It’s time for the 2021 outtake roundup! This year was better than 2020, in that things opened up enough that I could actually attend a swap meet. I was also able to do a little antiquing to try and sniff out some plates, and I co-purchased a couple of fairly large lots with Eric to improve my collection. It’s nice to be active in the hobby again, in a way that doesn’t involve a screen.
Here are some things I was a part of in 2020: A couple of tributes, a couple of big finds, a couple of paint shop projects, some big “thank-yous,” and an accidental picture or two.
This is the year Dave Grant turned 50 years old! Jim Becksted hatched a plan to honour the occasion, where Dave’s friends would each contribute some plates in a care package.
Originally, Jim had hoped to visit Dave and present the package to him, and have a few of us locals do a little physically-distanced, drive-by salute. Unfortunately, Ontario was waist-deep in a COVID shutdown by the time March rolled around, which made a gathering of any kind impractical. However, I live about a mile from Dave, so I volunteered to receive the plates and deliver the package.
Jim coyly arranged the details with Dave’s wife: At a pre-arranged time, she’d have him in the driveway under the pretense of an outing. I’d walk by, hand the package to him, and start filming with my phone while he opened the plates. The result was a touching video that was shared with all concerned. Here’s a shot of Dave opening the centrepiece of his birthday package: A personalized replica DG-50 Ontario plate from Jim, who organized the whole thing.
I got in touch with a classic car buff over the late winter. He had a 1942 Ontario advertising permit plate, but it had been repainted in the wrong colours long ago. He wanted to know what it was used for (roadside billboards, I told him). He also asked what the original colours were. I wasn't certain.
There were three different-sized variants. For some years, each of the three sizes could have a different colour. According to the ALPCA archives, the small ones were black on white in 1942. This plate, the only medium variant known, had its white background still intact on the rear side, so I volunteered to strip the front side, figure out what the original colours were, and restore it for him. I didn’t mind doing this, because it was a great opportunity to learn about an arcane issue.
He sent the plate to me after I opened my paint shop for the season. I used heavy-bodied furniture stripper to remove the incorrect green-and-white amateur paint job. Once I got it off, I used some oxalic acid to remove some of the surface rust staining. At that point, I could see the remnants of black paint on the numbers, amid a cream-white background. Colour confirmed! I sanded and primed the daylights out of the front side to smooth out its surface (I left the original rear side alone). The die strikes were fairly shallow, so the legend was tricky to paint, but I think it turned out very well. The gentleman was very pleased, so I promptly returned the plate to him after photographing it from many angles.
Speaking of advertising permits… I was fortunate to add a small-variant 1931 to my collection back in the spring. I wasn’t certain of of the colour, based on some pictures I’d seen. I assumed the background was brick-red, although the images made the plate appear darker. When it arrived, I was fascinated to discover that it was just as dark as advertised… Not a brick red, but a striking maroon. I posed it in front of two bright red Ontario plates to highlight the difference. The black colour of the numbers makes for a plate with fairly poor visibility, but these permits were screwed into the posts of roadside billboards, so they didn't need to be instantly legible. I have a large 1931 variant, which is green with black numbers. The medium variant (which I do not have) has a light yellow background, from what I can tell. These are really interesting plates to discover, what with their various colours and sizes.
I’ve collected short Ontario plates for a long time, but I was missing a three-character 1943. I bought this one back in 2020, but it was wintertime and I left it alone for a few months, so I could figure out what to do with it. The number is YOM-clear, so I considered just adding it to my YOM stock and restoring it. The picture on the left was taken after an oxalic acid bath, and even so, it was barely displayable. After wondering “Do I, or don’t I” for a while, I decided that it looked like crap, and needed help. I’m confident enough in my restoration technique that I figured I’d enjoy the plate more if it were repainted. So I stripped it down, sanded it over, primed it up, and sprayed the background. After some trial and error, I finally stumbled upon a paint mixture that duplicates the mustard-tangerine colour used on the numbers during 1943.
I was happy with the result. I very nearly sacrificed it on the YOM altar, but it was pointed out to me that this is a judicial issue, given the J prefix and the low number. That’s all I needed to hear! I keep it in my collection now.
In the late spring, I acquired a series of 1967 plates with repeating numbers, including this highest of all four-digits, number 9999. But the plate had an awkward problem: Someone had covered the centre crown with glue. Why? My guess is that it might have been to fasten a now-long-gone trinket to the plate. Like maybe a maple leaf, or the triangle-based Confederation maple leaf logo. Whatever it was, it was flat, as evidenced by the surface of the long-since-cured glue.
I needed a solvent to loosen the glue, which was rock-hard at 50+ years old. But I didn’t want to ruin any of the original paint needlessly. I raided my wife’s make-up bag: I took some nail polish remover and used it to dampen a round cotton pad. I folded the tab in half so it was more-or-less the same size as the crown. I placed it on the glue, and weighed it down with a small block of wood. After 24 hours, the glue had softened and become somewhat flexible, but it wasn’t coming loose yet. So I re-dampened the pad, and let it go for another 24 hours.
After three cycles of this, the glue was flexible enough that I could peel and scrape it off. The original blue paint underneath was a lost cause, so I just focused on getting every speck of glue off the plate. Once that was done, the crown was down to the bare metal, with about a quarter-inch of paint removed all around it. I sanded the edges of this area to wear the original paint down... Just so there wouldn’t be an abrupt “step” from the paint to the metal. Then, I masked off the characters around the middle and misted the plate with my favourite shade of ‘67 blue spray paint. The result isn’t quite seamless, but the colour match is excellent, and the misting technique reduces the sheen of the new paint. Following that, I just mixed up some white paint to match the numbers, and painted the crown over.
I like the result much more than I thought I would! I was originally thinking of re-selling the plate, since I wasn’t sure how well my patch job would turn out. In the end, I decided to keep it for myself.
This handsome fella is Bill Thoman. Bill has been a fixture at our local Ontario swap meets for as long as we’ve been holding them. He has delighted other collectors with his interesting displays of unusual plates over the years. Bill is an artist, and has produced a number of paintings on various media. His skilled work with signage over many years has lent itself well to restoring licence plates. Bill has taught me a thing or two about restoration over the years, and he’s always a pleasure to talk to. He just gave me a call last week.
Bill underwent life-altering surgery a couple of years ago. He was hoping to attend a swap meet in 2021, but his health wouldn’t allow it. The usual gatherings were all scuttled, anyway. A bunch of friends in the hobby played “pass it on” with a nice 1942 Ontario plate—Bill’s birth year—with each person signing the rear of the plate. Once it was full, the plate was directed to Bill himself, in time for his 79th birthday. Here’s Bill with his plate… photographed, of course, by his wife Lynda.
Say what you will about Ontario’s controversial, non-reflective blue plates; they still survive on the road through 2021. I suppose a formal recall is inevitable, but nothing has been announced yet. I just renewed mine for another year with no problems.
Reflective or not, I like the blue plates. It took me about a day to get used to their flatness, and then I was deeply bummed when Doug Ford was too embarrassed (and too cheap) to fix them. I bought a new car last year, right when the province was issuing the blue plates. I’m planning on using mine for as long as I’m legally allowed to drive with them.
The plate in this picture is the seventh number to be made on the “A Place to Grow” base. I was stopped behind this vehicle at a red light. I quickly asked my wife, in the passenger seat, to whip out her phone and take a picture. The issuance of the blue plates is all over the map. I don’t know how many CMAAs might have been issued here in Ottawa. I’ve never seen another on the road here.
In early July, Eric Vettoretti and I drove to Carleton Place to take possession of a plate collection that had been a long time coming. We didn’t get a look at it until we arrived there. Everything was as described, much to our relief. There were 45 or so crates to load into our two cars. The job took some time and muscle. We paid the seller and split. But we stopped at a park a few miles away to take pictures, and celebrate fact that this collection was finally ours, after a few years of jumping through hoops. When I posted the story on 2Cents, I opted to use a picture of Eric posing with his trunk brimming with plates. After all, he did the majority of the legwork, so I gave credit where credit was due. Here’s the alternate picture of me—just-happy-to-be-here—with my trunk loaded up!
Later in the summer, Eric and I acquired another lot in Norfolk County. We drove there to take possession of it on the night before the Vineland swap meet. I haven’t collected motorcycle plates with as much fervor as some of my compadres, but with my passenger run being finished, I’ve turned to trucks, and to a lesser extent, motorcycles. With the help of the Norfolk lot, my motorcycle run now goes back to 1943 with nothing missing. Of course, I’m missing most years before that, and I know it’s a run I may never complete. Motorcycle plates are expensive, and I find truck plates and their auxiliary PCV permits more interesting. Be that as it may, I wasn’t going to turn down a chance to add plates to my run that I won’t need to upgrade!
This is a close-up shot of a few of the plates from the Norfolk lot. They’re leaning on a hotel-room couch, waiting to be organized. I thought it made for an interesting picture. All of these plates were soon split up by Eric and I. Many of them were passed on to other collectors the next day at the Vineland meet.
The trip to Norfolk / Vineland was a great one for me. My favourite aspect of the Norfolk lot was this mint pair of 1914 Ontario passenger plates. The pair I already had was really nice, but there was no doubt that these would be an improvement. I already showed a picture of the motorcycle plates from that lot, but I really love the squeaky-clean 1944, and so it also ended up in this picture.
The other non-passenger plates came from an extensive, pre-arranged deal with Terry Ellsworth. I’ve become very interested in PCV plates over the past few years, and Terry had some wonderful examples that I didn’t already have. He also supplied me with the ‘55 school vehicle plate. I’ve been a teacher for 20 years, but I didn’t start collecting the school bus plates until more recently.
The “CAMP” plate comes with a paraphrased story from Terry: If I recall correctly, a contractor was in the Millbrook prison doing repair work of some kind, back in the 1970s. He wanted a custom plate, but those weren’t being made back then. A sympathetic supervisor allowed this to be cranked out for him. No one knows the significance of the word “camp,” but that’s the word he chose. He smuggled the plate out of Millbrook by hiding it in his lunchbox.
Here’s the decision I had to make when I got home from the trip to Norfolk. The new-to-me pair is on the left, and the pair that had previously been in my passenger run is on the right. They’re all beautiful plates, but the colour of the leftmost pair was just a tad more vivid, and they had no blemishes of any kind. My downgrader pair on the right had a gronk in the middle of one plate. I’d say it was a nice problem to have, although it was a no-brainer of a decision.
Thomas Zimmermann came over to do some swapping during the time that I still had both of the 1914 pairs on-hand. He became as enamoured with them as I, so he “added them to the pile,” as it were.
I enjoy seeing old cars that have clearly been wearing the same old plates for a long time. I was at the Barrie Automotive Flea Market when I spotted this MG convertible with a ‘73 Ontario base. This set of plates was one of almost 4500 that was originally issued in Sturgeon Falls.
While in Barrie, I spotted a 1972 GMC pickup with old plates lining part of the bed. Most of the plates were nothing special. However, a four-digit 1967 plate caught my eye… a somewhat sad place for such a desirable plate to be.
This picture is a completely random accident. I was filming a “flip video” of one of my trade boxes. I must have hit the still-image trigger by accident while I was moving the camera into position. The result is a nicely-focused close-up of an abraded 1922 Ontario plate. When I saw this picture in my photo roll, something told me it was a keeper.
I grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. It remains the only city that I collect, in terms of municipally-issued plates. It’s not an easy city to collect, with its remote location, and its population of under 40 thousand people during most years that these plates were issued. I add a Sault plate to my collection only once every couple of years.
Paul Frater spotted the yellow 1932 plate online and told me about it right away. I tracked the seller down and arranged the purchase. It’s now the oldest Sault-labelled plate that I own. The plate is aluminum, which is very unusual for an item of this era. I’ve never seen another one like it. It occurs to me that this plate could well have been issued in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, although I don’t have pictures of similar dated examples from either twin city. I’d love to know more about this plate, but the most important thing is the “SSM” legend. It can only mean one thing.
In the spring, Chris Sterrett posted a picture of a 1921 Ontario plate, which he painted in the dual-blue colours of the ill-fated “Place to Grow” plates. I loved Chris' repainted plate from the moment I saw it. His artwork is generally for keeps, so I asked him if he’d be willing to do one for me if I prepped it properly and sent it along. He generously said he would, although it would take a few months.
I dug out an orphan 1921 plate from my scrap pile. It was solid enough to restore, but it took about eight rounds of priming & sanding before it was ready. I sent it off to Chris sometime in May.
He kept me posted over the months, showing me some of the new ideas he’d come up with to improve upon his previous technique. The light blue “swoosh” was achieved by using scraps of commercial sign masking. The finished product was ready in early fall, and he sent it along. I think it’s the coolest thing.
In November, I saw a glass-mounted 1952 windshield decal on eBay, posted by Maine ALPCA member Jim Estrup. I made a healthy offer via official eBay channels. Jim opted to pull it down and accept my offer privately. The windshield glass is slightly curved, and the decal has started to peel loose from the rear. But it’s still in one piece, and the colour is still vivid.
Andy Shone stepped forward to show me that he had a 1951 plate with the matching serial number to the decal. I'd never before seen a 1952 decal / plate combo with the same number! This plate, 111DS, was a late sequence for the 1951 plate run. It was probably distributed to a new vehicle in 1952 with the matching decal being issued at the same time… making them a bona-fide “new in ‘52” issue! Most ‘52 decals that I’ve seen have an all-numeric serial number, and were just issued to any old vehicles that were licensed in ‘51 and had plates to bring forward.
Andy went even further and volunteered to swap to me his matching plate. How could I say no? I sent him a treasure in return to acknowledge his kind gesture. I'm a happy man! If I can somehow find the mate to the 111DS plate, and reunite the trio... I can only imagine what that would feel like. It could be out there, somewhere. Maybe I’ll find it one day. Maybe it'll find me.