Rick Kretschmer's License Plate Archives
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
- May 17, 2013 – Updated the photo of the license plate on
my personal vehicle. Minor text updates.
- April 1, 2013 – Added a new question regarding finding out
to what vehicle or person an old plate was registered. Other minor text updates.
- 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
- 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
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 are probably better than on eBay auctions
in progress. Felix2, PL8 Source, and PL8S.com are probably good places to start looking.
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
- 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.
Ultimately, the value of an old license plate, or anything else for that matter, is what someone 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,
. Often you will find these grades abbreviated to one or two letters,
such as and . 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Q: I have an old license plate, or a group of plates, that I'd like to sell. Would you be interested in
- A: Possibly. Please check my want list page
if you haven't already. If it's on the list, I'm at least interested. However, despite what you may
otherwise think, I collect plates on a very limited budget, so I may or may not be in a position to buy your
plate(s) at any given time. If your license plate is not on my want list, then I probably would not buy
it. If you have plates you're selling as a group, I might consider buying the group if it includes plates
that I do want.
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.
- 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.
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
- 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, assuming of course that it's worthwhile to do so.
- 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
- 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 will maximize the chances that you will get the true market price for your item.
Another option would be to offer your old license plates to a local antiques dealer 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.
On the other hand, you might want to try to enlist the assistance of someone who knows old license plates, and how
best to market them. 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 might be able to help you sell your
plates. Send me an e-mail with some specifics and we'll see.
Let me know the approximate number, age, and condition of the plates, and what state(s) they may be mostly from;
please also tell me where (city and state) the plates are presently located.
- Q: I have a rusty old (year) (jurisdiction) plate that I want to have restored. What do you
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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
- Q: Can you clarify which year of Maryland plates would be correct YOM plates for my classic (year)
- 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.
- 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 do feel like I'm in the midst of a
mid-life crisis, so perhaps this is a nerd's equivalent to the proverbial red sports car.)
- Q: Isn't it against the law to possess license plates that aren't registered to your car?
- A: First, I'm not a police officer or 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. But even then, if you keep a low profile by not putting them on your car, not trying to sell them on
eBay, 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.
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
- 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
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. ALPCA also holds an annual
international 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
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 . 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.
- 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. I do have some additional plates that I will only
sell or trade 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 have what you're looking for.
Otherwise, please don't think that you'll satisfy me that you're a collector by simply claiming to be, or by
sending me photos of your collection.
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
- 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
- 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
discussion groups, such as the
Yahoo! PLATES group, 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 booths with people selling 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 .
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
- 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.
Just a few of the many plates
given to me by friends, family,
- 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.
- 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
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-states.
See 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.
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.
Are these the same design
or two different designs?
(top plate previously in my
bottom plate once
registered to my vehicle)
- Delaware has issued completely flat gold-on-blue plates with a gold border since
1970. However, the typeface, or font, of the registration numbers was revised in 2002 and again in 2003,
causing some plates to look "different". Now, they've now gone back to a font that more closely resembles
the original, but it can be hard to tell since Delaware constantly re-used old plate numbers.
- Minnesota graphic plates with the lake scene were first introduced in 1977 with 1978
expiration dates, but have been repeatedly updated with both minor design changes and serial format changes since
then. In 2008, the serial format changed once again, and more significantly, the plate numbers are now flat
and black, rather than embossed and blue.
- North Carolina First in Flight graphic plates showing the
Wright Brothers' biplane were first issued in 1982 and continue to be issued today. The current serial
format was begun in 1985. However, between 2007 and 2009, the state issued plates with the registration
numbers painted red, rather than blue. They're now making plates with blue registration numbers once again,
on the same old background.
- Hawaii rainbow graphic plates have been issued since 1991, but since then have used
two different dies for the embossed serial characters.
- North Dakota Discover the Spirit graphic
plates are currently the longest to be continuously issued with no change whatsoever. These were
introduced in 1993.
- 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
- 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.
- 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 make
a point of sending 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
- 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 "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.
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: Is there a reason you don't have any pages that cover the various types of current Pennsylvania license
- 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
- 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 all that "extremely important" God and heaven stuff on a license plate collecting
- 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
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, or to a specific page on your site, from my own site?
- A: Yes; there's no need to even ask for permission. However, it's
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,
or a contribution towards the cost of keeping the site running, 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
- 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.
- 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.
This page is