This page presents information about and photos of Maryland license plates with manufacturing errors, die variations, low numbers, and other interesting features.
Latest noteworthy updates to this page
Ever since I created this web site in 2004, I've had people e-mail me photos of interesting Maryland plates to add to the site. In some cases, I really didn't have a suitable place on the site to display what they had sent. On this page I display various error plates and low-numbered plates, which rectifies most of that problem. I also show die and bolt hole variations, which I've consolidated from several other pages on this site. I expect that I will occasionally add new topics to this page.
My "Pictorial History" pages are intended to be a supplement to the information found in the ALPCA Archives. I am providing additional details and additional photos not found in the archives, and clarifying information when appropriate. When the ALPCA archives cover a subject in great detail, I do not repeat that detail here. I sincerely hope that you find this information useful. 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.
Mouse over any image to see a description of the plate. Click on any image to see an enlarged version.
Like every other jurisdiction that produces license plates, Maryland produces its share of error plates. Probably most of these never see the light of day. Some, however, have been issued and used, and others, although intercepted before being actually issued, were not destroyed and have found their way into the hands of collectors. I've grouped some of the more common types of errors together, below.
"W / M invert" plates are those where the letter "M" has been stamped using an upside-down "W" die, or vice-versa. Sometimes these are referred to as "William and Mary" error plates. This is probably the most common kind of Maryland error plate. "M" dies have legs that are completely vertical, while the legs on an upside-down "W" are wider at the bottom than at the top.
A good number of red-on-white 1976-1980 passenger car plates had the letter "M" made from an upside-down "W" die. Every one of these I've seen was in the AMx series or in one of several AxM series. However, I know that not all AxM series plates were made this way.
"Serial invert" plates have the entire plate number stamped upside-down on the plate, or more accurately, were stamped with the blank plate inserted upside-down into the stamping machine. Not many of these were actually issued and used, but those that were are quite striking in appearance.
The plates shown above are representative of various other kinds of license plate manufacturing errors. Some of these errors are not obvious from the photos and require elaboration.
There are many instances of die variations (and, to a lesser extent, bolt hole variations) during the history of Maryland license plates. I'm not going to attempt to document every one of these, but rather am going to just give you some of the highlights.
Late in the life of the 1964 expiration plate, starting at about the FN series of passenger car plates, the size of the bolt holes was reduced from a long oval to a short oval. Late in the life of the 1970 expiration plate, starting at about the JA series of passenger car plates, the bolt holes were again reduced from a short oval to a circle.
This is a new one on me. I've never seen or heard of 1967 die variations until I saw these two plates in Jeff Francis' display room in January 2014. My first guess is that they were prototypes of some kind, as Jeff is a very experienced collector who would not be easily fooled by fakes. However, both plates show evidence of use. Possibly this was a similar situation to the New Jersey die plates shown below, where the state plate shop was out of commission and another state or a private company was temporarily used to make plates. These 1967 plates were not made by New Jersey, however, nor do I recognize the dies as being those of any other state. One fellow collector suggested that the dies are similar to Montgomery County incinerator and landfill permit plates, which are apparently made by a private company. I agree they're similar, but I don't think they're the same, so the question of who made these plates is still open.
Late in the life of the dated 1971 base, in mid-year 1974, new serial dies were put into production, and newly-made plates had serial characters that were slightly smaller and letters that were more squared-off than previously. Plates made with both the old and new dies had natural 1975 expirations, but no plates with the new dies had expirations prior to 1975. I don't believe all plate types were made with the new dies, but several of them were, as shown above. In addition to the serial die variations, the farm truck plates had plate type die variations.
Late in the life of the undated red-on-white 1976 base, in mid-year 1979, the embossed sticker box border was lowered in height, so that it was still raised but not high enough for the paint roller to hit it (usually). This change has been seen on many different plate types. Late in the life of the undated black-on-white 1981 base, state and local government vehicle plates suddenly sprouted sticker boxes where there had been none before. (Government plates were not renewed with stickers on this base.)
Late in the life of the undated black-on-white 1981 base, in late 1985, the space separator between the plate letters and numbers became wider, pushing the serial number characters towards the side edges of the plates. This variation has been seen on both passenger car plates and local government vehicle plates.
Maryland 350th anniversary special interest plates were available to both passenger cars and multipurpose passenger vehicles (MPVs; passenger vans, SUVs, and motor homes, mostly). MPV plates weren't nearly as popular as the car plates, perhaps because they didn't have the shield emblem on them. The serial format for the MPV plates was 00000 X, but for unknown reasons, later issues lost the space separator and thus were in format 00000X. My guess is that they removed the space to avoid complaints that the shield was "missing".
Plates with strange looking, squared-off serial characters were issued over the course of a few months in the fall of 2006 and into early 2007. Passenger car plates with serials in the range 1CN*A01 to 9CN*Z99, and multipurpose vehicle plates with serials between 895M001 and 909M999 were made this way. The Maryland license plate facility at the state prison in Jessup was shut down for about three weeks due to inmate unrest, and Maryland arranged for New Jersey to stamp out plates for them in the interim. New Jersey could not or would not use Maryland's serial dies, and instead made the plates using their own dies.
The state seems to have one number "2" die that doesn't quite match the others. It's not so different as to really stand out on a plate with a single number "2", but it can be seen on plate number 852M293 above by closely comparing the two number "2"s in the serial. The first "2" was stamped with the odd die, while the second "2" was stamped using the normal die. (Click the photo to see a larger version.) According to Maryland plate spotter Jeff Ellis, this odd die has shown up on MPV plates in the 852M000, 862M000, and 872M000 ranges, and also on state government plates in the S/G*24000 series, the A172000 series of Our Farms, Our Future special interest plates, as well as some occasional Treasure the Chesapeake special interest plates and vanities.
No, these aren't errors, but you could consider them oddities, I suppose. In any case, in this section are some unusual and interesting Maryland license plates.
Between sometime in the 1920s (or even earlier) and 1953, buses were assigned plate numbers between 1 and 1000 or thereabouts, and in many cases did not have any words or prefix or suffix letters indicating the plate type. The 1952 expiration plates shown above would seem to be ordinary bus plates with very low numbers. They're clearly not plates issued to the governor and his cronies for their passenger cars, as the April expiraion month was only used on plate types other than passenger cars and motorcycles.
Between 1921 and 1953, Maryland passenger car plate numbers began at either 30-000 or 30-001. I've never been clear on which it actualy was. Every instance of sample plates from that period that I've seen had plate number 00-000. I've never seen another plate number 30-000 from this or any other year, besides the mate to this one that was on the other end of the same antique car. 1952 expiration plates were the first to indicate different expiration months for non-passenger plates (numbered 1 to 29-999 and 800-000 and above) and passenger car plates (numbered 30-000? to 799-999). So, I don't know what to make of this plate. Either it's in fact the lowest-numbered 1952 passenger car plate, or it's a specifically a passenger car sample (rather than a generic sample), depicting a fictitious plate number similar to later passenger samples numbered AA-0000. In any case, it's an interesting plate.
There are many hundreds of various Maryland organizational member plate types; each has its own unique prefix letters and the plate numbering starts at 0001. Many of these plate types have had few plates issued, so it's not terribly hard to find a plate number 0001 in use.
The War of 1812 passenger car plate shown above is the very first sequentially-numbered plate made on that base. The "M/D" was series was issued first, before the letters advanced alphabetically from "A/A" forward. The digit to the left of the letters is never a zero.
These look like low-numbered plates, but as far as I know, they're all ordinary vanity plates that anyone could have obtained had they been first to request them. Since they were made on request and not sequentially, technically, they're not low-numbered. More accurately, they have short plate numbers. Or letters, as the case may be.
Thanks to those who have directly contributed to the information on this page: Jeff Ellis, Dave Hennessey, Dirk Leu, Jon Olivarri, Barry Power, and Joe Sallmen.
Ellis, Hennessey, Leu, Olivarri, Power, Sells, and Sallmen photographs are presumed to be copyrighted by Jeff Ellis, Dave Hennessey, Dirk Leu, Jon Olivarri, Barry Power, Mike Sells, and Joe Sallmen, respectively, and are used with permission. Olivarri and Francis plates are from the collection of Jon Olivarri and Jeff Francis, respectively.
This page is