What you see in the garage isn’t even half of it.
The walls and ceiling are covered in carefully placed license plates. There are rows and rows of Colorado plates. Easily all of the 50 states. Motorcycle plates. Some going back to 1915. Mark Arnold guesses there’s 1,500 plates on display.
And then there’s the ones you can’t see. He has 28 boxes full of plates he’s not sure what to do with.
“It’s still a work in progress,” he says.
It has been for a long time. Arnold started this collection in 1976, after spotting some beaten-down Buicks. He wanted to snag the silver medallions off the front. He thought he might as well grab the license plates, too.
It might have started earlier, according to a photo of Arnold as a 2-year-old on a tricycle with a license plate bigger than his face.
“As you can see, I’ve always been fascinated by them,” Arnold, 72, says.
That photo is on the cover of a hefty black binder titled “Mark’s license plate book.”
Inside are notes about his plates, where he got them and how much he paid for them. He’s proud to say he’s spent less than $1,000 on the lot. The most he forked over was $100 for one plate.
Arnold isn’t in this to make money or on the search for the perfect plate.
“I just collect what I like,” he said. “It’s anything that catches my eye.”
Like the plate with tigers on it and the one with a crustacean. Or the purple one. Or the ones adorned with his birth year, 1948, and the ones from places he’s lived. One of his favorites has the word “read” on it. He hung it up in his classroom when he taught first and third grade.
He’s been hanging up his license plates since he and his wife, Karen, moved here in 1980, incidentally the same year he started sporting his signature beard.
Arnold has become well- known for both traits.
When friends or neighbors or strangers get a glimpse of his garage, they’re instantly intrigued.
As an old friend said once, “You do realize you have a serious problem, right?”
“Yes,” Arnold says. “It’s an odd hobby.”
It’s taken him on adventures to garage sales and flea markets. His wife has been along for the ride.
“I’ve jumped out of the car to get license plates on the side of the road,” Karen Arnold said.
As she said, there would be worse things to collect, things that would take up more room or wouldn’t look as good as decoration. She’s seen the collection grow over the years and how it has quenched her husband’s fascination with numbers and history. But she doesn’t necessarily want it to keep growing.
“He doesn’t need anymore,” she says with a laugh.
Mark Arnold doesn’t think so either. He hasn’t gone out looking for license plates much in the last 10 years or so. People bring them to him, because they know he’ll find something to do with them.
“I just like looking at them,” he said. “They’ve been places. You wonder, where have they been? What have they seen?”
Each plate has a story or an interesting sequence of numbers or letters that Arnold likes to point out. He points out other stuff in his garage, like a phone booth with a Superman cutout inside and photos of his grandkids.
He also points to a little sign with a George Carlin quote: “That’s all you need in life, a little place for your stuff.”