Collector has thousands of number plates

The thousands of number plates behind the doors of Dave Peel's garage, house -- and even behind his garden wall -- are what he calls "a hobby that just grew and grew".

Peel has lived in Jacksonville since 1970 and has collected number plates for at least 19 years.

"It keeps me out of mischief" he said, standing amid his garage, surrounded by wall-to-wall number plates, some dangling from the ceiling. "It started as a pastime, but is now a business. If I don't have it in my collection, I keep it. The others I sell to car collectors".

Although not a lucrative business, Peel sells number plates to people from all over the US, even to a car collector that has more than 350 vehicles.

Peel, a stocky man in his 80s, used to maintain motor vehicles himself and still owns a Model B Ford, but the maintenance of the cars was taxing and car parts eventually got too much of a burden as he grew older. That's why Peel turned to number plate collecting.

"A friend got me into it," he said, clad in a t-shirt with a pattern showing different colored rectangles which, upon closer inspection, revealed that they were number plates. "It's an interesting pastime. I get to meet very interesting people, GP's, judges -- loads of people".

Peel admits that he doesn't keep track of every number plate he has or how many he has all together. He thinks the collection could easily top 2,000, but it wouldn't surprise him if there were "over double that amount".

He also shies away from using a computer to keep track of the number plates and only advertises in the press.

Peel's collection includes the oldest plate on record, issued to a Bryon Jackson, who lived in San Francisco. The number 64 plate was Jackson's in 1904.

In his home, Peel also holds onto one of the first state-issued plates, vintage 1914, red with white lettering. He explained that, before 1914, drivers were issued small coins with a license number on it, it was then the responsibility of the owner to put number plates to put on the car.

"They went home and made their own," he said and added that people made them out of porcelain, leather, paint and even the types of numbers one would find on a home for its address.

The collection also includes number plates from every state, motorbike plates that are in the shape of the curved fender, military plates and the number plates of former a former state Senator.

Still, his favorite plate is a lot newer and is actually being used by his grand daughter.

"Oh that's easy," he said after being asked which one is his favorite.

"It's the one that belongs to my grand daughter".

Peel has one of the copies of the plate, it reads "A (heart symbol) 4 Nina," marking the time when she was 13 years old and received a heart transplant from a woman in San Jose on 9/11. She recently turned 21.

The plate also has a frame with the date on top and the words, "Our miracle" on the bottom.

Peel advertises his business on the side of some of his cars, "Wanted: old and unusual number plates and frames, any pairs 1959 and older, 428-9842".

His own number plates? PL8 S4U.

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