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Driven to joy: License plate collection a meaningful hobby for Fiddler's Creek man

Andrew Atkins
Naples Daily News

Alfred "Al" Noto has mastered a lot of knowledge in his 75 years. 

His time in the Peace Corps, in public administration and education are all evidence of that. But there are few things Noto knows more about than license plates — and he’s got a thousand of them.

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“So you really think this is interesting?” Noto asked in a recent interview.

With knowledge like his, the question is almost rhetorical. How could it not be? A small selection of the facts Noto rattled off from the top of his head:

  • The first license plates were issued in France in 1893.
  • The first state to issue license plates was Massachusetts, in 1903.
  • Florida offers 121 different options for its license plate designs.

Noto, too, knows that license plates went through a number of different material iterations before landing on the metal they’re made of today — including leather and porcelain.

Al Noto holds up a 1914 New Jersey license plate, which was made from porcelain, at his home in the Fiddler's Creek community in Naples on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. On his shirt, Noto smiles while posing next to a few dozen license plates from his collection.

His interest in license plates started as a kid when his dad took the plates off his car and bolted them onto Noto’s bicycle.

“Some people collect bottle caps. I don’t think this is so unique,” he said.

Unique, maybe not. But to hear his wife, Susie, tell it, Noto lights up when he meets somebody he can share the joy of his collection with.

“I think they’re fascinated, for the most part,” Susie Noto said. “Even myself — most people don’t realize the huge variety, and what makes some of them valuable as opposed to others.”

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Noto’s prized plate is a first edition 1979 plate from the Northwestern Territories of Canada, which is white with a red outline and in the shape of a walking bear. Other plates in his collection include a 1914 New Jersey plate made of porcelain, a 1950 Minnesota plate and a 1955 South Dakota plate, to name a small fraction. 

“I always travel with a screwdriver and wrench,” Noto said. It comes in handy, for example, if he’s on vacation in Hawaii. He’ll visit a junkyard and ask to look around to see if he can find a plate to add to his collection.

But not just any junkyard plate will do.

“I like the ones that are in mint condition,” he said. “I only want the best of the best to collect.”

With so many of his favorites adhered to his garage wall (they’ve yet to properly invade his condo near Marco Island the way they did in their New Jersey home), it makes sense his standard is so high. And while Noto considers himself a collector, his collection shrank significantly from the 4,000 to 5,000 he owned when he lived in New Jersey. He took his favorites — the approximate 1,000 in his collection now — and eliminated the rest of his collection.

Susie Noto doesn’t mind Al’s collection, he’s gotten into the habit of finding license plates with her name on them.

“You can have 5,000, and it still doesn’t take up that much space,” she said.

But neighbors might have a different idea. A year or so ago, Susie Noto said two young girls were walking down the street and saw the inside of Al’s garage. “Wow, they must have a lot of cars,” one told another.

No, not cars. But ask Al Noto about his collection.

“I know a hell of a lot about license plates,” Noto said. 

Andrew Atkins is a Naples Daily News features reporter. Contact him via email at andrew.atkins@naplesnews.com. To support work like Andrew's, please consider subscribing: https://cm.naplesnews.com/specialoffer/