Acton in the spring… the trees are still bare. The snow is gone. The sun is out (usually). The air is cool. And the plates? Don’t get me started.
Too late. I’m started—although, that’s probably why you’re reading in the first place. Either you were there, or you wished you could be. I’ve found myself in both situations. This was an interesting show, for a few reasons. Each Acton event seems to be unique in its own way, either because of what I find there, or how I get there, or what I sell there, or who I meet along the way.
My usual travelling partner is Eric Vettoretti, and we met up at his place a little after seven in the morning. We took the unusual approach of driving alongside each other in separate vehicles. It was necessary, but I’ll get to that in a little while.
Our goal was to hit as many antique shops as we could along the 401 corridor between Kingston and Oshawa. Eric had prepared a list of about eight shops that might potentially have plates to find. We departed down the highway, following each other, until we arrived in Kingston a little after nine, when the shops were opening for the day.
Our first stop was an unnamed shop on the eastern fringe of Kingston, sitting on a hilltop along a very old alignment of Highway 2. The lady there was quite friendly. We wandered around, seeing lots of wood furniture and rustic trinkets. An old pinball machine caught my attention, and right behind it were some plates nailed to some boards. Mostly singles, and nothing we were going to buy, although they did make for a neat picture. So did the pinball game, for that matter.
We ventured into downtown Kingston and tried Antique Alley, which looked very promising. We found a few pairs of plates quite quickly, but for some reason, they were priced at over $100 per set. They were worn and fairly unremarkable. In the shop they will probably remain for quite some time. I was turned off by a reproduction of a porcelain advertising sign for Yellow Cab 5-Cent Cigars. I bought one when I was a teenager for about $30 in a shop—brand new and shrink-wrapped—and clearly marked as a reproduction. The sign I was seeing in Antique Alley was exactly the same—quite nice, but of the same reproduction series as my sign from years before, although not marked as such. The price? $250. No, thanks.
We tried one other flea market in Kingston. All I saw there was Frampton talking to the tomato box again. We left without buying anything before we moved on to Deseronto. There’s a shop there, on Main Street, where Eric and I bought and split a pair of rare 1939 doctor plates about ten years earlier, but there seemed to be much less available this time in terms of selection. We ducked into a couple of other places in Deseronto without finding anything—one such place was where I scored a volunteer firefighter pair a couple of years before—but there were no such goodies this time. The neatest place in Deseronto was a large market on Highway 2 on the eastern edge of town—Karen Brown’s Antiques and Collectibles. It was well-laid out and had multiple vendors who were selling plates. We didn’t see anything to buy on this day, but we had a lot of fun browsing. The market has only been open for a bit more than a year, and it’s expanding again, with a 4000-square foot addition coming soon. We’ll be back there for sure.
From Deseronto, we drove to Belleville to stop at Quinte Antiques. They’re sandwiched between an overpass and a set of railway tracks, with one corner of the old building being situated no further than 20 feet away from the steel rails. Quinte always has a bunch of signs and plates on the wall. I found a pair for my collection—a 1990 truck set numbered TT8-888. Ordinarily, I consider 1980s trucks to be the most boring of plates that Ontario ever churned out, but I’m a sucker for repeating numbers (no, I’m not splitting them up—I collect pairs whenever possible now).
Our last mutual antique town of the day was Orono, a sleepy little place hidden in the trees just off the highway to Peterborough. We went to the Main Thru Church Antique Mall, which is a multi-vendor place that extends from its storefront on Main Street all the way to the back door that faces Church Street. It was here, last summer, that I found a 1937 PCV plate for Eric’s collection—I texted him when I found it, and as it happened, the ’37 was a PCV that he needed. Anyway, I showed him roughly where I had found the plate, but there didn’t seem to be any others around. I did find a 1946 shorty that will pass for YOM after providing it with some TLC.
We tried the Orono Antique Market around the corner, which is situated in what used to be an armoury. It’s a really neat store to browse, regardless of what you collect. I even saw the yellow tin robot that I’d found with my wife when we were there the previous summer. It didn’t have much in the line of plates, but there are all kinds of nooks and crannies to check out, from the old weaponry vault on the first floor (holds china now) to the second-floor loft, to the basement with an old coal chute, and what looks like a mysterious steel door at one end— it would appear to lead into the area under the street.
The final shop we tried was staffed by a gal who, when she wasn't facing us, looked like she was in her twenties—but once she turned around, she was clearly fifty-something, dressed like a guilty-pleasure college girl. The store was equally odd, with a working kitchen as part of the store. Were
they selling the microwave, or the coffee maker, or the dishes in the sink? Didn’t matter—no plates, so we left.
We split ways at that point. Ordinarily, we’d stick together – in the same vehicle – and crash at a Motel 6 in Mississauga, but I had something else to do, so Eric drove onward and managed a trip to a couple of flea markets in the GTA in the process. I headed for a place I hadn’t visited in many years—Oakville.
A very dear friend of mine – my partner throughout undergrad university, actually – had suddenly passed away in January. During my grieving, I’d reconnected with her parents, who are the loveliest people you could ever hope to meet. We made arrangements for dinner that evening, and although it was a sad occasion, it was very comforting to see them again after so many years. We reminisced about old times and they offered me a place to stay for the night. We chatted over a nice breakfast the following morning and exchanged hugs before I departed.
I arrived in Acton a little late. Well, I was on time, actually, but the doors are unlocked about 40 minutes early, and I’m typically there for the unlocking, so it felt a little late. A couple of collectors were wondering why I hadn’t shown up yet, but they needn’t have worried.
The meet this year was held on the concrete pad used for curling in the winter, due to renovations that were in progress in the usual event room. I loved the setup! It was a long space, lit well from the east-facing windows, and we were arranged in a ring of tables along the walls, with vendors facing each other from opposite sides. Much easier to browse and chit-chat than the more cramped confines of the event room, where the tables have to be arranged in three or four rows.
I brought a display for the first time in a few years, as a sort of experiment. When the ALPCA Convention happens in Rochester this summer, I’m planning on displaying my entire Ontario passenger run, but I needed to build new, larger display boards. I built one folding panel as a pilot, and displayed my Ontario test and prototype plates on it. The panel is hinged in the middle and has steamer trunk latches to keep it in the open position as it stands up on end. When it stands, it’s eight feet high and three feet wide, but it folds in half to a more portable four by three feet, with the plates nested safely inside the frame to prevent possible scratching. I wanted to build one panel and test it in Acton to make sure it would travel well and stand up on its own, which it did. With my test successful, I have a couple of months in which to build the four remaining foldable panels—I’ll need five in total to display my passenger run.
Early in the meet, my display caught the attention of a gentleman whom I didn’t recall seeing before. He asked me about the 1943 test plate on my board. It was a creamy beige colour, with powder-blue numbers. He pulled out his own plate—a 1943 test plate, with the same numbers as mine, only painted in a light yellow colour with black numbers. Neither of us knows anything about why they were made, or where they may have come from before landing in our collections, but they are really neat to see. I’d never even seen a 1943 test plate before I acquired mine a couple of years previously, and I certainly didn’t expect to see another in Acton.
I brought all my traders with a mission—to get out of the whole trading aspect of the hobby and just focus on the narrow interests of my collecting. For years, I have maintained a trade stock, but it’s just been sitting in my basement, gathering cobwebs, aside from the semi-annual trips to Acton and Grimsby where only a minority of the plates move. None are that exciting—just passenger plates from mostly the 1960s and a few scattered dealer plates. I removed my price tags and just dropped my plates into a $2 box or a $5 box. And they sold like lightning. No hemming and hawing over an extra dollar here or there, no keeping track of which lot they came from. I just wanted them gone. I had about twelve plates that are clearly worth more than $5, so I priced them individually. If they didn’t sell, I could live with it—but some did sell, including the 1914 that came from my collection when I upgraded. All told, I now have about eight traders in my entire stock. I even got rid of some of the boxes. I can use the extra space in the basement. For those who wonder—no, I’m not getting out of my YOM business—I’m just done having useless traders taking up space. If I didn’t insist on living in a small house, maybe it wouldn’t matter so much.
The group picture was taken by the lovely Lynda Thoman, and there was a door prize raffle. One item was a license plate cover, which I actually could have used, but my ticket number wasn’t called, even as I waited with satirical baited breath along with Eric, Norm Ratcliffe and Will Loftus, with tickets in hand. Will, lucky devil that he is, won the right to a bag of cookies, but – to avoid the relentless ribbing he would have faced from us – he declined to come forward and collect his prize.
The morning went fairly briskly. I didn’t buy much outside of YOM prospecting, although I did get a really cool cast “Ottawa” aluminum plate topper from Jacques Allen. I’ve been looking for various plate-related items with which to bedeck my upcoming Rochester display. Most of my time was spent talking with fine folks like my table neighbour Bill Thoman, or with Martine Stonehouse, who took on a lot of my trade stock. I didn’t get a chance to look through Joe Sallmen’s table, and I barely saw Dave Steckley’s.
We had to be off the curling pad by no later than 12:15 because there was another group booked in afterward. Ordinarily, we would have until one o’clock, but this curtailing was the unintended result of the renovations to the regular meet hall. It wasn’t long until I was in the car, listening to the Toronto Blue Jays game on the radio as they thumped the Boston Red Sox by an “I-could-get-used-to-this” score of 7 to 1.