EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 260 - April 04, 2010 - ISSN 1528-6703     4 of 6

Collector's Corner: License Plates

By Michele Alice

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They are viewed by government entities as revenue streams, means of identification ("Just the facts, Ma'am: did-- you see the getaway car?"), and mini-ads (Scenic Idaho - Famous Potatoes). But to collectors, license plates are like postage stamps for cars, only bigger.

As far as has been determined, the first plates for motor vehicles were issued in France in 1893. In the U.S., mandated "owner provided" plates appeared in New York in 1901, but Massachusetts was actually the first, in 1903, to issue state plates. Many early plates were simply flat steel plates, some coated with porcelain, to which numbers or letters were attached or stamped in paint. It was not until the 1920's that embossed metal plates, similar to those in use today, became the prevailing type.

After 100+ years, there are so many plates and variations that most collectors are constrained by budget and space to focus on particular kinds of plates. In plate collectors' parlance, specialization is referred to as a "run." One person might collect a run of "birth year" plates issued in the year he or she was born. Or they might try to acquire plates issued by a particular state. (Wyoming's popular Bucking Bronco plate is reputed to be a depiction of a horse named either Silver City or Steamboat.) Other runs might include government plates, commemorative/souvenir plates, or die-cut plates like the Tennessee-shaped plates of the mid 20th century.

Prices for individual plates can vary greatly, from a couple of dollars for the most common to several hundred+ for the harder-to-find. For example, do you live in a state with low population? Chances are most of your state's plates are worth more than plates from high-population states simply because there are a lot less of them. And some of the rarest specimens, like the 1910 Maryland, can command up to $5000+!

Values, of course, are highly dependent upon condition. An intact porcelain plate is going to be worth much more than an identical piece with some of its porcelain missing. A badly dented plate with extensive rust and extra holes punched in it will only attain a fraction of the value of a similar piece in fine condition.

One last comment should you decide you'd like to sell any plates you have online or elsewhere: you should check the venue's policy regarding the sale of such items as restrictions could apply. For example, eBay (see below) will not allow the sale of license plates less than three years old "to prevent false identities, comply with the law, and help ensure public safety".

Interested in learning more about this popular collectible? Check out the resources listed below, and

Happy Hunting!


"License Plate Values, 10th Edition," by Bob Crisler - Link

Number Plates (Shire Book)

Websites - Link - License Plates of North America, 1969-Present. Pics of just about every plate!

Automobile License Plate Collectors Association - Link - ALPCA's website offers grading guide, tips for beginners, lots of links (including DMV websites), a stolen plates list, and more!

eBay policy page - Link - Government documents, IDs, and licenses policy.

Massachusetts RMV - link - History of the license plate. - Link - Great site offers loads of info including grading chart, glossary, diplomatic plate codes, links, more!

About the author:

Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ eBay ID: Malice9

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