Here's a no-brainer: It's the twilight of summer, very late in the season, and the warm weather is going through its last big kick. If you're a plate geek with time off and nothing to do, and there happens to be a major auto flea market a few hours away, what do you do?
The big Barrie market happens twice a year, in June and September. This year marked the first time I had ever attended the September installment. For various reasons, mostly having to do with either my job or university courses, I was always tied up. That wasn't the case this time around.
I decided to show up early and concentrate on the first two days of the market, which runs for four days from Thursday to Sunday. I drove to the market the day before it opened and camped a mile or so down the highway. The idea was to show up at the gates right when they open. If there are any treasures to be found, you have to be there first, otherwise, you may not see them. Most of the time I've gone to Barrie, I've gone on Friday or Saturday. While there's still some stuff to find, I would always hear about the big one that got away because I wasn't there on Thursday.
Most vendors were just waking up by the time the gates opened at 7 am, but as I worked my way across the field, the number of tarp-covered tables declined sharply, as folks awoke and opened for the day. Many of my best finds came early on… I think I had a head start on everyone. I found an oddball pair of Ontario passengers that were issued out of sequence on the wrong baseplate (the ESO series should have been issued in '73, but it appears on the undated '78 base). Really nice ones, too— they definitely upgrade the single one I already have.
I encountered another vendor about an hour later, way down at the end of a side field. I had clearly been the first plate geek to stop by. This guy had really uncommon stuff, like current dealers, a nice PRP truck, all kinds of interesting vanity combinations with die variations, a motorcycle error, and even a Canadian Forces in Germany plate… all for a couple of dollars each. I easily spent $40, and there was plenty left behind. It began to rain just as I closed that deal up. It sprinkled occasionally throughout the day, but we were by no means rained out.
I picked up a 1940 Alberta and a couple of farm and common passenger plates to upgrade my collection as well. I ran into a few familiar faces along the way, and we chatted and swapped a little. I let the better of my dealer plates go for an historic vehicle error plate.
Before coming to Barrie, I decided to bring along my YOM-clear plate pairs and see if I could sell any of them. I created a sign to strap on my back, showing some pictures of clear plates and listing the years I had on me. It actually worked! One person inquired if I had a cleared pair of 1969 plates, which I did. I sold them for a shade lower than I would have liked, but it was nice to have some money coming into my wallet for a change.
One thing I've learned you need to do is talk to the vendors. If they don't have plates, ask anyway. If they do have plates, ask if they have any others. I passed by one vendor who had some great pairs of Historic Vehicle plates earlier in the day, but they has sold quickly. He was a friendly fellow who said he had one more pair at home, and being a local resident, he said he could bring them for me tomorrow. I gave him my card and hoped he would remember.
After walking for close to 11 hours straight, I decided to head back to my campsite and put my aching, smelly feet up. I cooked some dinner and fell asleep by 8:30 pm.
My alarm clock dutifully woke me at 6 am. My legs still ached. I packed up the campsite, showered, and headed back to the market in time for the opening. Vendors now filled whatever empty spaces I had seen the day before. This is a major advantage of the September market over the spring one— there are many more vendors, and hardly an empty stall to be seen. In the springtime, there are some empty stalls around the sides and corners.
Shortly after opening time, I dug up some older bus plates I needed for my run; I had needed them for years. Nothing spectacular, but I was glad to finally fill the gap in my collection. I also picked out a pair of nice 67 passengers for the right price. They'll clean up, and they may clear for YOM.
I returned to the friendly fellow who said he would bring that pair of Historics for me. They were nice, but he raised the price by one-third of what we had agreed on the day before. I haggled hard and bought them for very close to what I had offered. I needed them for my run, so I found the slight overpayment to be tolerable, although I wasn't pleased.
It had been a long time since I found a real treasure at Barrie, but just in the final hour before I left, I discovered something significant. A guy had a pair of 1951 Ontario motorcycle plates in his subtle display case with the number 666. They were in mint condition, not repainted, no blemishes anywhere. The real deal. I inquired about them. The asking price, in the hundreds, was too high for me. Likewise for the other pair of cycles he had, same year, same condition, bearing number 1111. I bumped into a fellow collector and showed them to him, and I left a note for yet another collector. Either person would give the plates a good home, if they wanted to afford them. I could have taken them, and I thought about doing so, but I don't actively collect older cycles. That's mostly because the prices are too high, given my lesser interest in them. I'm a believer in the "good home" theory, but I also believe that not every well-intentioned collector is necessarily a good home for a given type of plate. Either of my fellow collectors I had seen Friday at Barrie would give these '51 cycles a better home than I would, because they love cycle plates more than I do.
The day wore on and I had combed the entire grounds at least twice (three or four times in some spots). I had seen everything and picked what I wanted. There was plenty of other stuff to be had, like the 1951 cycles, a beautiful pair of 1920 passengers for a good deal, vanities, and other stuff. I just can't take it all with me. I left some cards on the windows of some cars with interesting plates, in the hope that someone will offer the plates to me when they're done. I took a couple of pictures, too, including a '36 Chrysler bearing stickered, YOM-registered 1936 Ontario plates—repainted. I guess if you get someone to do a good enough job, you can sneak them by, since they're supposed to have original paint (or so I've heard).
Now that I'm home, I'm faced with the task of digging through my collection and adding my new finds to it. That's something I didn't need to do the last time I was at Barrie, because I didn't find anything I needed. Two things learned this time, for future reference: Go to the September event, and be there for Thursday morning.