Discovering the Plates

By Willa Wick in Arts & Music, Community
Director Willa Wick, on behalf of the Wellington County Historical Society, presents a vintage plate to new owner of the Post Office, Michael Hendrick

Director Willa Wick, on behalf of the Wellington County Historical Society, presents a vintage plate to new owner of the Post Office, Michael Hendrick

A collector’s personality, or an historian’s, has an unconscious brain sync that keeps eyes and ears open to “the prize”, which may be for himself or someone (s)he knows would enjoy the treasure.

Recently Kathy Bouma, Treasurer of the Wellington County Historical Society, found two plates in an antique store. They both had pictures of Fergus – The Market, and Templin Gardens. While making her purchase the proprietor advised he had another plate, and proceeded to show her one from Harriston.

Knowing that the Harriston Post Office is currently under extensive restoration and renovation, Bouma quickly agreed she needed the third plate. It was then given to a director to be presented to the new owner of the Post Office from the Wellington County Historical Society.

These picture plates were very popular thirty and forty years ago but are no longer available as a stock item. One can only be lucky enough to find them at garage or auction sales, second-hand or antique stores.

The new owner of the Post Office, Michael Hendrick, did not have a plate, and was very enthusiastic with the thought of receiving one for his décor.

There’s a story behind almost everything, and the inscription on the back of the plate led to some sleuthing. The photograph was by Barry Schneider. Plates were distributed through Schneider Enterprises & Gifts Ltd., Woodstock, Ontario.

The internet offered no information except that a few local museums and Woodstock Art Centers did have a couple Schneider plates in their inventory. There was no website for the business, and nothing describing either the photographer or where the plates were actually made. In a corner of one of the websites was a brief history of Barry Schneider – so brief it listed only his email address and telephone number. An introductory email was whipped off, followed by a personal call a few days later.

Barry Schneider is an accomplished photographer. Some of the decorative plate images were of buildings too dilapidated or even already torn down, and in such instances a local artist was contracted to make a likeness from old pictures. However, most plate scenes were from current photographs that he had taken.

Schneider would take a series of photographs of historical buildings or scenery from southwestern Ontario towns, have a limited number imprinted on china plates by Canadian Art China of Collingwood, and then distribute through the family company Schneider Enterprises & Gifts Ltd.

This business originally started with picture postcards and small souvenirs and developed into other venues over the years. Plates became a popular item in the twenty year period 1970 – 1990s.
The family owned business closed its doors about 20 years ago. Barry however, has not completely retired. He still does art work, mostly watercolor landscapes, and shows locally with “Artists of Oxford”. As well he plays 2nd violin with the Stratford Symphony Orchestra.

Schneider plate issue, which can now be regarded as collectible, was a timely resurgence of the 1900s era china souvenir pieces. Those were initiated the same way – by a photographer taking pictures of important buildings of a town. The early pictures however, were sent to a company in Germany or Austria to be reproduced on small pieces such as ashtrays, espresso-sized cups and saucers, miniature vases etc. in addition to tiny plates. These had to be inexpensive and small, so that people (many of whom didn’t travel very far from home in those days), if they did go away a distance, could purchase something small to bring home in their purse or pocket to prove they had been (wherever). These china pieces of one sort or another were found in almost every home and are now readily available in antique stores and through estate auctions.

Back to the 1988 Harriston Post Office plate and subsequent 1990 Library issue. Everyone seems to have one, yet nobody could remember where they got it or how much they paid for it. Many believed it might have been from the former Acheson Pharmacy Gift Shop (which has now been confirmed), and the feeling was “it couldn’t have been very much or I wouldn’t have bought the set”.

So a lovely post office plate, complete with wall hanger and original box, has now been presented to new owner Michael Hendrick and he was ecstatic to have this vintage piece to display at “The Old Post”.