I like living in Eastern Ontario because there are lots of things to see and do here. Ottawa has its historic attractions, and if I’m inclined to make a two-hour drive, Montreal is pretty close by. There are lots of interesting locks and historic sites along the Rideau Canal as it snakes its way southward from Ottawa to Kingston. But when it comes to sniffing out old plates for my collection, I’m a little isolated from the action. I find that most estate auctions or automotive events happen around Toronto and points west, heading toward Kitchener, London, and Windsor. I used to live in London back in the 1990s as a student, and I find that plates tend to come out of the woodwork much more readily in the southwestern part of Ontario.
I discovered an antique farm implement auction happening in late August, in the small town of Springfield (basically a few buildings surrounding an intersection). Springfield is in the heart of southwestern Ontario farm country, about a half-hour southeast of London. I viewed the pictures, and there were hundreds of tractor seats, lightning rods, tin signs, hand ploughs, miscellaneous farm gadgets, box lots, and-- yes-- license plates.
The pictures were a YOMers dream. The collection started with a mind-blowing 1911 Ontario porcelain, and the consisted of decent pairs in various conditions going all the way up to the 1970s, with some years having more than one pair. Well, for a collector and guy who likes to flip YOM pairs, the ad caught my attention. I had the time off work and hadn’t yet done my summertime visit with my sister, who lives in London, so I combined the two purposes into one worthwhile trip. To further economize, I stopped at an antique store on the way to London to pick up some plates that I had bought on eBay.
The Saturday morning of the auction, my daughter had some playtime with her cousins while my sister graciously looked after them. I drove out to Springfield and arrived at the auction, which was so extensive that there were two auction companies collaborating to run two rings at the same time. They told us the order of the items to be auctioned off, and I would have about a 3-4 hour wait until they got down to the plates I wanted. Not a bad wait time, I figured. Sometimes they go within the first 30 minutes, and other times I’ve waited over 6 hours to get that for which I came.
I went over to the plates and silently frothed at the mouth. The 1911 Ontario porcelain was in great shape, and had a cool number to boot. There was also a great pair of 1913 Michigan porcelains. There were many decent pairs to be had. I had seen the pictures and had a pretty good idea of which plates I wanted, but this was my chance to see for sure what the condition was like, or whether some were actually pairs. I spent some time calculating my maximum bids in different scenarios. Sometimes auctioneers sell each pair separately, and other times they’ll break them up into lots. I didn’t want to be caught off-guard wondering how much to bid if they were sold in batches.
While I waited, I wandered around and looked at the other items. There was a big collection of hockey cards, which drew guys wearing Leafs jerseys and comic-shop owners. There was a farm implement section, which drew the keen interest of the local Mennonite community. A Mennonite girl was there, about the same age as my daughter, dressed in a sturdy black bonnet and dress. And of course, there were the Mildred-and-Vernon couples who show up to any auction no matter what’s for sale.
The auctioneer came up to the plates. He sold the Michigan and Ontario porcelains separately. I competed for the Ontario porcelain, but dropped out well before the high bid broke the $600 mark. Far too much for a 1911 Ontario, but buyers sometimes overpay in the heat of the moment. The 1913 Michigan pair went for a bit under $300, which is a pretty good deal, considering the condition. The high bid went to the same guy who bought the Ontario, so his overbid was balanced out.
Then the auctioneer started with the plates mounted on boards. Each board went for one money. I wanted the 1960-1971 plates, as there were lots of YOM scores and some generally nice plates for my collection and trade stock. I wound up winning that board for a bit less than what I thought it would go for, although I wouldn’t categorize it as a total steal. Then again, when I posted some of the pairs on my YOM sales page, they sold like hotcakes.
Next came the plates sitting on the tables. Pairs were stacked one on top of the other, and singles were just lying on the table. The auctioneer did it this way: Bidder’s choice per “stack”, meaning the winning bidder would get both plates in a pair, or just one if it was a single. And being bidder’s choice, the winning bidder could take as many or as few as desired at that price, before starting over again. Some woman, who I figured was a shop owner, bid $60 per stack, and won. She went for all the older plates, 1919 to about 1928 or so, many of which had some serious rust problems, at $60 a pop. She must have spent close to $400 just on the first round of bids. I winced at how much she was paying for rusty stuff, but I was also relieved that she blowing her cash on stuff I wouldn’t have taken. The bidding restarted, and the highest bid in the second round came to $50, again, from Madam Shop-Owner. She scooped up some late 1920s and early 1930s plates.
I wanted a nice pair of 1938s and they remained on the table until the fourth round, when I slightly overbid to scoop them. I waited until subsequent rounds with lower bids, and also picked up a pair of 1939s, a couple of 1954s, and another pair or two that slipped my mind. I was finished at that point… I had landed everything I wanted, save for the very expensive 1911. The bidding continued and eventually all the plates were sold.
I lugged my display board to the car and found that it wouldn’t fit without hanging out the back window. That was fine for a local trip back to my sister’s house, but not for a six-hour drive back home. I removed the plates from the display board and eventually disposed of it.
All told, I was at the auction for about five hours. As it turned out, a couple of plates went into my collection, and the YOM payback was worthwhile. There’s nothing like a good estate auction.