Carol Brown owns more than 500 plates, none of which has ever been used to serve food.
Brown, 69, whose plates adorn the walls of her Northridge home, is one of about 8 million Americans who collect limited edition plates. She and 63 other collectors are members of the San Fernando Valley Plate Club.
The club's members collect limited edition plates, which differ from antique or other special plates in that they are issued like numbered prints. Made of porcelain or china, their production normally involves an intricate process of transferring a picture or other artwork to the plate during firing. The more popular ones rise in value.
On a recent Sunday, several dozen women and a few men, most in their 50s and 60s, met at the plate club's monthly meeting to talk about plates and sell, buy or trade them like baseball cards.
Many are like Brown, who bought her first plate in 1975 when she received a mail offer from a plate manufacturer specializing in collector items.
"I liked the plate and bought it, and then I got the whole series," she said. "I kept falling in love with them."
"First it has to strike a chord," explained Mickey Kaz, 45, owner of Collections Unlimited in Thousand Oaks and one of the founders of the Plate Club four years ago. "Sometimes it will be just the name of a plate, like 'Michael's Miracle,' and somebody will look at it and say, 'Oh, that looks just like my child or grandchild.' "
Many limited edition plates have Norman Rockwell designs, cute children or famous movie or show business motifs, such as "Sound of Music" and "South Pacific."
"What makes plate collecting a fun thing is you try to keep the attitude of non-greed," said Richard Uhlman, 49, vice president of the club. "Don't get it because you think it will increase in value. If you buy what you like, most of the time what appeals to you will appeal to a lot of other people."
Uhlman's wife, Jacquie, was enamored of the movie "Gone With the Wind," so, when she saw a flyer announcing a new series of plates by that name, she bought the first one for $21.50. That plate now sells for $300 to $350, Uhlman and Kaz said. "If only we'd bought two, one to keep and one to sell," said Uhlman.
Five hundred copies of an autographed plate with a picture of baseball player Reggie Jackson were released three years ago for $100 each. Within a year, the were selling for $800, Uhlman said.
Most limited edition plates are originally released for $20 to $30.
2 Kinds of Collectors
Although they may sound as if they would have a lot in common, plate collectors divide themselves into those who collect limited editions and those who collect antique or other plates.
"My neighbor is the largest collector of the other kind of plates in the country," said Kaz. "He has 5,000 plates, including calendar plates, ships, trains, anything that has a decoration on it, but he and I have nothing to talk about."
Kaz has 300 plates on her wall at home, and 700 more displayed at her store. "I wish I had been more selective at the beginning," said Kaz. "I bought everything I saw the first year. But I've sold all but 20 of my first 300."
A new member of the plate club, Bonnie Manning, 37, of Canoga Park, said her miniature dachshund bought her her first plate last Christmas.
"Actually, I bought it at a swap meet and wrapped it up as though the dog was giving it to me. My son is 14 now, and I'm looking for new interests as he needs me less." Manning said she plans to add to her collection slowly.
Many of the club's members will participate in the fifth annual California Plate and Collectible Show in Pasadena April 25 and 26, where 30,000 collectors are expected.