This year, the St. Catharines swap meet was held on a Saturday, much to my delight. Sunday isn’t always doable for me, but Saturday is for sure. I drove down Friday night to stay with Jim Becksted, who lives somewhere around Brampton. He had intended to go to the meet as well, but sadly, was unable to go. Nonetheless, he opened his door to me to crash for the night, and I am thankful.
On the way to St. Catharines early the next morning, I encountered some brief difficulty when I left the expressway at the exit specified on the directions. It told me to turn "south down Elizabeth street." Trouble was, I could only turn east or west, and there was no sign to indicate the name of the street before me. I decided to turn left, and wound up on an ancient one-way service road that emptied into a quiet neighbourhood. I fought my way back and eventually found my destination without having to ask for directions.
Said destination was the Welland Avenue United Church (ironically, at 5 Henry Street). Not being a religious guy, I hadn't entered a church in a while, but as soon as I entered, an aroma of "oldness" filled my nose. I can only describe it as church-smell... a kind of musty fragrance, neither pleasant nor unpleasant.
I knew I had arrived at the right place, thanks to host Don Goodfellow's "PLATE MEET" sign and his assistant "Sam" Samis' handwritten poster by the entrance. I made my way to the main hall where a few collectors had laid out their tables and were briskly rummaging through piles of plates or gabbing with other collectors. I greeted Don and Sam, and I picked a table in the centre of the hall to unload my stuff.
Collectors can be like blackflies. Within seconds of your appearance, they're on you: Opening your boxes and bags, assuming that all is fair game, not realizing that they're about to look through a box containing papers, garbage, lunch, or other non-collectible items. My first impulse was to swat at them like blackflies, but I decided to relax and just let them look. Blackflies or not, I only have two crates of traders, and everything would be laid out within a couple of minutes anyway.
This turned out to be the one meet in ten where I was making money hand over fist. "How much for this?" a person would ask about a boring plate that had spent years in my trade box. Three or four bucks seems to do nicely for a lot of people. No sooner would I complete the sale than someone else would root through my boxes with great interest. I don't get it. I mean, this is the same stuff that was ignored by the same people last spring in Acton. Must have been the church-smell.
I had turned a tidy little profit when I spotted John Rubick setting up shop in a corner. John has lots of older Ontario goodies that put people like me in the mood for spendin'. At John’s table, I spent more than I had already made, picking up some mint Ontario samples and a newer Canada Forces plate. John also brought some older brown Ontario military plates, much to the delight of other collectors. John had a great deal of low-numbered DAV keychain tags. I don't actively collect them, but they sure are cool to look at! For show-and-tell, John brought a couple of courtesy plates that were issued to Ontario Lieutenant Governor Roy Lawson, who held the position of Royal Representative from 1946 to 1952. The plates bore the number X1, and John had singles from 1949 and 1954 (the latter being two years after Lawson vacated the post).
I wandered around the hall, flipping through trade boxes and talking to my fellow collectors. I did come across some interesting finds, but I had pretty much blown my budget for the moment. I decided to hold back and see if the continuing sales from my own table would be enough to break even. (Now, when I say “break even,” you must understand that I’m not including the six-hour return trip costs about $70 in gas and another, say, $30 for food and snacks. This is a fun weekend for me, not a money-maker).
I had brought a few European plates from a small batch that I bought from a person in Belgium. I bought them because they were a good deal and they were interesting, but I was curious to see if any trade offers would come in. Chuck Sakryd hemmed and hawed over an older Italian pair I had, but in the end, they stayed with me. I did trade a European Community Organization plate (EU pre-precursor) to William Loftus for a cool, green, oversized diplomat plate from Cyprus. The sticky thing with international plates is value: Half the time, I have no idea what they’re worth. William had only ever encountered that one Cyprus diplomat plate, whereas I had never seen a EUO plate prior to acquiring it. We figured we’d do a straight one-for-one trade and make our lives easier. I love it when that happens. All too often, whip out the calculator. Or worse, ask themselves, “What can I get for this on eBay?”
The church, I thought, was a great venue for a license plate meet. The size was just about perfect. There were no unused tables anywhere, and yet, we weren’t short of space. It seemed that every corner of the hall was used, and so there was something interesting to see wherever you went… as opposed to sparse meets where empty spaces abound. The hall had a warm, cozy feel to it, which I appreciated on such a cold, wet and windy fall day. It smelled great, too. Possibly the best aspect is the catwalk that runs along the walls, twenty feet above the meet floor, accessed by a couple of unassuming staircases that I discovered in the back. They made for a great bird's-eye-view for our group photo. I’d like to go back there for another swap meet. I hope Don books it again next year.
Things wrapped up at around 1 o’clock, as is usual for a one-day swap meet. It was a smooth meet, with about 35 collectors in total. Having made a small amount of profit, I decided to spend it on some lunch. I went for a beer and some wings in Niagara with William and Norm Ratcliffe. Swapping stories with those guys, especially after swapping plates, is a howl!