Plate History

  • Alabama

    Pre-States

    Alabama state law called for the registration of vehicles as early as 1903. However, no license plates were required to be displayed on the vehicles. Various Alabama cities rushed to fill that gap, passing laws requiring their own vehicle registration and ordering motorists to provide their own plates. City registrations date to 1905 for Mobile, and other cities soon followed. By 1909, cities were issuing annual porcelain plates in Birmingham, mobile and Montgomery. The city issues ended in October of 1911, when the 1912 plates were first issued.

    Slogans

    THE HEART OF DIXIE was introduced with the 1955 plate and has been a fixture through 1993 on Alabama plates.

    Graphics

    In 1955, a large heart was introduced with the county number inside. In 1956, the county number was removed and put back in as part of the serial, and the size of the heart was reduced. The smaller heart was placed at the lower left corner of the plate and remained there until 1976. The 1977 issue had a heart at upper left that contained the HEART OF DIXIE slogan inside. It also had the State Capital at centre, the state flag at lower left and the Bicentennial star at lower right. The 1983 issue simplified the style, showing the heart with the slogan inside at upper left. The 1987 issue showed the slogan across the top and red hearts in the upper corners. The 1992 issue had Alabama across the top, with a small HEART OF DIXIE immediately below. The word OF is inside a heart.

    Features

    The word PRIVATE was used on all private automobile issues from 1922 through 1927. For 1937, the front plates had the word FRONT embossed on them. In the late 1930s, an arrow was used to mark the space of missing digits on the low-numbered plates.

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  • CALIFORNIA

    Pre-States

    The California State Legislature passed a law requiring motorists to register their vehicles with the state in 1905. However, they did not begin to issue license plates until 1914. This span of nine years in which motorists were required to provide their own plates allowed a variety of styles to be used, both manufactured and homemade. Most examples carried the abbreviation CAL at some location on the plate, and the numbers were consecutively issued, beginning with number 1 and ending at well over 100,000. Plates were made of metal, porcelain, wood, aluminium digits on flat steel, and many other materials. In a unique situation, the Automobile Club of Southern California provided porcelain plates to members upon request for a fee.

    Slogans

    CALIFORNIA WORLD’S FAIR 39 appeared on the 1939 issue, the first slogan ever to grace a California plate. The only other slogan, THE GOLDEN STATE, appeared on the 1984 base.

    Graphics

    The 1984 issue displayed a large golden sun, with the state name in stylized characters across the top.

    Features

    California may have been short on slogans and graphics, but the interesting series of date tabs used between 1916 and 1919 helped make up for that! Each tab had a specific shape as follows: 1916 – Bear 1917 – Poppy 1918 – Bell 1919 – Star. The lead 1916 tabs differed between front and rear, with the rear carrying the base plate number, while the front carried a space in which the owner was required to scratch his name…and you thought personalized plates were relatively new! The dated 1942 plates had a yellow area made to look as if the 1942 strip was added, even though it was actually a part of the plate. The 1943 tabs carried a simple red V instead of a date.

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  • COLORADO

    Pre-States

    City or county-registered, Colorado pre-states come in a variety of styles, including leather, porcelain, metal kit plates and even some embossed issue. By 1910, Denver alone had registered over 5,000 vehicles (though many were motorcycles). Besides Denver, plates are known from Alamosa, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Salida and others.

    Slogans

    The slogan COLORFUL was used on Colorado plates from 1950 through 1955, 1958, 1959, and again in 1973 and 1974. CENTENNIAL was used for the 100th anniversary of statehood in 1975 and 1976.

    Graphics

    The 1958 plate featured an embossed skier at right. Beginning in 1960, a mountain outline appeared on their plates, and that continues through 1993. In 1975 and 1976, a fully graphic Centennial issue was used, featuring the mountain motif, as well as a stylized 76.

    Features

    For 1919 and 1920, Colorado used a rather unusual system. A sheet metal base was manufactured for 1919 with COLO embossed at the top. Sheet metal numbers were then spot welded to the base. Next, a large embossed steel tab was attached. The number on the tab matched the number on the base plate. Further, the tab had a tab attached! This smaller tab contained a single letter on it (A, B, or C) that denoted the range of horsepower and thus the registration fee. Just in case that was not complicated enough, the government decided in 1920 to institute pairs of plates. They issued a normal embossed front plate dated 1920 with numbers to match the 1919 plates, and then issued a 1920 tab much like the 1919 tabs to revalidate the existing bases, thereby creating pairs that matched in number but not in any other way. The late issues of 1920 received pairs of the embossed plates.

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  • FLORIDA

    Pre-States

    Florida has an unusual and complicated position among the states regarding early issues. In 1905, the state licensing laws went into effect, and by the time the law was discontinued in 1915, over 14,000 vehicles had been registered. However, in late 1911, the state authorized the various counties to issue plates as well, and from then until 1917, a spectacular array of plates, mainly porcelains, were used. The result of this act was that during much of the period from 1911 through 1915, vehicles carried two plates – one from the state and another from the county. In a few instances, the cities were involved as well, leaving a few unfortunate motorists with the dilemma of how to show off three plates! A good map of the era would give you the specifics, but as examples, county names (shown prominently on most of the plates) included Alachua, Citrus, Escambia and Suwannee.

    Slogans

    The slogan SUNSHINE STATE first appeared on the 1949 issue, and continued each year through 1976 with two exceptions: the 1951 plate wore the slogan KEEP FLORIDA GREEN, and the 1965 plate commemorated the 400th ANNIVERSARY of Florida of Florida’s “discovery”.

    Graphics

    From 1923 to 1926, an embossed outline of the state appeared at the right of the plates. The 1935 issue had grapefruits embossed in the upper corners of the plate. From the 1978 base to 1993, the plates have had the state image reappear, this time in a silk-screened version in either orange or green.

    Features

    A small aluminium tab was added to the plates from 1922 through 1925, denoting the weight class of the vehicle. In 1934 and 1935, a locking date strip was inserted into a special slot on the plates. This strip covered the bolts in an attempt to deter the theft of the plates.

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  • NEW JERSEY

    Pre-States

    The state of New Jersey realized the benefits of motor vehicle registration early on, and in 1903, passed their first motor vehicle law. This foresight provided fertile ground for a proliferation of vehicles, each registered with the state and each given a number to be placed on homemade plates. The usual array of materials was used, with leather leading the pack, followed by kit plates, perforated metal, porcelain, etc. Over 30,000 vehicles were registered in 1906 and 1907 alone!

    Slogans

    The slogan GARDEN STATE first appeared on the 1959 base and has appeared on all bases through1993.

    Graphics

    The 1979 base had a dividing symbol between the letters and numbers which was embossed in the shape of the state. The background of the 1991 base has a subtle and attractive blending of straw-to-white colour running from top to bottom.

    Features

    The 1908 issue was a kit plate, though state-issued. It consisted of a metal base with crimped edges meant to accommodate flat painted metal panels. Each digit was assembled and mounted, along with a panel for the state abbreviation, date, and a maker’s seal, ostensibly to reduce theft and abuse of the plate. The maker’s seal was used on the porcelain plates as well, right through to their last issue in 1915.

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  • NEW YORK

    Pre-States

    New York was the first state in the Union to require vehicle registrations, beginning on May 25,1901. The original registration numbers consisted only of the owner’s initials! These were most often done with metal house numbers on to duplications, and the system was switched to numbers, which sufficed for the duration of the pre-state era. Most of the initial plates were natural aluminium on black, while most of the numerical plates were black on white. There are known examples of reversed colours in both cases. Virtually all known means of plate-making were used, and by 1910, the numbers reached 100,000, literally forcing the state into making their own plates beginning August 1st of that year.

    Slogans

    NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR was promoted on the plates in 1938, 1939 and 1940. EMPIRE STATE first appeared on the 1951 plate and was used through 1963. The WORLD’S FAIR slogan returned for 1964 and 1965.

    Graphics

    The only graphic used on New York plates is the Statue of Liberty on the current issue, which first appeared in mid-1986.

    Features

    The 1910 plate had aluminium characters riveted to a steel background. The 1965 date sticker was actually “strip” shaped, measuring ˝” x 3-1/2”. Interestingly, the state name was abbreviated NY from 1910 through 1965. Thus, the state name was not spelled out in full until 1966.

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  • TEXAS

    Pre-States

    From the earliest days of motoring in 1907, vehicle registration was left to the counties in Texas. At first, most plates were made of leather, wood and other homemade materials. Only the county registration number appeared on these plates. Of course, this created a situation where plates with the same number could exist in more that one county. For the last few years of the pre-state period, most vehicles were using porcelain kit plates which also included a porcelain panel that had the city name, the county name, or just TEXAS. These county plates carried such interesting names as CISCO, LAGRANGE and RISING STAR.

    Slogans

    In 1936, the word CENTENNIAL was used on Texas plates to commemorate 100 years of statehood. In 1968, the word HEMISFAIR promoted that event. SESQUICENTENNIAL appeared in 1985 to celebrate the 150th year of statehood for Texas, which actually took place in 1986. The dates 1836 and 1986 also appeared on the 1985 base.

    Graphics

    A large “Lone Star” appeared on the 1917, 1918 and 1919 radiator seals. Wherever a dividing device has been used to separate the numbers from the letters, a star was used instead of a dot or a dash. Beginning in 1976, a small outline of the state was substituted for the star. The 1989 base featured the Texas state flag, and this base continues in use through 1993.

    Features

    The radiator seals used in 1917, 1918 and 1919 were circular and measured 4” in diameter. The 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1924 radiator seals were rectangular, measuring 3-1/4” x 6”. The issues of 1928, 1929 and 1930 all had FRONT and REAR plate designations on them.

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