Illinois personal vehicle license plate

Rick Kretschmer's License Plate Archives 

Illinois personal vehicle license plate

A Pictorial History of Illinois License Plates

Miscellaneous personal vehicle plates dated 1949 to present


This page covers various types of Illinois license plates typically issued for personal vehicles that are not otherwise addressed on their own pages. 

Latest noteworthy updates to this page
  • January 7, 2023  –  Added a 1975 pseudo-personalized plate and a few 1990 base antique vehicle plates. 
  • November 14, 2022  –  Added a 1987 pseudo-personalized plate.  
  • August 2, 2022  –  Completed section for personalized and vanity plates.  
  • February 19, 2022  –  Brand new page! 


On this page I will address various types of Illinois license plates typically issued for personal vehicles, mostly from 1949 to the present day.  However, please note that this page does not cover all types of 1949-present Illinois personal vehicle plates.  Passenger car plates are addressed on separate pages.  Other personal plate types, such as motorcycle plates, special event plates, and special interest plates, will eventually get their own dedicated pages as well.  What is and will be on this page are the personal plate types whose histories can be described rather concisely. 

As I have only acquired small numbers of a few Ilinois personal plate types, this page will be a work in progress for the foreseeable future.  I will add content as I acquire plates.  Therefore, the lack of information about a specific plate type, or of specific years of plate types that are covered here, should not be interpreted to mean that that such a plate type or year doesn't exist. 

If you find an error or have additional information, or can provide a plate or a photo of a plate that I'm missing, please send me an e-mail.  There's a link to my e-mail address at the bottom of every page.  Please note that all plates shown that are credited to another person are plates that I am still seeking for my own collection. 

Illinois historic and antique vehicle plates

In Illinois, vehicle registrations are handled by the state Secretary of State.  Apparently in 1949 and definitely from 1952 going forward, the Secretary of State sponsored an antique car show each year at the state fair.  Vehicles entered in the car show were issued distinctive license plates to use during the show through 1967.  It would seem that in 1950, and then resuming in 1968, antique vehicles were issued a specific plate type that could be used year-round.  Despite that, state fair antique car show special event plates resumed in about 1989, but those most likely aren't limited for use on historic vehicles, and so are not covered here. 

Horseless carriage, antique automobile, and historic automobile plates 1949-1967
(no picture available)
Horseless carriage plates, 1949

This type was only issued in 1949.  They were navy-on-cream, the opposite colors from regular plates, with the state name and year embossed at the bottom.  The words Horseless Carriage were at the top of the plate, and were flat and red.  I suspect these words were hand-painted.  It's been reported that these plates were used on vehicles entered in the Secretary of State car show at the state fair, but there's nothing on the plates to indicate that.  Read more about confirmed state fair car show plates below. 

(no picture available)
Antique automobile plates, 1950

This was another one-year-only issue.  These were colored green-on-white like other Illinois plates from that year.  The state name and year were embossed at the bottom.  At the top were the words Antique Automobile and there were graphics of an antique car on either side of the plate number.  It's been reported that both the plate type text and graphics were hand-painted.  It's also reported that these plates were not state fair-related, but appearenly were used all year long. 

There were no horsless carriage or antique auto or historic auto or state fair car show plates issued in 1951. 

1965 historic auto / state fair
State Fair historic automobile plates, 1952-1967

Plates for vehicles entered in the state fair car show were issued annually during this period.  These plates said either Historic Automobile or Illinois State Fair; usually both.  They're unusual for this time period in that they contained graphics, and all elements except for the plate number were screened on and flat.  Only the 1967 plates had a reflective background; the other years were all painted. 

The graphic designs and plate colors varied in most years, but the graphics always depicted an antique car or antique car parts.   The 1952-54 plates had the text Historic Automobile but didn't mention the state fair.  The 1955 plates said Illinois State Fair as well as Antique Auto and Sports Car Meet, that latter text was used that one year only.  After that, the plates always said both Historic Automobile and Illinois State Fair

These plates were odd in that their dimensions and bolt hole placements don't conform to the North American standard that just about all U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions used starting in 1956.  The standard is for the plates to be 12 by 6 inches in size and have bolt holes 7 inches apart on center.  These state fair plates for all years 1952-1967 measure 11-7/8 inches by 6-1/4 inches, and their bolt holes are 10 inches apart on center.  I suppose it didn't matter, because any historic vehicle even in 1967 would have been older than 1956 and would have non-standard license plate mounting brackets anyway. 

Antique vehicle plates 1968-1989
1980-81 antique vehicle
Regular antique vehicle plates

In 1968, Illinois began issuing antique vehicle plates for year-round use.  I suppose that was the reason for the discontinuance of the state fair historic automobile plates.  The first three issues of antique vehicle plates were were dated 1968-69, 1969-70, and 1970-71, respectively.  It would seem that the second of these was likely a 12 month fiscal year (July-June) plate; the other two might have been likewise, or possibly were 18 month plates.  Fiscal year plates didn't indicate the expiration month back then; they had stamped on them the year issued as well as the year of expiry.  Between 1972 and 1989, antique vehicle plates were biennial, that is, valid for the two calendar years indicated on the plate, and so the years didn't overlap from one issue to the next. 

With the exception of the 1988-89 plate, these plates had all-numeric plate numbers and had the words Antique and Vehicle running vertically down the left and right sides of the plate, respectively.  The 1988-89 plate omitted the word Vehicle and instead had an AV serial suffix using full-sized letters.  All of these plates were reflective and fully-embossed, and plate colors varied each year.  Only the first two issues did not have an embosssed and painted border.  The last two issues in this period were stamped with larger serial dies than previously.  The state name flanked by the two two-digit years was sometimes at the top of the plate and sometimes at the bottom, with no discernable pattern.  The state slogan Land of Lincoln was located at the opposite edge from the state name. 

Some additional 1968-1989 antique vehicle plates
1974-75 antique vehicle 1976-77 antique vehicle 1978-79 antique vehicle 1982-83 antique vehicle 1984-85 antique vehicle 1986-87 antique vehicle
(no picture available)
Antique motorcycle plates

Antique motorcycle plates were apparently introduced in 1986, and so there were two biennial plates, dated 1986-87 and 1988-89.  Colors were the same as on the full-sized plates.  Plate numbers were all-numeric, even in 1988-89 when the full-sized plates had an AV suffix.  The plates were fully-embossed, except for the word Antique running down the left side of the plate.  There was no corresponding word running down the right side of the plate. 

Antique vehicle plates 1990-2004 or possibly longer
1990-94 antique vehicle
1990-94 antique vehicle

1995-99 antique vehicle
1995-99 antique vehicle
Regular antique vehicle plates

Starting in 1990, antique vehicles went to five-year registration periods and plates renewed with stickers.  The 1990 antique vehicle base resembled the passenger car base in use at that time, with the three strips across the top of the plate, except that the colors were brown characters on a beige-colored background.  The plates no longer said "antique" anywhere, but continued with the embossed A/V serial suffix, now stacked.  Apparently personalized and vanity plate numbers were allowed on this base and going forward, but the stacked A/V suffix was required.  Sequential plate numbers were all-numeric, followed by the A/V suffix. 

undated antique vehicle
Undated mate to the plate
shown at left

In the large sticker well at the bottom center of the plate, early issues had the initial expiration date DEC 94 screened on.  This base was renewed twice, with DEC 99 and DEC 04 expiration stickers.  All antique vehicle registrations expired on these dates, even for new registrations issued in the middle of the five year period.  Later issues of this base plate omitted the screened date; this change occurred in the lower 30 000 series.  Very late issues were issued small, square 12-04 stickers rather than large DEC 04 stickers that filled the sticker well.  I've also seen a fair number of plates on this base with small, square 12-09 stickers, and a few with 12-14 stickers, but I'm not sure if these are legit.  Since Illinois motorists are routinely issued a new base with the same plate number as the old base during a statewide replacement, it may be that all 1990 bases were supposed to be replaced at the start of 2005, but some motorists liked the old plates better, or were just lazy, and just put the new sticker on the old plate.  Not living in Illinois myself, I just don't know. 

(no picture available)
Antique motorcycle plates

Antique motorcycle plates of this period resembled regular motorcycle plates but otherwise had the same changes as the full-sized antique vehicle plates, including the addtion of the stacked A/V suffix.  However, on some of these plates, the suffix letters were embossed, and on others they were flat.  I haven't determined which came first or when they switched. 

Antique vehicle plates 2005-2019 or possibly longer
(no picture available)
Regular antique vehicle plates

A new antique vehicle base was introduced for 2005, and as I explained above, I believe it was supposed to be a statewide replacement of all 1990 base antique vehicle plates.  Again, the background color was beige, but this time had a white state map occupying the center of the plate from top to bottom.  However, the screened state name, slogan, and A/V suffix were all colored black, as was the embossed plate number. 

This design had a sticker well in the upper right corner.  Small expiration stickers dated 12-09, 12-14, and 12-19 were used with these plates.  I've also now seen one of these with a 12-24 sticker. 

(no picture available)
Extended-use antique vehicle plates

I presume these plates cost more than regular antique vehicle plates but have fewer restrictions on usage.  I don't know whether this type was introduced in 2005 or at some point afterward; at least one source suggests a 2012 debut.  The design is similar to regular antique vehicle plates, but with a white background and a light gray state map.  Other features, including a stacked, screened E/A serial suffix, are black.  Numbering on sequential plates is all-numeric with the E/A suffix; personalized and vanity numbers are also available.  It's my understanding that this plate type has single-year registration periods with variable expiration months. 

(no picture available)
Antique military vehicle plates

This is another relatively recent issue, and again, I'm not sure exactly when it was introduced.  The one I've seen has a 6-14 expriation sticker.  These plates have a screend O/M suffix, which some people claim stands for "old military".  The plate number, including the suffix, are colored black, and the background is an olive-drab camo pattern with a white star on the left and a white partial state map on the far right. 

(no picture available)
Antique motorcycle plates

Antique motorcycle plates are basically miniature regular antique vehicle plates, with the same colors, graphics, and numbering format, including the A/V serial suffix. 

(no picture available)
Extended-use antique motorcycle plates

Antique motorcycle plates are basically miniature extended-use antique vehicle plates, with the same colors, graphics, and numbering format, including the E/A serial suffix. 

Illinois amateur (ham) radio operator plates

Most U.S. states introduced amateur (or "ham") radio operator plates in 1956, including Illinois.  The plate numbers were, and still are, the radio operator's FCC-issued call sign. 

Amateur radio plates 1956-1983
1975 amateur radio

During most years between 1956 and 1978, Illinois amateur radio plates had the same colors and other characteristics of passenger car plates, except for the plate number format and the embossed text Amateur and Radio running vertically down the sides of the plate.  Also, unlike passenger car plates, letters and numbers were the same size and height. 

Amateur radio plates did differ from passenger car plates in other ways during a few years.  1968 amateur radio plates omitted the number "18" in the upper corners found on passenger car plates.  While 1976 passenger plates had a graphic, three-color design with all elements flat except for the plate number, 1976 amateur radio plates were fully-embossed, plain, and blue-on-white.  1977 passenger plates did not have a raised, painted border, but other 1977 plate types, including amateur radio plates, did. 

During the years 1979-1983, passenger car plates went to a multi-year base plate with a flat, screened state name and slogan, but amateur radio plates continued to be reissued annually.  The design of amateur radio plates was unchanged from that of previous years.  They continued to be fully-embossed and the plate colors changed each year. 

Some additional 1956-1983 amateur radio plates
1977 amateur radio
Ham radio plates 1984-present
(no picture available)

In 1984, amatuer radio plates returned to being similar to passenger car plates, and began using a multi-year base plates validated with an expiration sticker.  The text identifying the plate type was revised to the shorter Ham Radio to avoid conflicting with the plate graphics, and both words ran vertically down the left side of the plate.  Such was the case on both the 1983 three-stripe base and the 2001 "Abe" base.  I have not yet seen a ham radio plate on the 2017 "half Abe" or "ghost Abe" bases. 

Illinois personalized and vanity plates

In most states, the terms "personalized" and "vanity" are used interchangeably; they both refer to plates with non-standard registration numbers chosen by the motorist.  However, in Illinois, these are two similar, but different plate types.  Vanity plates have plate numbers consisting entirely of letters.  Personalized plates have letter(s) followed by number(s) in non-standard numbering formats for passenger cars and motorcycles, or number(s) followed by letter(s) in non-standard numbering formats for other vehicle types.  Illinois does not allow mototists to choose plate numbers with letters both before and after numbers, or numbers both before and after letters on any type of vehicle, nor does it allow numbers before letters on passenger cars and motorcycles or letters before numbers on other vehicle types. 

Motorist-selected plate numbers in standard numbering formats
(no picture available)
Psuedo-personalized plates prior to 1974

Probably from the very beginning, Illinois has allowed motorists to keep their plate numbers from one year to the next, or more recently from one base to the next.  The state also had a longstanding policy of allowing motorists to request any available number in standard numbering formats.  Well-connected people likely were given preferential treatment for acquiring desirable plate numbers.  When plates were only available with all-numerics, this usally meant low numbers and numbers with repeating digits or strings of digits. 

Two-letter serial prefixes were introduced in 1961, which meant people could then get standard-format plates with their initials or other meaningful letters.  But there was generally no way to know if a given plate number was assigned randomly or one that was specifically requested. 

1975 pseudo-personalized passenger car
1975 pseudo-personalized

1987 pseudo-personalized passenger car
1987 pseudo-personalized
Psuedo-personalized plates 1974-1980 and beyond

A standard passenger car numbering format with three serial prefix letters began in 1974 in limited quantities, consisting of only approximately the first half of the Axx series.  These all had three-digit numbers following the letters, with numbering starting at 100 in each series.  This three-letter format was apparently created only to provide a legal basis for allowing pseudo-personalized plate numbers with three letters. 

Details are sketchy, but I gather that psuedo-personalized plates with three letters may have been limited to numbers 1 to 50 in 1974; in any case, they were very limited in their availabilty.  I'd speculate that most or all of these were given to VIPs and people with political connections.  Apparently, starting in 1975, they could be had with three-digit numbers, and were somewhat more easily obtained.  By 1976, I believe they became much more readily available.  One account states that plates with three letters and no numbers were also issued during this period, but this is unverified. 

Pseudo-personalized plate numbers continued to be be requested and issued in 1980 and beyond, but became much less obvious and interesting with the advent of truly personalized and vanity plates in 1980, and the routine usage of three-letter prefixes on sequentially-numbered plates a couple of years later.  I won't address these further. 

Motorist-selected plate numbers in non-standard numbering formats

2001 personalized passenger car
2001 personalized

2013 personalized passenger car
2013 personalized

1997 handicapped vanity passenger car
1997 handicapped vanity
Vanity and personalized passenger car, handicapped, and motorcycle plates, 1980-present

Both vanity plates and personalized plates were introduced for use on passenger cars in 1980, on the 1979 base.  Vanity and personalized passenger car plates for handicapped motorists are reported to have been introduced in 1984, which would put them first appearing on the 1983 base.  Vanity and personalized motorcycle plates and handicapped motorcycle plates were apparently also introduced sometime in the 1980s, but I dont't have any further details about these. 

Vanity plates are all-alphabetic, and personalized plates for these types – passenger cars, handicapped motorists, motorcycles, and handicapped motorcyclists – have letters followed by one or more numbers in non-standard formats.  The only apprent distinction between these two plate types is the cost.  Vanity plates are sigificantly more expensive than personalized plates for no apparent reason, resulting in personalized plates being far more common.  Other arrangements of letters and numbers are not allowed.  For example, Illinois will not allow the plate number "IN2 PL8S" because the letters are not all at one end and the numbers at the other end. 

Vanity and personlized plates for these plate types are issued on the same bases as sequentially-numbered passenger car and motorcycle plates, and so I won't dwell on the details about when each base was used. 

The yellow "T" sticker on the 1983 base plate shown at top left is worth discussing.  The red sticker underneath expired September 2001, and the "T" sticker showed that the plate was valid beyond the expiration date until the same plate number could be manufactured on the new base introduced in 2001.  The state couldn't remake vanity plates on the new base fast enough, and so these "T" stickers were fairly common. 

(no picture available)
Vanity and personalized plates non-passenger plates, 1980s-present 

Between the mid-1980s and early 1990s, vanity and personalized plates were made available to some plate types that tend to be issued to individals, but which use non-passenger base plates, including B-class (light) trucks, antique vehicles, antique motorcycles, recreational vehicles, and recreational trailers.  Personalized plates for these plate types must have number(s) before letters, opposite that of passenger cars, and must include the plate-type-specific suffix letter(s). 

I believe that vanity and personalized plates have been expanded to include additional non-passenger plate types since then, but I don't have any details.  Personalized plates for these additional plate types must also have number(s) before letters, and must include the plate-type-specific suffix letter(s). 

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