Eric and I rolled into the Acton Arena parking lot early this year… possibly too early, given that it was 7:15. We wanted to have our tables set up from the get-go… when you show up on time, the doors have already been open for half an hour, and there are too many people to chat with.
The doors were shut tight, but there were a couple of early-bird collectors waiting to pounce, so we waited with them. An older gentleman, whom none of us recognized, pulled up and greeted us. He had a collection of plates and said he was interested in selling them. Of course, guys like us love to hear people say that.
“How far back does your collection go?” asked Terry Ellsworth. He’s a big fan of the older stuff.
The gentleman mentioned he had quite a few from the 1920s, and the oldest plates were a pair of 1915 Ontario plates. Sadly, they were all casualties of Repaint Roy. For those who don’t know or remember, Roy has been repainting plates for years—he does a very glossy job which some car buffs appreciate, but collectors turn their noses at them because they’re all too slick and new... almost artificial. He is also known for repainting flat, wire-rimmed 1912-16 Ontario plates from the bottom up, leaving no traces of authenticity. It was correctly pointed out by one collector that these repaints could easily have begun as a mismatched couple of plates from different years—there is no way to verify that the repainted plates really are from 1915. One might say that these plates are essentially reproductions. It’s a grey area, but Repaint Roy isn’t a member of ALPCA and thus, he is not bound by its anti-reproduction rule. At the first mention that the 1915 pair were repaints, both Terry and Eric lost interest—both are looking for really nice original 1915 plates.
Dave Steckley, our organizer, arrived just then, with the arena custodian close behind. We were lugging our boxes of license plates through the doors within a few minutes. It was a good thing that I had a chance to set up early… I had six boxes of plates. I had once again culled certain forgotten items from my collection in an attempt to lighten my load at home.
Several weeks before the swap meet, you see, I had been going through some boxes when I rediscovered a plate I’d forgotten I owned… a 1993 Canada Forces in Germany motorcycle plate. It’s not exactly a common item, and there it had been, languishing forgotten in a box in my basement. It prompted me to think hard about whether I really wanted to keep it, or that 1947 Alberta, 1973 Saskatchewan, or my plastic plate from Bhutan. The size of my trade stock pretty much doubled as a result.
Eric made the first scoop of the day, beating me to a nice pair of 1967 plates. I picked up a nice pair of 1954 plates from old Sam Samis, plus a dried-up pair of 1937s, which I might be able to resurrect using my eraser-and-CLR trick. I also picked up a new Ontario for my passenger run, but that’s pretty much it. I don’t buy much anymore… I’ve become very picky. I remember only a few years ago, I’d buy plates left, right and centre.
Sales were slow for me at first, but became more brisk. I decided to disperse my old issues of the ALPCA Newsletter for $2 each, and they attracted some attention to my table. If your table looks busy, more people come by to check it out, so I sold quite a few high-end items in a short time, including the Canada motorcycle, the Bhutan, and various other $20 - $30 plates. I brought my YOM plates also, but the inquiries I received were for years I didn’t have in stock. Eric had a nice set of 1934 YOMs available… we passed a parking lot full of Model As on the way to Acton the day before and he contemplated the possibility that one of them may have been a 34 in need of YOM plates.
By about 9:30, the hall was full, which I’ve never seen happen in Acton before. Every table was occupied by a collector and covered in plates. The organizers even had to bring out some extra round tables from a storage closet for a few latecomers. In past years, I have noticed that there have been more walk-ins and fewer people bringing plates to trade, but that was absolutely not the case this year. Dave estimates 40 collectors came by to trade plates, and that’s not even counting the “Old Autos” crowd… meaning, the fellas who stop by out of curiosity after seeing the ad in the regional Old Autos newspaper.
Jim Becksted had an unusual item in his trade box this year—a remake of an Ontario plate. He said it came from the MTO, which is unusual… I have to wonder if they confiscated it? Anyway, the item in question was made of a thick aluminum base with a reflective white decal stuck on the background, and a bare aluminum border, not unlike the license plates of France. A professional engraving machine had been used to create the “Ontario” name across the top. The numbers were a pop-out 3D style, painted blue, and were riveted on, in a manner similar to older Delaware plates. There were bolt marks and bug spatter on it, indicating it had been used. I guessed it was a remake of a lost front plate. Dave thought it might be a prototype. The price was right, so Dave scooped it up for his prototype run, which was handily displayed in the hall. He had a unusual 1964 plate on his display board... I really liked that one.
I didn’t buy a whole lot. I did pick up a pair of 1954s from old Sam, who I was glad to see back in the saddle. He wasn’t able to make it to St. Catharines last fall, which was too bad, since he’s one of that meet’s biggest supporters. He faithfully mails the flyers out each year, even though he lives several hours away.
Eric pointed out something a little sad to me. A younger collector we had never seen before, maybe 20 or 25, had dropped in and was looking for some older Ontario plates. He got some, all right… but they were mostly the slick Repaint Roy specials that I mentioned earlier in this installment. Eric and I both wanted to warn him, but he was in the middle of negotiating a deal, and we didn’t feel it was appropriate to kill a sale in progress. The poor guy overpaid badly on the completely redone (and possibly fake) 1915 wire-rim pair, a 1916 single, a 1919 truck painted in the wrong colours, plus other repainted plates including 1921, 22 and 29, among others. From what we overheard, he was paying $50 to $100 per item, and he spent at least $250. He seemed quite pleased with his purchases, but it was really quite sad because all the plates together were essentially worthless in terms of resale, if he should ever wish to part with them.
A collector I met this year, Bruce, brought one of the most impressive and fascinating Ontario displays I have ever seen. He had a low-number run of Ontario plates starting with 1921. Based on what he told me about the display, it seemed clear that all the plates originated from the same owner. But why the difference in numbers?
I came up with a theory as to the evolution of the collection. Here goes:
In 1921, an influential person with some political pull obtained low number plates for his vehicles. He retained similar numbers in 1922.
In 1923, I theorize that the serial bloc of 1-500 for MPP plates made its debut. As such, 20 and 21 could only have been issued to MPPs. By chance, the lowest number available to this person that resembled his previous number was 621 and 622, which he received until the year 1929. He received a more random number in 1924 due to either a clerical error or unusual circumstances.
I theorize that doctor plates started in 1930. The plates issued to this person in 1930 were D-621 and D-622. I conclude that this person was a doctor (and had been all along) and wished to have the D-prefix indicating his professional status (not pictured, sorry).
The plate for 1934 was A-621. Why the change? I figure the doctor retired and was no longer eligible for a D-series plate. However, he couldn’t go back to just 621, because Ontario’s numbering scheme had since changed and employed a one- or two-letter prefix. Thus, the closest he could come was A-621… the first number available incorporating the number 621. (It should be noted that MPP plates from 1-500 continued to be issued at this time, but the retired doctor was not an elected MPP and was therefore ineligible for such a number, as had been the case since 1924.) My pic of the whole run is badly blurred, so I only have close-up pics of the lower numbers.
One retiring collector didn’t sell all his traders and didn’t want to take any home, so he donated them to the organizers, who auctioned them off as a fund-raiser for next year’s meet. I would have put in some bids normally, but I’m in downsizing mode and didn’t want to bring extra tin home. In the end, auctioneer extraordinaire Chuck Sakryd, Martine Stonehouse and Sam Samis wound up battling each other for the goods. Sam outbid himself for $20 on two separate occasions. We all had a chuckle over that one.
Noon hour came, and the hall was basically empty. Eric and I said our goodbyes to our hosts and trekked back to Ottawa. We usually score some plates at shops along the way, but this year, we came up totally dry. There were quite a few high-end stores by which we just passed. Comparatively few stores had bottles or hubcaps in the windows, which makes us stop, because it’s the kind of crap we like. Sadly, there were no 1939 doctors to be found this time!