The annual indoor October swap meet (heretofore known as “Grimsby”) won’t happen in 2021 because of the unpredictability of changes to the indoor gathering limit. It’s hard to organize an event in advance when a deposit has to be paid, yet the feasibility of the venue is in question. It would be pointless to hold a meet for 75 people when only 25 are allowed in the hall, which is what would have occurred in 2020. I’m hopeful that 2022 is the year we’ll resume our cyclical indoor meets. But in the meantime, we plate collectors were faced with another year with nothing to do. So Dave Colonna and Bern Fritshaw stepped up and arranged an outdoor swap meet on the vendor field at Prudhomme’s Antique Market in Vineland.
There was a Vineland meet last year, but it was out-of-range for me, given what life was like in 2020. But this year, life is returning to normal and I jumped at the chance to attend the outdoor meet on August 28. It had been 22 months and 2 days since the last Grimsby meet… and that’s the longest time I’ve ever gone between swap meets since my first ALPCA Convention in ‘96!
I’ve been an outdoor vendor before at various car shows, so I had a folding table, chair, and canopy to bring. I also had over a dozen boxes of plates to sell and trade. My new vehicle—now a larger SUV instead of a compact wagon—was easily up to the task. I used my rooftop travel pod to keep my gear separate from my traders, just for ease of unloading and setting up.
Eric Vettoretti travelled alongside in his own car. We usually share the ride, but there was no way all of our traders would fit into a single vehicle this time. As usual, we had arranged a few stops on the way to Niagara Region. And so began the trip!
I took the lead for the first leg, because I wanted to see Porkie’s Place: A rustic antique joint in Prince Edward County with a large hodgepodge of collectibles. I’d heard about the place only from its recurring ad on Kijiji. Porkie’s is a half-hour south of the 401, with no direct route there or back, so we could only visit on a day when we could spare the time. The Bay of Quinte Skyway bridge was down to one lane because of ongoing rehab, and we had to wait for a 5-minute red light at the bridge’s highest point over the bay. We meandered across the county until we finally came upon a well-marked, sign-laden barn.
We knew there would be plates, and we found some in two spots. We bought a couple of pairs and Eric also took an older government garage sign, which indicated a garage that was licenced to do safety checks. Porkie’s had a lot more to see; there were lots of oil cans and various small and large mantique items. We could have looked around for another half hour, but the clock was ticking and we had an appointment to keep. We probably won’t return regularly ourselves, but only because it’s off the beaten path. All-told, Porkie’s was a 90-minute detour: 30 minutes off the highway, 30 minutes to look, and 30 minutes to get back to the highway. It’s worth a side-trip if you have the time.
We re-entered the highway at Trenton, after having a quick lunch. Our next destination was Simcoe, a farm town in the middle of Norfolk county, which was several hours to the southwest. A guy there named Merv had given me a call for advice about selling his collection of licence plates. Any plates for sale are worth a look-see, and he wasn’t too far away from our most important stop of the day. To get there on time, we took the 407 to avoid the predictable slowdowns on the 401 and QEW across Toronto.
A word about the 407... I previously avoided it because of the high tolls, the camera fee and account fee. But man alive, it’s a time-saver. Once they started building the last section of it towards Peterborough, I started renting a transponder. It pays for itself if you enter-exit the highway three times per year because the camera charges aren’t added. The 407 was smooth sailing the whole weekend. It’s less stressful because there are fewer cars, and saves at least an hour of driving time each way. “401 MOVING SLOWLY BEYOND 400” is not what I want to see when I’m trying to make good time during a long drive.
We arrived in Simcoe at around 5:30 on Friday. We parked in a lot close to Merv’s house. I could see nearby a couple of rusty and patched-up buses, dropping migrant agricultural workers at the centre of town for the weekend. One former school bus, now painted red, had gaping rust holes in its side. It was pretty shocking to see such a poorly-kept vehicle being used to move passengers. A Fiat could have split it in half in a T-bone crash.
We met Merv and headed into his garage where he showed us most of his collection. Most of the passenger plates were singles, although he also had a bunch of interesting non-passenger plates, from the 1970s like historics, school buses, PCVs, and a few others. They were interesting to see, for sure. But if we were to buy them, we’d only be flipping them in a hurry the very next day, and we already had our plates full in that respect. That said, I took a methodical look so I could at least give Merv a ballpark figure of what to expect.
Merv’s more valuable plates were over at his friend Gary’s place in nearby Port Dover, and they needed to be looked at. Merv led the way there in his truck. Gary greeted us pleasantly and laid out the single plates, 1918 through 1929, for us to see. For the most part, they were in beautiful condition, especially the flats. The 1921 was no slouch, either: The original paint still retained its vivid orange colour. Eric and I decided not to make an offer, but I gave Merv a ballpark value for all of his plates as a lot, and he was grateful for the advice. While the garage door was open, Gary showed us a couple of his classic vehicles (plates photoshopped to protect Gary's privacy). It’s always fun to see mechanical eye-candy.
It was nearly seven o’clock, and it was time to make our main stop for the day. Eric took the lead and I followed him out of town. Port Dover is the terminus of King’s Highway 6, which goes northward, all the way to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, and then resumes across Manitoulin Island before ending at Highway 17 north of Espanola. (I had been at the northern terminus of Highway 6 just ten days before, while vacationing in Algoma.)
Our main stop brought us somewhere north of Dunnville. A guy was clearing out a family estate. His grandfather had been a collector / flea market vendor many years before, and the family still had all the plates, which they wanted gone. They had supplied us with good pictures, which is key info for making an offer. Our offer was higher than the family was anticipating, so we had a deal in place to pay for the plates and load them up. The seller’s dogs hopped around, begging us to throw sticks for them all the while, before they were distracted by a passing train. We managed to hoist the dozen boxes into our cars before driving off into the darkening evening.
We arrived at our hotel at about 8:30. We were starving, but we also had some valuable time to sort through our new plates. We chowed on pizza and beer while sorting the plates by year as best we could. We had some math to do, but we were tired. Beer, fatigue and math would not be a productive combination for us, so after relaxing amidst our bounty, we called it a night.
Early the following morning, we did a round robin of the more common plates. The swap meet wouldn’t start until 10 o’clock, so we were able to put prices on the plates that we didn’t want to bring home. With that done, we left the hotel to grab a coffee and a quick bite before heading over to Prudhomme’s Antique Market.
We arrived a half-hour before opening, but the festivities seemed to be well under way. Several other vehicles were parked neatly on the field, with trade tables already covered with plates. I introduced myself to Bern, who directed me to an inner corner to set up. I parked my car and was greeted by Dave Colonna, Don Goodfellow, Dave Steckley and Joe Sallmen. It was a sunny, hazy day, and the temperature was expected to get into the high twenties. The boys helped me install my shade canopy, which would take the edge off the heat.
I had a lot of things to sell. But I knew that once I put my boxes out, I’d be able to leave my table neither easily, nor often. I had a previous deal brewing with Terry Ellsworth, so I went off to find him. I had given him a list, which he cross-checked with a bunch of non-passenger plates that he was selling. We agreed on a per-plate ballpark value before going through the list. I didn’t know how much from my list Terry would be able to find, but it turned out to be quite a bit. Terry had obviously gone to a lot of trouble to go through my list so methodically. We spent a good twenty minutes going through the pile of plates he’d brought and calculating values before coming to a handshake on a deal.
The time had come to open for business, so I lugged out my fifteen-or-so boxes and started spreading them around my site. Bill and Lynda Thoman had brought all of Bill’s plates—traders, collection and all—to me the previous week so I could sell them in Vineland on their behalf. Bill is unable to travel at this time, and has come to the conclusion that now was the time to sell off, so I offered to help. I will be forever in Bill’s debt for his role in helping me land my leather shield plate, so doing this legwork for him was my pleasure.
I was going to be pretty busy. I needed to keep track of what was sold, and for how much. I had Bill’s plates to track, but I also had my own stock from three different sources. I needed a fast and easy way to track sales on the field, while using a minimum of concentration. So, in the week leading up to the Vineland meet, I invented the Upton Lot Colour Tagging System™. I acquired four colours of sticky dot tags; each colour would be for one of my sources. But I needed to know which plate sold and for how much, so I entered them into a spreadsheet and assigned each one a lot number. On the sticky dots, I wrote the price in large numbers, and then the lot number in small numbers at the bottom. Then, if a plate sold, I could simply peel the dot stickers off and stick them into my notebook. It would look like a messy collage of random stickers during the meet, but I could reopen my spreadsheets later on, and mark certain plates as sold. This was a much smoother solution than rapidly writing numbers down (and making mistakes). It did take quite some time to prepare, but it made bean-counting fast, easy, and basically error-free.
I used green labels for Bill’s plates because he had already priced some of his own, using his long-standing Thoman Painter’s Tape Tagging System™. So while some were made of tape and others were priced with circular dots, I knew that anything with a green tag was Bill’s sale. It was a good thing I did this, because Bill’s plates sold like hotcakes, outselling mine five-to-one! I was so busy that I rarely had a chance to leave my own table to take pictures.
Over the past two years, there are some newcomers who have discovered the plate-collecting community. I’ve traded online with Bob Juhlke, but I was able to meet him in person today briefly. I wasn’t able to check out his table before it was time for him to leave, but I’m glad he paid a visit to mine. Jake Shoychet and I have messaged on and on about plates, but I also hadn’t met him in person until he stopped by my table. He showed me a box of his recent finds. Wendy-Ann Whitt also stopped by my table, and was very patient with me as I was pulled away from my table for various things. She was very understanding and still bought some stuff even after I accidentally kept her waiting for over 20 minutes. I try to do my best when being tugged in multiple directions. It’s a recurring theme for me at swap meets.
One of my table-neighbours was 23-year-old Ethan Kraft. He had a modest table set up with a traffic sign and lots of US graphic plates to trade. Today was his first-ever plate swap meet. In telling me so, Ethan unwittingly supplied me with a mind-boggling “full-circle” moment, which I’ll try to describe.
My first swap meet was the ALPCA Convention in Peoria, Illinois back in 1996. I was 22 years old. I was every bit an outlier: I was a young pup in a room full of older people. Every collector I met seemed to be at least forty, and others were older still. Even Joe Sallmen, who was my Peoria travel-mate and joined the club at the same time as I, is seven years older. That Convention left an unconscious impression. Somehow, I became used to being more junior in age than my counterparts. That reality has changed, of course, but the notion of being younger somehow stuck with me.
When I first met Dave Steckley at the 1998 ALPCA convention, I was 24 and he was 45, making a difference of 21 years. But on the day I met Ethan in Vineland, he was 23, and I was 47. That’s a difference of 24 years. I realized that I’m closer in age to Mr. Steckley than I am to Ethan. It’s a shocker for me to be regarded by others as a more senior collector, even though the change has come so gradually. As a young collector, I would come to a meet with very little to trade, expecting to spend money, buzzing like a bee from table to table, buying plates from older guys who had so much trade stock that they never moved from their tables. But this time around, I was the old guy who never moved from his table. I’ve been in the hobby for a generation now, which is a staggering thought.
The day wore on. The sunlight felt hotter, but between my canopy and the constant breeze from the lake, I was having a great time. Paul Frater came by my table. He’d been roughing it in the BC forest for several weeks, but journeyed back to Ontario for the meet. Paul brought with him a small felt pennant from my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, which he found in a Victoria shop. I had offered him the $10 cash months ago when I said, “Buy it for me please!” But Paul just took ten bucks worth of traders from my table. “Plates are more fun,” he reminded me.
Martine Stonehouse bought a wire-rim 19-teens Ontario plate from me, but it had no paint left. I know she isn’t looking to collect filler, so when I looked puzzled, she explained that she had a wire-rim PEI plate that she was trying to preserve. Apparently, it’s rusted out so badly on the background tin that the number-bearing piece is no longer attached to the wire rim, and the plate can’t be displayed safely. She’s looking for donor metal from a similar wire-rim plate so that she can reconstruct the missing sections of the PEI such that it’s stable enough to hang on a wall. It’s an ambitious project, but a very important plate to rescue. I look forward to seeing what the finished product looks like.
Although the meet’s official end time was four o’clock, a few attendees needed to get going, so we took a group picture before Neb and Krystian had to leave. I had a small prior deal brewing with Krystian, but we both forgot about it. By the time I remembered, he was already gone, so we’ll finish that through the mail. I was pretty much bound to my table the whole time. I had enough time to take pics of people, but I wasn’t able to flip through their traders.
Bern had a “Long Distance Award” plate made up, and presented it to Joe, who had come all the way from West Virginia (with a pit stop in Ottawa a few days earlier). I wondered if Paul might be a candidate. He’s officially based in Orangeville, which isn’t far, although his preferred nomadic lifestyle did see him return to Ontario after a few months out west.
Normally, for an indoor meet like Grimsby, Joe and Martine linger for a long time and are the last to leave. But to my surprise, they both departed before I did. They did have somewhere to go—they met up with Terry at a nearby Tim’s—but I think it’s the first time I’ve ever outlasted them at a meet. Dave Colonna encouraged me to stay past three o’clock, when a second wave of people usually come by. I thought about it, but I was tired and hadn’t eaten since mid-morning. I decided to pack my things up and get a bite from the BBQ vendor. She had shut down the deep-fryer for the day, so rather than have fries with my burger, I ordered a dog and a big bottle of Gatorade. I wandered down to the shore, which has eroded over the years. The brick house on the Prudhomme’s property has its front side facing Lake Ontario, and there used to be a road between the house and the shore, but the land has long since fallen into the water. It is now reinforced with large cut boulders and big chunks of trap rock.
I found some shade and sat on the rock wall above the lake shore, letting the cool lake wind hit me. A line of freighters near the horizon moved slowly in the distance. The waves crashed inward. It was a nice respite during a busy day. I had driven alongside Lake Erie the previous evening, and I had been swimming in both Superior and Huron earlier in the month. I enjoy being at a Great Lake, no matter the situation.
I headed back to the car and said goodbye to Dave, Bern and Don. I still had a long drive ahead. Eric had left a couple of hours earlier, so he would easily beat me back to Ottawa. It was four o’clock, and if I wanted to get home at a decent hour, I’d be taking the 407 again. One look at my GPS told me that was the right call. The 407 was the only route with no traffic slowdowns. I rode it from start to finish, and then took Highway 7 home from there. The drive was relaxing, and best of all, I got home in five hours… fastest transit time yet to or from a Niagara-area meet!