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One Collector's Experiences

By Tim Hansen

I am now a senior in high school. I got into license plate collecting a little over a year ago in November, 1996. There was a small salvage yard (now shut down by the EPA, sadly), that let me take whatever I wanted (long as it's small) for my art project. I basically came in looking to pry off nameplate badges to spell a message, but I ran across a big old bus with a recent heavy truck plate (a 94 issue, Wisconsin, aqua with black letters). I just liked the color and the practically mint condition of the plate. So, I grabbed it and one other truck plate and went home. Soon, I went back and picked up about twenty more plates, including two WI random word plates, CUB-### and a pair of MAN-###s, a current Illinois plate, a Florida plate (beats me how it got there too!) and an Iowa plate off of a rather strange vehicular find (here's the story- While I was still in grade school, there was a Sunoco station across the street that stored all of the accident-wrecked cars for the county cops. I distinctly remember a grey Olds Firenza that had been jammed under a semi- the roof was severed at the base of the windshield and folded back in the middle. Now, about seven years later, I find it in this yard. And it's got an out-of-state plate, I said to myself holding the Florida plate in my hand. Thus was laid the groundwork for my standard 50-state run. No kidding that's popular. But I hadn't paid dime one yet.

Then, last spring, I visited the Jefferson Swap Meets in Jefferson, WI. This is one of the biggest car shows in these parts. I found myself with one of each kind of screwdriver and my dad's ratchet wrench set wandering around the parts tables. Sure enough, some guy was selling old bumpers. And sure enough, attached to one was an early 80's WI plate (yellow/black) Exactly what I was looking for (childhood memories...ahhh). Price? Free. A little more perusing uncovered a stack of 28 WI plates, mostly farm, but some passenger, chiefly from the '60's-'70's but going older (including a pair of '42's, a '45, a '51, and a seriously beat up '28.) They were covered with dirt and seriously neglected, but the majority of them were still presentable. Price? He wanted only $10 for the set. I talked him down to $8.50. The next day I went back and I ran into a SERIOUS plate collector. About 10 wooden pullout drawers roughly four feet long stuffed with several hundred license plates were being sold off bit by bit. I picked up six nice '50's Illinois plates and three Illinois '76 Bicentennial plates for something like 50 cents a piece.

My next brilliant idea came while on vacation driving cross-country with the family. We were having dinner at one of my father's clients when the conversation turned to my license plate collection. One thing led to another, and next thing you know I wound up with a perfect Colorado '76 Then, I found a serious plate collector running a gas station in Wyoming (with a COMPLETE WYOMING RUN tacked to the walls) He was selling spares, so I picked up a '70 Wyoming passenger plate for $1. I thought to myself, OK, how can I get a plate easily and quickly (and free) from every state I visit? Our next hotel was in Idaho, right next door to a car dealership. A little light bulb goes on about here. I walk in and explain that I'm a tourist and would like an Idaho plate from off the used cars to take back home with me. And I got one. Picked up a Montana plate the same way from a garage in Cut Bank. About 20 miles west of Fargo, ND, I tried the same thing, but they pointed me to a salvage yard across the freeway. He said, OK, take whatever you like, long as it's not a current-design ND plate. I walked away with about fifteen or so plates. Mostly ND from the '70's, but also a couple Minnesotas and a yellow-on-blue California plate !! (another one of my favorites) Finally, in Fargo, down the street from the Pizza Hut we ate at was a HUGE Chevy dealer with a neat little '74 Mustang II V-8 fastback up on the ramp. I walk in and feign interest in the car, and before long I walk out with a pair of perfect current ND vanity plates, "RJS CAV" AND one of their heavy plastic dealer-issued License Applied For plates. Not bad for being on vacation.

My next vacation proved just as fortuitous! Driving down for Spring Break to TX with two buddies in our old van, I stopped into a small car dealer in Memphis and walked out with five current Mississippi plates, two BicenTENNial TN plates, a Texas, an Arkansas, a Louisiana, an Oklahoma, an Alabama, a '96 Mississippi Used Dealer plate, and one of those ridiculous "Heartbeat of America" reflective things. And save for a few spots of white latex paint and some Scotch tape, they're all in G/VG to EX condition. For the next 1200 miles I was on the hunt for more plates. All I turned up were a dealer L.A.F. plastic plate from Hope, Ark. and a totally trashed TX plate from some Ft. Worth bodyshop.

Still, not bad for a total investment of around $15.

And well on my way to a 50-state set.

Then maybe I'll take a stab at chronological runs, either 1980 (year I was born) or 1977 (year my AMC Pacer was born)

Yes, for those of you with a couple of $200 mint-condition porcealin plates in tissue paper somewhere along with several hundred VG+ plates and more HAM radio operators issues than you can fit in your car's trunk this may all seem like insignificant nothingness. But my garage is getting some dandy decorations, thank you very much, and the reflective ones look cool in my headlights when I drive home. I love this hobby!

Last updated: Monday, 29-Jun-2009 19:06:23 UTC

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