A chance visit to a roadhouse with a bar covered in old number plates was the beginning of Paul Nicolias’ enormous collection. Paul sat down with Caitlyn Morgan to discuss how his collection came to be and the stories behind some of the standouts. Pictures: Ben Gross
PAUL Nicolias admits to having always been a collector but it wasn’t until 1982 and a stopover in outback South Australia that he found the one item he loved collecting more than anything else.
It was while travelling around Australia and on the way to Uluru that Paul found himself at a roadhouse in Pimba.
“I still remember walking inside and walking into the bar, where my eyes just starred at the wall behind the bar,” he says.
“It was full of American number plates, I looked in amusement they looked great and I thought to myself that I would like to collect number plates.”
When Paul found a wrecked car on the side of the road that very night, he felt it was meant to be.
“I grabbed a screw driver and a shifting spanner from the boot of the car, I took the number plates off the car and my collection started with two South Australian plates,” he says.
“The night I was proud of myself.”
Before returning back home after his great Australia adventure, Paul’s collection was already up to five number plates, after picking up another two in the Northern Territory and Mount Isa.
Over the years, Paul has collected more than 8000 number plates from more than 60 countries. Each one on display on the walls of his shed and verandah.
“Whenever I was travelling, my eyes were always on the look out for more plates to hang on the walls,” he says.
“Occasionally I have come home to find a number plate gifted to me at my back door, I even had one friend who once got me seven from India.
“Whenever someone would go overseas, I would always say if they see a number plate on the ground to bring it back home for me.”
While initially Paul was interested in collecting any plate he could get his hands on, more recently he has slowed down to only collecting those with a special meaning.
“Now I am just looking for those with PN or with Paul on them, I already have at least 30 with Paul,” he says.
“I am only buying and swapping plates that are really good or if a new slogan comes out on the state plates, I will get a couple of those.
“I will always get them if they either have my name, initials or my son’s name.”
Paul says he has given many plates away, most have been to people whose names are on the plates or for them to give to someone else with that name.
“I had one little come up at a tractor show where I had a display and said one of the plates I displayed was her grandmothers name. You should have seen the smile on her face when I gave it to her,” Paul says.
While Paul has collected many of the plates through swap meets, there has been a few that haven’t been so easy to get.
“One of them came from East Timor, a friend of mine was there and saw a burnt out car, he knew how much I would of wanted the number plate so he got it and took it home,” he says.
“Each of them have a story and have a meaning.
“The most crazy for me was when I climbed two or three cars to reach the car at the very top and get that number plate that had my initials.”
Paul is a member of three different number plate collector clubs and has attended conferences around the world.
“I have been to the USA three times collecting plates and attending their conferences,” he says.
“Some of these collectors have more than 20,000 plates, at one conference there was estimated to be more than a million plates on the floor being swapped and purchased at that one event. It was just amazing.
“It’s not an expensive hobby, I often spend between $1 to $15 per plate, however the top of the range does go for a lot more.”
While Paul loves to sit back and enjoy viewing his collection, it’s the people he has met through collecting that he says is the best part about it all.