I have trouble writing articles for this column during the winter months. License plate collecting seems to be a summer pastime, for the most part. With all the old cars in hibernation, there are no shows to see. There are no garage sales, and no outdoor flea markets. Indoor markets can sometimes bear fruit, but I'm not lucky in that department. Even if there's a flea market show or auction somewhere out of town, I'm either too busy, or the roads are too treacherous to risk becoming a statistic.
But occasionally, something comes up. Sometimes it's of mild interest, and sometimes it's just too tempting to ignore. An opportunity knocked, and it fit nicely into the latter category, and so that's why I drove to Saint-Lazare, Quebec on the evening of January 31.
It had been a hard week, and I needed a mental break from reality. A very dear friend of mine had died the previous weekend— suddenly, unexpectedly and improbably. At one time in my life, there was no other person to whom I was closer, and I was (and still am) reeling from her loss. She wouldn't have wanted me or anyone else to just mope in sadness, so I took the advice she would have given and made an escape for a few hours. I picked up my pal Eric, and we headed eastward, with chin up.
Our destination was a 90 minute drive to the house of a plate collector who had once lived and collected in Ontario, had been living in Quebec for decades, and was about to move to Nova Scotia the following week. He had a whole pile of plates that he was keen to sell. I had visited him twice over the past couple of years, and had bought many plates both times, but I left many more behind. It would have cost more to move the plates than they were worth, so he made an offer I couldn't refuse... Lots of plates for not-a-lot of money. There were many of them, and Eric was game to join in.
We arrived in my car and headed down to the basement to see what was left. There were many boxes of mint 1972 plates, plus some December 72 trucks, March 73 trucks and trailers, March 74 trucks, and a whole stack of bargain bin plates to give away to kids or sell in bulk. Eric and I are both YOM dealers, and there were enough YOM pairs to make our trip here worthwhile. Our host indicated that he'd like to sell everything as one lot, and we came to a number that made good sense for him, and was an excellent deal for us.
With the deal done, our task was to lug everything back to Ottawa. We had come in my car, which is smaller than Eric's, and we had about a thousand plates to stow. We filled the trunk and back seat, and used the foot wells also. My rear quarter was sagging alarmingly low— much like Eric's car in Toronto after we shopped our way through the Plunkett estate. I set the cruise to 80 on the highway and the car hummed merrily along without incident. By the time we got back to my house, it was after midnight and we were too tired to spend an additional two hours dividing the lot, so we piled it in my garage and aimed for a different night.
Two nights later, Eric brought over a couple of double-doubles and we spent three hours meticulously splitting the lot up. None of the plates were particularly lucrative in nature, but one of the coolest things we did was cut open a factory-sealed box of unused 1972 plates. The plates were all mint in bags, having never seen the light of day since they were boxed back in the Millbrook prison back in late 1971. I breathed inward and deeply through my nose as I pretended to catch an aroma emerging from the just-opened box. I'd seen mint plates before, but opening a sealed box of fifty pairs was something else. Granted, it's not as though it was a sealed box of mint 1937 pairs, or 1915 pairs—I've been quite public about how 1972 is my least favourite year for Ontario plates—but the experience was nonetheless memorable. Open up a factory-sealed comic book, and you might be diminishing the value. But that's not the case in this hobby-- especially since 1972 Ontario plates are not exactly rare.
Although we split the lot up evenly in about three hours, it was cold work, and we had space heaters running throughout. It's too cold for me to sort further through the plates, so they'll be staying put for now, as I resume my annual lament of the cold weather that February brings. Spring can't come soon enough!