plates you’ll find anywhere. And of course, we can't forget Manny Jacob, who moved to Manitoba and can no longer attend St. Kitts-- which makes us all breathe a sigh of relief, since we can once again switch stickers rampantly on the fake PRP bus plates we've been hiding without fear of reprisal (Manny knows I'm kidding). On the other hand, long-time (and local) collectors John Rubick and Bob Cornelius were back this year. Bob just had a kidney transplant in September, but I only knew because he told me. He was walking and talking without missing a beat.
Bob Gammon, the Ontario pioneer of ham radio plates, told me the story of how he lobbied the transport minister to authorize the issue of ham plates in Ontario, back in 1976 (Did you know that Ontario was the final jurisdiction in North America to issue ham plates? I sure didn’t). He was invited to a ceremony to introduce ham plates to Ontario, and received a pair of plates, with his operator callsign, personally from the minister. After the ceremony, in the parking lot, he pulled off his old plates and tossed them in a corner, and attached his new ham plates to his car. He drove home being the first Ontario motorist to display ham radio plates in the history of the province.
While I was pricing my plates, an old-timer came in and set up a table. He had signs saying something to the effect of, “Evicted from cottage, selling collection, all plates $4.” Apparently, he was selling old Yukons and NWT bears for that price, and a feeding frenzy erupted at his table, with buyers picking up some plates at 10% of their actual worth. Therein lay the consequence of my tactical error: the frenzy happened without me and I completely missed a good chance to add to my trade stock while investing relatively little. I only found out when Eric told me about it during the drive home.
By about ten-thirty, the number of attendees in the hall had hit its zenith, and so we snapped the annual photo, always taken from the balcony above. Don Goodfellow, our host, said we had about 45 people show up (a new record), and it seems that every year, it’s harder to cram all the bodies into the frame and take the picture. I used a tripod this time and came away with a sharp picture. Feast your eyes on it at the bottom of this page.
A former ALPCA member whom I had not met previously was liquidating his collection, and he had some really nice NWT bears, and some Ontario non-passenger types that caught my interest. The prices were pretty high, though, and I tend not to overspend if I’m simply upgrading the condition of a plate I already have. Among the more interesting plates on his table were a 1975 Consular, some nice handicap plates (only issued in Ontario during the late 80s and withdrawn shortly afterward), and a 1944 trailer. I also saw a 1903 leather plate on his table, or what appeared to be one. It was a reproduction, and incomplete, but it was pretty accurate. He had traced the exact shape of a real Ontario leather plate onto a sheet of paper and had a leather craftsman fashion a new, double-layered, stitched shield. Included with the plate were some aluminum house numbers, very similar to the font that appears on the actual leathers (a photo of leather # 702 was also included). The only item missing was the aluminum, oval-shaped emblem featuring the Ontario coat-of-arms, but a pencil rubbing impression had been made of a real one, using the embossed surfaces of the emblem from number 702, so that it, too, could eventually be reproduced. The price tag for the whole kit: $40.
This item, to me, is dangerous. A newer collector who has never seen an Ontario leather plate could easily be fooled, if the numbers were affixed to the plate and the leather falsely distressed. Leather plates are worth thousands of dollars, so it wouldn’t be hard to dupe someone into paying a few hundred for an incomplete version of “the real thing.” ALPCA is quite correct to ban the offering of reproductions for trade or sale by its members. The seller, however, no longer being a current member of ALPCA, was not bound to this restriction. I thought about it for a while and decided it would be best to “take one for the team.” I paid $40 and bought the reproduction kit. I intend to attach the numbers and permanently etch the plate with the legend “fake” or “reproduction” on both sides, so that I can photograph it and post it as a warning to others, and then donate it to the ALPCA fake plate collection, if I can figure out where to send it. (Author's note: I donated it, in person, to the ALPCA #fake collection at the 2009 Convention in #Erie, Pennsylvania.)
The fake leather was the only “plate” I bought, so technically, I didn’t buy any plates. I did, however, pick up a couple of retired London (Ontario) bus rolls from Bill #Thoman. He knows I collect them and was kind enough to pull some from an old bus for me. It’s ironic that I should go to a plate meet, and come home with only transit memorabilia. Before I knew it, it was noon and the hall was mostly vacant. Eric and I helped Don put the tables away before going out to lunch and checking out the craftsmanship on my newly-acquired faux leather. I would rather have spent $40 on real plates, but it was my own fault for missing some of the more interesting scores of the day. Still, after gas and the hotel, I had some extra bills in my pocket and had thoroughly enjoyed the meet.
The big winner at St. Kitts this year turned out to be the St. Kitts rookie himself. Eric brought a nice pair of 1911 Ontario porcelains, and managed to sell them by budging slightly on his asking price. By selling the 1911 pair that he didn’t need (and bought for an unbeatable deal), Eric can now hunt down the 1912 and 1915 tin plates he’s been wanting and buy them guilt-free. (Also of note: Chuck Sakryd also sold his own pair of 1911s in St. Kitts this year.) To sweeten the gravy, Eric also sold his run of Quebec plates, and wound up with more of a profit in one day than I’ve had in all my trips to St. Kitts and Acton combined. Cash-in aside, Eric’s just as sold on the St. Kitt’s meet as I am. As long as Don can rent the church all day on the last Saturday in October, I’ll keep making the trip.