example license plate

Rick Kretschmer's License Plate Archives 

example license plate

Frequently Asked Questions

(and some questions that I just made up)

 

This page contains answers to questions about old license plates, license plate collecting, and license plates in general. 

Latest noteworthy updates to this page
  • July 12, 2014  –  Added new questions regarding whether I'll pay a fair price for license plates when the seller doesn't know what they're worth, and whether it's a problem to possess government vehicle license plates.  Expanded the answers to the questions regarding what determines the value of a license plate, whether I'm interested in buying license plates, ways to sell license plates, and whether I might have a specific plate available for sale.  Other minor text updates. 
  • May 20, 2014  –  Updated the photo of the license plate on my personal vehicle. 
  • February 26, 2014  –  Added a new question regarding sending me photos of plates to add to this site.  Expanded the answer to the question regarding ways to sell an old license plate.  Other minor text updates. 

What's my old license plate worth?

Q:  I have an old (year) (type) license plate from (jurisdiction).  Do you know what it's worth? 
A:  Well, I can tell you what you probably already could guess.  Generally, the older the plate, the better the condition, and the smaller the population of the state or other issuing jurisdiction at the time the plate was issued, the more the plate will probably be worth.  Frequently though, even very old license plates aren't necessarily worth a whole lot of money. 
Q:  I understand all that, but would you provide me with an estimate of the value of my specific plate? 
A:  Sorry, but no.  There's no rule of thumb that I can easily apply to give you a figure.  I have a pretty busy life, and frankly, there's just nothing in it for me to take the time to research the value of your particular plate.  If your plate is one that I would be interested in buying, I might make you an offer for it, but please understand that an offer is not the same thing as an appraisal or a value estimate. 

Despite this FAQs page, I continue to regularly get requests for license plate value estimates.  Unfortunately, I've therefore had to adopt a policy of not even responding to such requests.  In other words, if you e-mail me to ask what your plate is worth, I'm going to just delete it and not respond.  I'm sorry if that seems harsh.  See the answer to the next question for some ways to do your own research. 
Q:  Do you know any place where I could get an estimate of the value of my old license plate? 
A:  Well, I know a lot of license plate collectors, and I don't know of anyone who will give you a specific appraisal. 

The easiest way to get an idea of what your plate might be worth is to see what similar plates have sold for on eBay.  If you're an eBay member, you can go to "advanced search" and specify completed auctions, and see what the winning bids were.  Keep in mind that condition matters, so look specifically at plates that are in similar condition to yours.  Also note the plates that didn't sell, and see how much the seller started the bidding at.  These were most likely overpriced. 

You can also get an idea by looking at eBay auctions in progress.  If you're not an eBay member this will be your only choice.  However, any auction in progress might get subsequent bids that drive the price up higher.  Or, plates with no bids might not sell at all.  Either way, you can't completly go by the current price on auctions in progress. 

Another method is to look at some of the suggested sites for buying license plates listed on my links page and see if any plate sellers are offering similar plates, and at what price.  Again, just because they're asking a certain amount doesn't mean the plate is actually worth that much, but the odds might be better than on eBay auctions in progress. 

If your plate is a standard-issue U.S. or Canadian passenger car plate, you can find one estimate of its value in Bob and Chuck Crisler's License Plate Values price guide.  Some editions of this guide also have had some limited information about values of some U.S. and Canadian optional issue, motorcycle, dealer, handicapped, vanity, and amateur radio operator license plates.  There's a very no-frills web site where you can order a current edition of this price guide.  Also, sometimes either current or past editions of this price guide can be found on eBay. 

Bear in mind, however, that the Crisler guide is just that, a guide.  I've seen lots of plates sell for well below and well above the value listed in the guide, even between two experienced license plate collectors.  Also, if your plate is a non-passenger plate, an optional graphic plate, or a plate from another country, the guide is probably going to have no relevant information about your plate. 

There's one final point I'd like to make.  The methods I've listed above will help you arrive at a "retail" value of your plate.  However, that's not necessarily what you can expect to actually get for it.  It all depends on how and where and to whom you try to sell the plate.  Consider that when you trade in your old car to a car dealer, he's going to give you something less than the retail value for it, because the only way he can make a profit is to buy it for less than what he can sell it for.  If you sell your old car privately, you'll probably get closer to retail value for it, but you have the expense and hassle of advertising it, making appointments for potential buyers to see it, and so on.  The same principles apply with old license plates or probably anything else that you might try to sell.  I can't provide any guidance for determining what the "wholesale" value of an old plate might be.  It all depends on the whims of the individual plate reseller, how much they think they can get for your plate, and the profit margin they're looking for. 
Updated answer, July 2014 Q:  What determines the value of a license plate? 
A:  Supply and demand, just like what determines the value of anything else.  Factors affecting the supply of a particular plate would include its age, the number of vehicles registered in that jurisdiction at that time, whether the jurisdiction issued single plates or pairs, whether the jurisdiction required motorists to surrender plates that were no longer in use, what the jurisdiction did with any leftover plates that weren't issued, how durable the materials used to make the plate were, and so on. 

Factors that affect demand for a given plate include the number of people who collect plates from that year and jurisdiction; whether the plate has any interesting graphics, slogans, or other features; whether the plate has a low or distinctive serial number; whether the plate is suitable for use on an antique vehicle as a "year of manufacture" plate; and if so, how many people own antique vehicles of that vintage in that jurisdiction. 

The type of vehicle for which the plate was intended influences both supply and demand, so it's hard to make generalizations about how the vehicle type ultimately determines value.  Condition of the plate definitely affects its value, as demand will always be greater for plates in excellent condition than in poor condition, all other things being equal. 

Where and how you try to sell your plate is going to affect how much you can expect to get for it, and there aren't any simple rules of thumb I can give you to identify the the best way to get the highest amount.  Some plates are worth more to antique car owners or to the general public than they are to license plate collectors, and some are worth less.  Some plates are worth more if sold in or near the state they're from, and others are worth more if sold away from that state.  You can get more selling plates to the end buyer than you can to someone who's going to resell them, but there's also more effort and expense involved, so it's hard to say which will net you the most. 

Ultimately, the value of an old license plate, or anything else for that matter, is what someone who knows about it is willing to pay for it.  You can always list it for sale on eBay and just see how much you can get for it.  See the section below addressing the question How can I sell my old license plate?
Q:  Are there any widely-accepted ways to characterize the condition of a license plate? 
A:  License plate collectors almost universally use a grading scale to indicate the condition of a license plate.  The grades are, from best to worst, mint, excellent, very good, good, fair, and poor.  Often you will find these grades abbreviated to one or two letters, such as m, ex, vg, g, f, and p.  Many collectors also make up and use intermediate grades that fall between the primary grades.  These vary from collector to collector, but are usually self-explanatory.  For example, to describe a plate whose condition falls between very good and excellent, a collector might use terms such as very very good (vvg), very good plus (vg+), very good to excellent (vg/ex), or excellent minus (ex-). 
Q:  What are the criteria or standards for assigning a grade to a plate? 
A:  ALPCA has developed a License Plate Grading Guide that gives criteria for determining plate grades.  But these standards are pretty vague and leave room for subjective interpretation.  So, even using the ALPCA grading criteria, what you might consider to be "excellent", I might consider to only be "very good plus".  Because of this, several collectors have created web pages with pictures of plates in various conditions showing the grades that they have assigned to them based on their individual interpretation of the ALPCA grading standards.  I have a Pictorial Guide to License Plate Grading page myself, which also includes links to several other collectors' grading pages. 

Can you tell me something about my old license plate?

Q:  I have an old license plate that I can't identify.  Do you know (where it is from) (how old it is) (what it was used for) ?
A:  If it's from Maryland, my other pages on this web site ought to be able to help you clearly identify it.  If it's from Pennsylvania, I have pages with detailed information about passenger car plates and several other types of plates.  For other types of Pennsylvania license plates that I don't cover, you could probably make an educated guess based on the information that I have provided. 

I have rather limited collecting interests, so I can't readily provide you with details about all kinds of obscure mystery plates.  I especially know very little about license plates from outside of the U.S. and Canada.  A couple of really comprehensive international license plate web sites that may be of help to you in identifying your plate are License Plates of the World and The Francoplaque License Plate Collectors site
Q:  I have an old metal Pennsylvania license from the 1920s or 1930s that doesn't look at all like anything on any of your Pennsylvania license plate web pages.  Among other things, it has the words "Display on Middle of Back" embossed on it.  Do you know what this is?  Could it be perhaps a motorcycle license plate? 
A:  What you have is not a vehicle license plate at all, but rather a hunting license.  Even today, hunters display their hunting licenses on the backs of their jackets.  Back then, a metal plate would have been the most appropriate material for a hunting license because it held up to the elements well. 
Q:  I have an old metal Pennsylvania license from the 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s that doesn't look at all like any Pennsylvania license plate I've ever seen before.  Among other things, it has the letters "MBL" embossed on it.  Do you know what this is?  Could it be perhaps a motorcycle license plate? 
A:  You mean something like this?  "MBL" stands for motor boat license.  Pennsylvaia issued these in pairs between 1930 and 1954, and they were attached to the sides of boats with an outboard motor.  I cover these in detail on my Pennsylvania motorcycle and motorboat plates page. 
Q:  I have a license plate that, other than the registration number, just simply says "USA".  Do you know what this could possibly be? 
A:  You mean something like this or this?  Actually, yes.  From 1962 until 2005, members of the U.S. military stationed in Germany were issued license plates for their personal vehicles that were marked "USA".  They're no longer issued, except as temporary plates for servicemen bringing their vehicles back to the U.S.  Note: the plate shown in the first link in this answer was previously in my trade box. 
Q:  I have an old license plate.  How can I find out the year, make, model, or VIN of the vehicle to which it was originally assigned?  How can I find out the name and address of the vehicle owner to which the plate was issued? 
A:  Beats me.  I get asked this question a lot, but I have no idea whether such information is even available.  I've suggested to numerous people wanting this information to try contacting the state archives and/or motor vehicle department for the appropriate state.  However, I've never heard back from anyone telling me they were successful.  I can tell you that it would probably be difficult to even track down the right person in a motor vehicle department who could even give you an accurate and knowledgeable answer about whether such information even exists, or whether it is available to the public.  If you know or find out anything more about this topic, please let me know. 

Do you want my old license plate?

Updated answer, July 2014 Q:  I have an old license plate, or a group of plates, that I'd like to sell.  Would you be interested in buying? 
A:  Possibly.  Please check my lengthy and very specific want list if you haven't already.  If your plate is on the list, or if you have a group of plates that includes things I want, I'm at least interested.  However, despite what you may otherwise think, I collect plates on a very limited budget, so even if I want them, I may or may not be in a position to buy your plate(s) at any given time. 

If your license plate or group of plates is not on my want list, then I'm probably not going to be interested.  I occasionally buy such plates for the purpose of reselling them, but don't count on me wanting to buy yours, especially if they're all bent and rusty, or if you think you're sitting on a gold mine. 

Also, please keep in mind that I'm not going to just mail a check to someone I've never heard of, and hope that they will send me the license plate they say they have.  Read the "fine print" on my want list page for more information.
New question, July 2014 Q:  I'd like to sell my plate or plates to you, but I have no idea what they're worth.  How can I be assured you'll offer me a fair price? 
A:  If you're offering me a plate on my want list, I'm willing to pay "retail" for it, although of course I always appreciate a bargain.  If you're offering me plates that aren't on my want list, the only way I'm going to buy them is if I think I can make a few bucks reselling them.  Therefore, I can't and won't offer you top dollar for such plates. 

If you've already read the What's my old license plate worth? section above, you already know that I do not like to spend my free time telling people what their plates are worth when I get no benefit out of doing so.  I regularly get offers to buy plates and plate collections that ultimately seem to be thinly-disguised attempts to elicit a value estimation from me.  I'm just not going to play that game.  Therefore, if I'm interested in your plates, I'll make you an offer for them, but I'm not going to tell you what they're worth.  It's up to you decide whether to accept or reject my offer, or to make a counter-offer. 

Please read the What's my old license plate worth? section above for tips to do your own reaearch in determining your plate's value. 
Q:  You have a plate on your trade page that I want.  I have a plate that I'd like to offer in trade, but I don't see my plate on your want list.  Would you consider a trade anyway? 
A:  Probably not.  I enjoy trading plates, but a trade has to be mutually benficial to make any sense.  There's just no point in me going to the time and expense of sending you a plate I don't want, only to receive a different plate that I don't want.  If your plate is worth more than mine I might be willing to trade, but then the trade probably wouldn't be in your best interest.  Of course, you're welcome to buy the plate you're interested in rather than trading for it. 

1949 Minnesota
A plate in my permanent collection,
given to me by a visitor to this site
Q:  I have an old license plate that I have no use for.  I don't want anything for it.  Do you want it? 
A:  Sure!  I'll happily take any free license plate, regardless of whether it's on my want list.  Obviously, totally free plates are the best, but I don't mind paying shipping costs or traveling to pick up free plates, within reason of course. 
Q:  If I were to give you a free license plate, will you keep it in your collection, or are you just going to turn around and sell it?
A:  Well, it depends on whether it's a plate that I'm specifically looking for.  The honest answer is that most, but not all plates I've been given have gone straight into my trade box.  But these plates nevertheless do truly help me with my collection, because they provide me the means to get the plates I really want.  And either way, your plate will end up in a good home with a collector who is glad to have it.  If you are still troubled by this, check my want list to see if your plate is one I would intend to keep.  I do sincerely appreciate all free license plates; however, I'd probably rather not have a plate that comes with strings attached. 

How can I sell my old license plate?

Updated answer, July 2014 Q:  I have an old license plate, or a group of plates, that I'd like to sell.  Do you have any suggestions about how I could do this? 
A:  If you want to sell your plate yourself, your best bet is probably to list it on eBay.  Using eBay will ensure the widest possible audience, and using the auction format will maximize the chances that you will get the true market price for your item. 

Or, join one or more of the larger online license plate collecting groups, such as the Yahoo! PLATES group, or any of several large Facebook groups devoted to license plates, and post a message to the group with photo(s) and details about the plate(s) you're trying to sell.  There are some Facebook license plate groups where plates may be auctioned, and others for selling at a fixed price or trading. 

Another option would be to list your plates on Craigslist.  Craigslist is much easier to use than eBay, but will attract primarily a local audience and doesn't let you auction the item you're selling.  You'll have to decide on a price yourself, rather than letting bidders determine the selling price. 

You could also offer your old license plates to a local antiques dealer or flea market vendor who deals with collectibles.  Of course, the dealer will guess at the retail price he might get, subtract the profit he wants to make, and offer you the difference.  I would assume, though, that a dealer with little experience with old license plates would offer you a pretty low price to minimize the risk of guessing too high. 

If you don't want to do the work yourself, you could enlist someone else to deal with selling your plates on your behalf.  This is called selling on consignment.  Typically, someone handling a consignment would receive a percentage of the proceeds as compensation for their time.  You would continue to own the plates until they were sold, and you could control how they were marketed and how much they should be sold for.  You would probably want to use someone who knows old license plates and how to reach people who want to buy license plates.  If you've never sold anything on eBay and don't want to take the time and effort to learn how, you might want to find someone who already does. 

I occasionally help people sell single plates or small collections.  Keep in mind that you would somehow have to get the plate(s) to me for me to be able to do anything with them; I'm located in the Raleigh, North Carolina area, but I periodically travel up and down the east coast and to the midwest.  If you think you might like me to help you, send me an e-mail with some specifics and we'll see.  Send photo(s) if you can, but definitely let me know the approximate number, age, and condition of the plates, and what state(s) they may be mostly from.  Also give me an idea of whether it's more important to you to sell the plates quickly or to get top dollar for them (you probably can't have it both ways); please also tell me where (city and state) the plates are presently located and how you might get them to me. 

Should I repaint my old license plate?

Q:  I have a rusty old (year) (jurisdiction) plate that I want to have restored.  What do you think? 
A:  Unless you have a sentimental attachment to that particular plate (like maybe it belonged to your grandfather or something), you should compare the cost of restoration vs. the cost of buying a similar plate in excellent original condition, or one that has already been restored.  Unless the plate is very old and/or rare, it may be cheaper to find a better plate than the one you have.  For example, let's say it costs $50 to restore your plate.  If similar plates in excellent original condition go for $200, restoration might make financial sense.  If similar plates in excellent original condition can be had for $15, then that would obviously be the way to go. 
Q:  What are the correct colors for repainting a (year) (jurisdiction) (type) plate? 
A:  If you're asking this question, you're either considering painting a plate yourself or are perhaps going to take it to an auto body shop to be repainted.  Don't do it!  Amateur repainted plates are good for nothing except for being professionally repainted.  Probably the same with a body shop paint job.  Unless you have an example of an unfaded, original paint plate for them to copy, it's very unlikely that you or they are going to get the color just right.  And if you had such an example, you wouldn't be asking this question.  My advice is to go to a professional license plate repainter or restorer, or don't bother. 

To answer your question, though, I don't have any information about specific paint color codes; all I could tell you would be vague colors such as "dark blue numbers on a dark yellow background", which you probably already knew. 
Q:  Are repainted plates more or less desireable or valuable than original paint plates? 
A:  It depends.  To many license plate collectors, even a professionally repainted plate is significantly less desireable, and worth significantly less, than an original plate in the same condition.  But people don't repaint plates that are already in excellent condition, so that may not be a fair comparasion.  Depending on the condition of the plate prior to the repaint, the accuracy of the paint colors, and the quality of the work done, repainting an old plate can either increase or decrease the value of that particular plate from what it was.  Even if the value increases, however, whether it will increase enough to offset the cost of the repainting is another question that you may want to consider. 

Personally, I'd rather have an original paint plate in only fair condition than a perfect-looking repaint, and I would pay accordingly.  For the same reason, I've also never had a plate restored or repainted.  However, not all plate collectors are purists like I am.  In contrast, classic car owners seem to love restored and repainted plates.  They're more interested in making their rides look good than being completely originial, and so to them, even a good condition plate is a repaint waiting to happen.  There's nothing wrong with that; after all, they've restored their cars, so why should they object to a repainted license plate?  However, just remember:  once a plate is repainted, it will always be a repaint. 
Q:  Can you recommend anyone who professionally restores or repaints old license plates? 
A:  I can't recommend anyone from firsthand experience, but I can refer you to some people who professionally restore and/or repaint old license plates.  Go to my suggested sites for restoring and repainting old license plates list on my links page for links to a few plate restorers with web sites, and for a link to another list with contact information for a few additional restorers who don't have web sites.  The restorers with web sites all display examples of their work on their sites, and I must admit, they're very impressive. 

Can I use old license plates on my antique car?

Q:  I have a classic (year) (make) car.  If I get a set of old license plates, can I put these old plates on the car and legally drive it? 
A:  In some states you can, under what are called "year of manufacture" (YOM) laws.  But in most cases, the year of the plate has to match the vehicle model year or year of manufacture.  For example, a 1962 vehicle could only use license plates that were also from 1962.  Specifics of these laws vary considerably from one state to the next, so check with your own state's DMV for more information. 
Q:  Can you clarify which year of Maryland plates would be correct YOM plates for my classic (year) car? 
A:  Actually, I have a whole page devoted to Maryland YOM plate information.  Check it out. 
Q:  Do you have any information about using YOM plates in other states besides Maryland? 
A:  Not at the moment.  I do plan to create a similar page addressing North Carolina YOM plates.  Pennsylvania recently began allowing YOM plates, but I don't yet know much about their requirements.  I can't say whether I'll ever get around to researching any other states' YOM laws. 

What's license plate collecting all about?

Q:  Why on earth would anyone collect license plates, of all things? 
A:  You might not realize that there's really two parts to your question.  The first part is, Why would anyone collect anything?  For countless reasons, certainly.  For the thrill of the hunt, for the mental stimulation, for the sense of holding history in one's hands, for personal memories, to name a few. 

The second part of the question is, Why specifically license plates?  Well, why not license plates?  Like stamps and coins, they are issued by the government, are seen and used daily, they vary from year to year and place to place, they often have graphic images, and so on.  Collecting license plates is very much like collecting stamps or coins or baseball cards or comic books or Boy Scout patches.  It's just not as well-known of a hobby. 

I can't speak for everyone, but in my case, I've always been a car enthusiast and a keen observer of license plates since my early childhood.  By taking up license plate collecting while in my mid 40s, in a way I was trying to return to my youth.  (Actually, the more I think about it, I did feel like I was in the midst of a mid-life crisis at the time, so perhaps this is a geek's equivalent to the proverbial red sports car.) 
Q:  Isn't it illegal to possess license plates that aren't registered to your car? 
A:  First, I'm neither a law enforcement officer nor a lawyer, and the applicable laws vary from place to place, so don't take anything I say about this as the gospel truth.  Generally this would only potentially be an issue if you have plates that haven't yet reached the expiration date shown on the plate or registration card.  But even then, if you keep a low profile by not putting them on your car, not trying to sell them online, and not trying to cross the border with them, you should be fine.  Of course, you wouldn't want to drive around with expired plates on your car, either.  Currently, eBay prohibits the listing of license plates that have been expired for less than three years, but this is just an arbitrary eBay rule that has nothing to do with any law.  There should be no problem at all with you having older plates. 
New question, July 2014 Q:  What about possessing government license plates? 
A:  Again, I'm not a legal authority on the subject.  I do know that possessing U.S. Government vehicle plates is a big no-no, and in case you were wondering, I do not have any.  People who have flaunted having U.S. Government plates are known to have attracted the unwelcome attention of humorless people wearing dark suits, who have paid unexpected visits and confiscated said plates, or worse.  I've heard conflicting reports whether it's a problem to possess any U.S. Government plates, or only those less than 50 years old.  The problem is, U.S. Government plates did not bear any dates until recently, so there may not be an accurate way to determine the age of an old plate. 

I know less about the specifics of possessing state and local government plates.  Again, the laws probably vary from place to place.  I certainly would advise not advertising having any state or local government plates with designs that are still in use, especially those used by law enforcement and/or from the state that you live in. 

EBay prohibits the listing of any governemnt license plates regardless of age, which is reasonable enough.  However, their definition of what constitutes a government plate differs from that of normal people.  For example, eBay has a problem with state-issued personal vehicle plates that identify the motorist as being a military veteran, claiming that those are also government plates.  I've also heard that they inexplicably consider handicapped plates to be government plates. 

2002 California
I kept this plate when I moved
to North Carolina in 2001 and
re-registered my car there.
Q:  I sold my car, and the DMV in my state made me turn in the plate that was on it.  So, where do all of these license plates come from if DMVs don't let people keep them? 
A:  If the plate had not yet expired when you sold your car or cancelled your insurance, you probably did have to surrender the plate.  Many states prohibit you keeping unexpired plates in such instances.  But in other situations – if the plate had already expired before you sold the car, if you move to another state and re-register your car there, or if your state issues you a new plate when your old plate is about to expire – often the DMV doesn't want the old plate back.  Owners of large fleets of vehicles such as rental car companies seem to frequently have an understanding with the DMV where they don't have to turn in plates they are no longer using.  Ultimately many of these various plates find their way into the hands of collectors. 
Q:  How expensive is license plate collecting, anyway? 
A:  It can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want it to be.  It doesn't necessarily take a lot of money to acquire some nice plates.  If you're collecting fairly recent, ordinary plates, and you're a little bit resourceful, you can get many nice plates for free, or for very little money.  The vast majority of plates I've bought, even some really old ones, have been pretty inexpensive.  On the other hand, certain rare plates can be very costly. 
Q:  Do rare license plates make good investments? 
A:  Well, I'm no authority on this subject.  But I would say, don't buy license plates as investments; buy them because you enjoy license plates.  If they happen to appreciate in value, that's icing on the cake, but don't assume they will.  A new plate design tends to lose value as more plates of that style become available to collectors.  An old, rare license plate could quickly lose much of its value if someone finds a stash of similar plates, or if the condition of the plate were to deteriorate. 
Q:  I'm intrigued.  How can I get started collecting license plates? 
A:  I suppose the first thing would be to consider what kinds of plates you'd like to collect, or whether you'd like to set any collecting goals.  Many newer collectors are content to just collect various, random plates.  There's nothing wrong with this, if that's what you want to do, but I have heard a fair number of experienced collectors regret that their collection had no focus in their early days of collecting.  One common goal for new collectors is to get a plate from each of the 50 U.S. states. 

There are countless ways you can specialize to collect specific types or categories of plates.  For example, perhaps you're fond of plates from your home state, or plates from somewhere you've been to, and you want to concentrate on collecting plates from that place.  Maybe there's a certain type of graphic plate that interests you – say, plates with images of lighthouses, or fish, or cars, or whatever else on them.  Many established collectors try to get a plate from each state from the year they were born, which, depending on your age, can be considerably more challenging than just one plate per state regardless of year.  You may want to consider collecting plates that align with your career or your other interests.  For example, if you're a paramedic, maybe you'd like to collect ambulance plates.  If you're a sports fan, many states now issue special interest plates with logos of various professional and college sports teams.  Maybe you'd like to try to find plates that have your name or initials or favorite number on them.  The possibilities are absolutely endless. 

Anyway, once you know what you are looking for, then start looking.  Or perhaps you need to start looking in order to get an idea of what you'd like to specialize in.  Or maybe you've decided you don't want to specialize at all, and would just like to collect random plates that catch your eye.  In any case, please have a look at the plates on my trade box page.  Then, check out some of the links in the next group of questions on this page, titled Where can I find old license plates?

Once you've looked enough that you've gotten a feel for the market, then finally consider purchasing your first plate.  Also, if you're serious about collecting, I would strongly recommend becoming a member of ALPCA and obtaining a current or recent copy of Bob and Chuck Crisler's License Plate Values price guide.  Both are invaluable resources to the collector. 
Q:  I understand that license plate collectors hold swap meets where they trade plates and display plates from their collections.  If there's going to be one in my area, I might want to come check it out.  How can I find out when and where these meets are held?
A:  Plate meets are an excellent forum for collectors to trade, buy, and sell plates, and to also develop contacts and even friendships with each other.  You can save a lot of money by not having to pay for shipping like you would if you bought plates online.  Of course, depending on the location, there may be some travel expenses involved, but plate meets are held in various locations all over the U.S.  They're usually held on Saturday mornings during the spring and fall, but there are also meets held on other days of the week, at other times of the year, and in other countries. 

Schedules of upcoming license plate meets are posted both on the ALPCA Plate Meets page and on the LicensePlates.cc Events page.  Both sites include both ALPCA and non-ALPCA meets; most plate meets are listed on both sites, but not necessarily.  However, it's important to note that ALPCA-sanctioned meets are only open to current ALPCA members.  Other license plate collecting organizations may have similar restrictions on attendance at meets that they sponsor.  A number of plate meets are independent of any collecting club, but they're not necessarily open to the public, either.  Each plate meet on both schedules has a contact person identified; if you have any doubts, it's best to check with that person about their attendance policy before trekking out. 

ALPCA also holds an annual convention for several days each summer; the specific location varies each year, but it's always somewhere in the U.S.  The ALPCA convention is the mother of all license plate meets, both literally and figuratively.  It's always held in a large convention center, and is attended by many hundreds of plate collectors who bring literally millions of plates to display, trade, and sell. 

Where can I find old license plates?

Updated answer, July 2014 Q:  I'm specifically looking for a (year) (type) license plate from (jurisdiction).  Do you have one you will trade or sell? 
A:  I keep my trade box page (my list of plates available for trade or sale) up to date, so look there if you haven't already.  All of the plates I have available to the general public may be found there, or will be added shortly.  Frankly, I've grown tired of people contacting me asking me if I have some specific plate available that's not shown on my trade box page, because almost always the answer will be no.  I'm just a plate collecting hobbyist who happens to have a few extra plates to trade or sell; I do not have a large inventory and I'm not operating a business selling plates. 

However, I do have some additional, mostly newer plates that I will only trade or sell to fellow ALPCA members or other people I already know to be legitimate license plate collectors.  If you meet that criteria, contact me to see whether I might have what you're looking for. 

If you've spotted what you're searching for on one of my other web pages, you're probably looking at something from my permanent collection.  I probably will not trade or sell plates from my permanent collection, unless you really make it worth my while.  Also, please keep in mind that not all plates shown on this site are from my collection.  Plates not from my collection are always identified as such, except for on the condition grading page, the various North Carolina plate pages, and the current U.S. plates page.  On each of these pages, the majority of plates shown are from somewhere other than my collection. 

Q:  Will you keep an eye out, and let me know if you come across the plate I'm looking for somewhere?
A:  Sorry, but unless you're a friend or family, I'm not likely to remember or keep track of who you are and what you're looking for.  Instead, I'll give you some places to continue your search yourself.  See the next question. 
Q:  Where might I be able to find the plate I'm looking for? 
A:  First, check my trade box page if you haven't already.  Second, try eBay.  The eBay license plates category usually has tens of thousands of license plate listings at any point in time.  Use the search feature to zero in on what you're looking for.  If you don't find what you're after on eBay, check back regularly, because the inventory turns over quickly. 

Third, try the other links in the suggested sites for buying license plates list on my links page.  Also try some of the personal web pages of other license plate collectors; many (most?) of them have license plates available for trade or sale.  There are links to a number of these elsewhere on my links page, and also a lot more of them on the pages listed in the links to other license plate links pages list at the bottom of my own links page. 
Q:  I've looked in all of the places you mentioned, and I still haven't found the plate I'm looking for.  Got any other suggestions? 
A:  Join one or more of the larger online license plate collecting groups, such as the Yahoo! PLATES group or several such groups on Facebook, and post a message to the group describing what you're looking for. 

Go to a large antique or classic car show where they have a flea market with people selling car parts and accessories.  There will most likely be people selling old license plates for owners of old cars to put on their vehicles.  You'll increase your chances of finding plates from the state you're looking for if you attend a show that's in or near that state.  A couple of really big antique car shows that have reputations for having lots of old license plates for sale are held in Hershey, Pennsylvania (near Harrisburg) each October, and in Concord, North Carolina (near Charlotte) each April and September.  These are both huge events that last for several days.  There certainly must be other car shows in your state, too. 

You could also try going to a license plate collectors' meet listed on the LicensePlates.cc Events page or ALPCA Meets page.  Again, a meet held in or near the state you're looking for would be your best bet.  However, I'd recommend contacting the meet host identified in the listing first, because ALPCA-sanctioned plate meets, as well as many non-ALPCA meets, are not open to the general public .

If you still have had no luck, and especially if you've never even seen a photograph of the plate you're looking for, consult with a license plate collector who specializes in plates from the location or of the type that you're looking for.  It's possible that what you're looking for is either extremely rare or perhaps doesn't even exist.  I have lists of some such specialists on my links page
Q:  I'm looking for some plates to start or add to my collection.  I've seen thousands of plates for sale on eBay and on various plate collectors' web sites.  I'm overwhelmed!  How do I decide which ones to buy? 
A:  Well, this is one reason why I suggest specializing.  If you're only trying to get one or a few categories of plates, or if you have a specific collecting goal in mind, you can then filter out everything else in your mind.  Don't try to look at every license plate listed on eBay!  Use the search feature to just find the ones that meet your criteria. 

If you have a Crisler price guide or have developed a sense of what these plates are worth, then you can also ignore the ones that are grossly overpriced.  There are plenty of others that will come along that will be priced more reasonably.  Also, I'd recommend being selective about plate condition, and just ignore the many old rusted pieces of junk that you see on eBay.  Then, when you find one or several that you like and that are priced right, just go for it. 

2000 Illinois recreational trailer

2004 Virginia passenger

2012 Maryland Chesapeake gen 1 handicapped
Just a few of the many plates
given to me by friends, family,
and acquaintences
Q:  What are some free or inexpensive ways of acquiring license plates for a collection or display? 
A:  You mean besides buying plates I have listed on my trade box page?

Well, start by asking everyone you know if they have any old plates laying around.  You'd be surprised at how many people do and will give them to you for free.  I used to keep a flyer posted on the bulletin board at work, explaining that I collect license plates and would appreciate getting any that anyone has.  It paid off pretty well for me.  Meet new people and ask them, too.  One collector I know made a point of noticing when people had moved to his neighborhood from out of state, introducing himself to them, and then asking them to give him the plates from their old state once they re-registered their cars in the new state. 

Go to car dealers, auto repair shops, and auto body shops, and see if they have any expired plates that they will let you have.  Probably auto junkyards would charge you for old license plates, but the price might be reasonable.  (These strategies will work in some states, but not in others.) 

Look for license plates at flea markets and yard sales, and if you don't see any, ask.  There may be a whole box of them that just haven't been put on display.  Sometimes antique shops will have old license plates, but in my experience, antique store owners don't usually know the ins and outs of license plates, and therefore they tend to way overprice common plates.  However, for the same reason, they also tend to way underprice the occasional rare plate they might get, so there's treasure waiting to be found if you know what you're looking for. 

One last piece of advice to save money:  Buying groups of plates is usually less expensive on a per-plate basis than buying them one at a time, especially so if you're buying them via eBay or from another web site and you have to pay for shipping.  Of course, buying this way usually only makes sense if the group consists mostly of plates you actually want. 

General questions about license plates

Q:  When and where were the first U.S. license plates issued? 
A:  The short answer is that the first state-issued license plates were in Massachusetts in 1903.  But it's actually a bit more complicated than that. 

New York was the first state in 1901 to require that vehicles be registered with the state, but that state did not issue license plates until 1910.  Until then, each New York motorist had to provide or make their own license plate.  This was a common practice during this time, and is somewhat similar to the way small boats are registered today.  As you can imagine, these plates were usually homemade.  One common method was to attach metal house numbers to a piece of leather and hang it by leather straps from the bumper or radiator. 

Also, before some states issued plates or even required vehicles to be registered, many cities, towns, and counties had their own vehicle registration requirements and even issued their own license plates.  In some cases, local plates continued to be required even after a state began issuing plates. 

Collectively, all of these old plates that preceded state-issued plates are called pre-statesSee examples of Maryland pre-state plates. 

Massachusetts plates from 1903 to 1907 did not indicate a year or other date.  They were originally considered to be permanent.  West Virginia and Pennsylvania were the first states to issue license plates with a date, which in both cases was 1906.  It is reported that the West Virginia plates were actually issued in 1905 and bore the expiration year.  However, West Virginia went to a multi-year undated plate for the next couple of years after that.  Pennsylvania began issuing license plates in 1906, and these indicated the year of issuance.  Pennsylvania was the first state to realize it could collect registration fees on a recurring basis and also keep its registration records current by requiring motorists to re-register and obtain new plates each year. 
Q:  What was the last U.S. state to begin issuing license plates, and in what year? 
A:  The last of the current 50 states to issue license plates were Alaska in 1921 and Hawaii in 1922, but Alaska and Hawaii did not become states until 1959.  The last of the 48 states to issue plates, that actually was a state at the time, was Florida in 1918. 

1959 New Jersey
New Jersey 1959 issue
Q:  What are the oldest U.S. license plates still in continuous use? 
A:  Delaware plates from 1941 forward are still allowed to be used today.  These oldest plates are porcelain coated and have white numbers on a black background.  They were first issued with metal tabs that indicated a 1942 expiration date.  (Delaware also allows modern reproductions of these porcelain plates to be used legally.)  Other very old license plates still in use include Oregon plates issued from 1955 (with a stamped 1956 initial expiration date) forward, New Jersey black-on-tan plates first issued in 1959, and California gold-on-black plates first issued in 1963. 
Q:  What is the oldest U.S. passenger car plate design that is still issued today? 
A:  It's hard to say; it all depends on whether you consider minor changes in a plate's appearance, or a switch to a new font or numbering scheme, to constitue a design change or to just be a continuation of the same design.  Listed below are some plates that might qualify as the oldest design still being issued; you be the judge. 
1984 North Carolina

2008 North Carolina
Are these the same design
or two different designs?
(top plate previously in my
trade box; bottom plate once
registered to my vehicle)
Q:  Which states currently issue plates in pairs, and which issue single plates? 
A:  There are 31 states that issue plates in pairs, plus Washington, D.C.  That leaves 19 states that only issue single plates to go on the rear of the vehicle.  Mostly these 19 states are in the south.  The easist way to indicate which states fall in which category is to show you
Q:  In what years did Maryland issue only single plates? 
A:  Maryland issued single plates with expiration dates in 1945, 1954, and 1955.  The 1945 expiration plate was actually issued and used for two additional years, by attaching metal tabs that indicated 1946 and 1947 expiration dates.  In all other years, passenger car plates and most other plate types were issued in pairs. 
Q:  In what years did Pennsylvania issue plates in pairs? 
A:  Pennsylvania issued plates in matched pairs every year from 1910 to 1942, and also from 1947 to 1951.  The 1942 plates were also used in 1943, by virtue of red metal tabs that were attached to both the front and rear plates.  Except for a few odd classes of plates, Pennsylvania plates have been issued only as singles from 1952 to the present. 
Q:  In what years did North Carolina issue plates in pairs? 
A:  For several decades, North Carolina couldn't seem to make up its mind whether to issue single plates or pairs.  The state issued plates in matched pairs from 1918 to 1920, 1930 to 1943, 1948 to 1951, and in 1955.  As far as I know, North Carolina has issued only single plates from 1956 to the present. 

Questions about this web site

Q:  Where did you get all of the information about license plates that's on this site?
A:  A combination of ways.  Perhaps the most significant is by direct observation of plates actually in use.  Even when I was a kid in the 1960s, I paid careful attention to license plates I saw.  For example, much of what I wrote on the 1954-to-present Maryland web pages are details that I saw firsthand as a child, teen, and young adult, and have remembered all these years. 

Another method is by looking at lots and lots of current pictures of old plates.  Nearly every day I look at license plates that are newly listed on eBay and which fall into categories I'm interested in.  I do this not necessarily to buy, but to learn from.  This is one way that I've been able to reconstruct which serial number ranges were issued in which years on multi-year base plates, for example. 

A third method is plain old research, which takes on a variety of forms.  I've read archives of old state motor vehicle laws, studied old photographs of vehicles, read articles and books written by other license plate historians, consulted with collectors who are experts about particular categories of plates, explored various state DMV web sites, and so on. 

There's one more way that I want to mention.  Ever since I created this web site, there are people who send me information about plates that they've observed – such things as new plate styles, changes to existing plate designs, new serial number formats, new year sticker colors, etc.  This is especially helpful to me with regard to my Maryland and Pennsylvania pages, since I don't frequently see these plates in actual use any more.  Similarly, I get e-mails from people who provide additional details, clarifications, corrections, etc., related to information I've already reported on the various pages on this site. 
Q:  Why do you spend so much time studying license plates and putting all this on a web site?
A:  Because it's fun!
Q:  I don't understand some of the terminology you use, such as "embossed", "natural", "passenger", and "serial format".  Can you explain some of these terms? 
A:  I guess you must have missed my Definitions of License Plate Terms page. 

My current license plate
The plate currently registered
to my own daily driver
Q:  What is the license plate from my vehicle doing pictured on your web site? 
A:  I took a photo of your plate and put it on my site simply because it was a good example of that particular type of plate.  Your plate number is not sensitive personal information like your Social Security number is.  After all, it's on display for thousands of people to see every time you leave your garage.  Also, there's generally no way to connect a plate number to a specific individual without access to a police or DMV database, and those are highly secure. 

Notice that I haven't identified or shown you, your vehicle, or where it was parked.  I hope you'll realize there's no harm being done and no privacy being invaded here.  To show my sincerity about this, pictured at right is the plate currently on my own personal vehicle.  If you are still bothered about this, contact me, and I will most likely agree to take down the picture of your plate. 
Q: I have a photo of a plate that's described but not pictured on your site.  Would you like me to send you the photo? 
A:  Maybe.  If it's a photo that you found online, then no.  If I wanted to use photos from the web, I could easily find those myself.  I don't use those, because I have a policy of only using photos where the owner of the photo (the original photographer) has given me permission to use it on my site.  If you photographed a license plate yourself (whether a photo of a plate in your collection or a plate you saw on the street) that I don't already have a photo of, then, yes, by all means send it to me.  Please send me the original, uncropped photo, and remember to state that you took the photo and that I can use it on my web site.  I will credit you by name for the photo unless you tell me not to. 
Q:  Is there a reason you don't have any pages that cover the various types of current Pennsylvania license plates? 
A:  There are two reasons, actually.  One is that I get to Pennsylvania very infrequently anymore, so it would be rather difficult to get many photos of current plates in use, or to observe how each type is actually used, etc., especially for the more obscure types.  Second, it's already been done, and done well.  Check out John McDevitt's excellent PA PL8S site for anything related to current Pennsylvania plates. 
Q:  Do you plan to ever create any pages dedicated to Virginia or Washington, D.C. license plates, considering they're located between Maryland and North Carolina? 
A:  Well, I've lived in both Maryland and North Carolina, so I've had the opportunity to carefully observe the various types of plates, to what types of vehicles they're issued, and so on.  While I'm also pretty familiar with Virginia and D.C. plates, that's not good enough to really do them justice.  Also, there's already a quite outstanding web site called DCplates.net that covers the history of Washington, D.C. plates, and I see no reason to be redundant.  I may someday develop one or more pages that address Virginia plates in some way, but don't hold your breath. 
Q:  What's up with that "extremely important" God and heaven stuff on a license plate collecting site? 
A:  You're referring to the light purple box at the bottom of the front page of this site, and the page it links to.  I'm a committed Christian, and I want this site to reflect that. 

I figure I have two choices.  I can either keep my hobby completely separate from my faith, or I can find ways to combine them.  If I keep them separate, then every minute and every dollar I spend on my hobby is less I have to serve God with.  If I'm serving God while I'm enjoying my hobby, then the dilemma is greatly reduced. 

Jesus instructed his followers to tell the world about him (Matthew 28:18-20), and there's no reason to think that Christians of the 21st century are exempt from this command.  But, on the other hand, it's counter-productive if I'm too "in your face" about it and end up driving people away.  So I've tried to keep it visible, yet low-key.  If you're looking for answers about God, or if you just want to see what I've come to believe, then have a look.  If you're not, that's okay, too; feel free to enjoy the rest of the site. 
Q:  May I include a link to your site's home page, or to a specific page on your site, from my own site? 
A:  Yes; there's no need to even ask for permission to link to one of my pages.  However, it's NOT okay to display an image from my site on yours, either by copying it or linking directly to the image, without my written permission. 
Q:  Would you add a link to my web site from yours? 
A:  I might, but don't count on it.  I do not automatically reciprocate links.  Any site that I link to generally must be of significant interest to the license plate collecting community.  I address this question in more detail at the bottom of my links page, in a section called How to suggest a site for inclusion on that page. 
Q:  I would like to advertise my product or service on your site.  Do you accept advertising? 
A:  No.  This is a non-commercial, informational site, and I don't want to subject my visitors to advertising.  It costs me very little to keep this site up and running, and I don't need or want the money I would receive from allowing ads. 
Q:  I'd like to send you something to show my appreciation for you taking the time to create and update this site.  You said above that you don't need or want ad money, but would you accept a gift? 
A:  Thanks, but it's really not necessary.  I built and maintain this site simply because I enjoy doing so.  However, if you want to send me one or more expired license plates, I'll be happy to accept. 
Q:  What do those "W3C" logos at the bottom of your pages mean? 
A:  They indicate that that web page has been validated, meaning that the HTML programming code used to create the page follows the rules and syntax of either XHTML version 1.0 or HTML version 4.01.  Therefore, web browsers that support those versions of HTML (most all do) should have no problems presenting the page.  If you click on the W3C logo on any given page, that particular page will be re-validated and you will be shown the results.  Since I actually write all of my own HTML code, rather than use web page software to create it for me, I thought it would be a good idea to make sure it is valid code.  W3C stands for the World Wide Web Consortium, an international group that develops web standards. 
Q:  What's the difference between XHTML 1.0 and HTML 4.01? 
A:  Not much, really.  XHTML version 1.0 is a more current standard for HTML code than is HTML version 4.01. 
Q:  Why do you write "web site" as two words, when everyone else writes "website" as a single word? 
A:  Either way is correct, although I'll admit that website is by far the more common usage.  I think that having web site written as two words makes it easier to read. 
Q:  Have you ever thought about starting a web site design business? 
A:  Actually, yes, I have, and at one point I came close to actually doing so.  Then my responsibilies at my day job changed, and my wife went from working part-time to full-time.  I realized that I just couldn't devote the time that would be needed to get it off the ground.  I may reconsider at some point in the future, perhaps once I retire. 
Q:  I have a question that I can't find addressed on this page or anywhere else on your site.  How can I get my question answered?
A:  Send me an e-mail and ask away.  I'll do my best to give you an answer.  However, please understand that I've had to adopt a policy of not even responding to requests to provide license plate value estimates. 
Q:  I sent you an e-mail, but you haven't responded.  Why not?
A:  If you wrote me to ask what your old license plate was worth, I just deleted your e-mail without responding.  As I've explained, I've had to start doing this because I continue to get such requests, despite making it very clear that I'm not going to do the research necessary to provide an answer.  Frankly, I just got tired of having to constantly respond to such requests, even just to say "Please read my FAQs; I'm sorry I can't help you further", and so on. 

If you've written to me with a different sort of question, or with information, comments, a request to buy a plate I have available for sale, etc., if it's been less than a few days since you wrote, please be patient.  Keep in mind that this is only a hobby for me, and I do have other, more important things going on in my life.  I can usually only check my e-mail a few times a day.  Even then, I might not have the time to respond right away, especially if your question requires a lengthy response, or research, to be able to provide an answer.  Occasionally, I have no way to access the internet.  However, I do try my best to respond to every e-mail within a few days.  Thanks for understanding. 

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