Monday, August 25, 2008

Plate shopping at the Alaska State Fair

I'm getting ready to head to the Alaska State Fair to watch rides, try desperately to remember names of people I only see once a year ... and to look for plates!

In the age of eBay, good plates are harder to find on the ground. You can still find some gems if you're prepared. Here's some plate-shopping advice (for at the Fair, or anywhere else):

Take your price guide. This may be obvious, but it's sometimes hard to tell if an unusual plate is priced reasonably. Bob and Chuck Crisler's License Plate Values is a great general reference, though it only speaks to passenger plates. Check the completed auctions on eBay to get a feel for the pricing of plates you're interested in.

Take your collection with you. It's good exercise. :-) OK, not literally, but you should take your lists with you. Don't just take the list of plates that you want (what collectors call their "want list"), but also take a detailed list of what you have. You never know what information you'll need to make a good buying decision.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Don't just take a text list of what you have -- take photos, too. If you're not already taking pictures of all of the plate s in your collection, think about doing so. I use Irfanview's "contact sheet" feature to print out a page full of photos of all of the plates in my collection, so that I can instantly tell exactly how good of an upgrade I'm looking for.

Watch for sharks. Some sellers at the Fair are obviously trying to gouge people, especially late-season tourists. Here are some bad signs:
  • Plates are priced significantly higher than your idea of their value. If they're selling a single '76 Bear plate for $40 or more, they're trying to gouge people.

  • Lots of the plates are unlabeled and unpriced.

  • Replicas are not marked as such.

  • The seller tries to pressure you into buying right away instead of thinking about it and coming back later.

  • The seller seems to be sizing you up to see how much to charge you.

Be ready to walk away. Unless it's a screaming deal or it's before 1950, enough plates change hands at reasonable prices on eBay that you can afford to let a plate go if it's too expensive or if you're not comfortable with the transaction or the seller.

Happy hunting!

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