UTICA — Being a world traveler can provide the opportunity to collect numerous items. The globetrotting days of Utica area resident Larry Summers have opened doors to many relationships which have allowed him to amass an enormous collection. And his treasure ... nearly 200,000 license plates.
They come from all over — United States, Canada, Mexico, Germany, Australia, Panama — and the list goes on. You name it, Summers probably has it. Most of his plates are automobile license plates. But there are others including motorcycle plates, non-vehicular plates and various collector plates.
The one-time cartographer for NASA and the United States Air Force who chartered the course for John Glenn’s first flight around the earth, also worked for the CIA where he would procure maps of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He attended Kent State University, holds a master’s degree in geography and was a university professor for five years. His travels have taken him to all 50 states and numerous other countries. “It’s been a good way to meet people,” said Summers.
After living in Washington, D.C., for a brief period and spending most of his life in Ohio, Summers and his wife, Lela, now reside on their quiet five-acre farm near Utica, tending to his collections. Retiring in 1991, his collections have now occupied much of his time over the past 20 years. As well as trading and collecting here in the U.S., he has done business overseas. Previously doing quite a bit of business in Germany, a lot of that has diminished from what he calls the Germans’ negative attitude toward the U.S.
“It’s all about timing and marketing,” said Summers about working his license plate collection business. He acquires plates through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, other dealers, attending shows and conventions, and at salvage yards. Some of his favorite plates are those from Ohio and the Rocky Mountain states. He said the Wyoming plates, which include an image of Buffalo Bill Cody, are very popular in Europe, as Cody was one of the most famous characters during that time in Europe.
Another favorite of his is the Ohio plate from 1938, marking the 150th anniversary of the Northwest Territories. Included on this plate is an embossed emblem of a Conestoga wagon, the first time an Ohio plate had included any emblem.
Summers is a member of the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association, a group of collectors and dealers who travel to various shows while selling, buying and trading their license plates. The fifth annual Ohio Region Spring License Plate Meet will take place at his residence on May 21 to 22 with fellow collector Joe Rich as co-host. The event is geared toward ALPCA members, but those interested from the general public may also attend.
There are two storage sheds on his grounds that are filled with boxes of license plates. They are organized in crates and stacked by rows, sorted by state and year. If you are looking for a particular plate, Summers could find it for you. Two other garages have various license plates on display for viewing.
“It’s a blast,” said Summers. “I’m making the most of it.” Though he may not have quite as many license plates as he did a few years ago, he still has an extensive collection which he’s begun to sell down. “I’m buying selectively,” said Summers. “I will continue to sell down in the coming years.”
License plates are his biggest collection, but there are other items collected in his storage sheds. Summers was eager to show off his collection of old GM cars, posters, album covers, signs and even a jukebox.
“I don’t plan on giving this up soon. At least I hope not,” said Summers. “I may do this another 10 or 20 years. Who knows.”