There are those who would dispute the rhyme or reason of assembling large quantities of like items, but there’s no arguing that people will do it, according to local businessman, Johnny Denton.
“If it’s been made, somebody will collect it,” Denton said Thursday.
Denton has a few assemblages of his own, taking up places of honor in his home and business – and on Saturday, he will join other like-minded collectors at the Talley Ward Recreation Center in Morristown to network, trade and discuss the nuances of one of his acquisition-related hobbies: license plates.
No kidding. License plates.
“Last year, our first year, we had 56 tables set up” Denton said.
The event is the East Tennessee License Plate Show — the 2nd Annual — and it will be held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the center, located near East High School.
The first Tennessee license plate was issued in 1915, and if a person were fortunate enough to have found one in the corner of an attic or smokehouse, they would be richer by about $15,000.
The potential for finding something of value is just one of the draws to a show like this. Camaraderie, socializing and plain old curiosity come into play as well.
“The guys come out of the woodwork,” Denton said.
And there’s a bit of competitive nature to it as well. Similar shows are held in Cleveland and Crossville, and Denton thought local collectors and vendors might be interested in a gathering a little closer to home. He created flyers and mailed them out in hopes that the inaugural show would create some buzz.
“We beat the Cleveland show in attendance last year,” he said
So nearly 200 flyers have gone out this year, and at last count there were more than 40 tables already spoken for.
“There really are a lot of collectors in it,” Denton said.
Some collectors are dedicated to a certain type of plate. For example, in the two decades spanning 1936 to 1956, Tennessee license plates were made in the shape of the state.
Other popular types are Governor’s and Congress members’ plates and those designated for veterans. Some plates, such as those designated for the 278th Calvary Division, are rare.
Voted the “most rare” type of plate in 2018 was the model made for farm vehicles in 1936, with blue print.
Denton was inspired to begin collecting license plates by his uncle, the late Ben Denton, a former coach at East High. He now has around 1,000 plates and displays them at his business, Gutters & More, and his home.
He participates in a number of community events, like Morristown Parks and Recreation Department’s annual BooFest and the Hot Wheels Competition, to which he drives a small, reconfigured bread truck that holds a number of his collector plates.
“I’m a member of the Hamblen County Car Club, and they’ve helped me publicize the show,” Denton said. “I’ve been handing out flyers at their Cruise-Ins, and they let me talk on their microphone about the show.”
Denton will continue his search for a particularly rare model: a 1954 Tennessee front plate designated for Morristown.
“That’s the only year the state made front plates,” Denton said. “I’ve actually got Dandridge and White Pine.”
Individuals who may have license plates at their homes are encouraged to take them to Saturday’s show.
“Plates still turn up and people have no idea what they are worth,” Denton said.
Vendors will also have other items on site as well, including those for antique cars.
“It’s a great show to just walk through and look,” Denton said.