Maryland passenger car license plate

Rick Kretschmer's License Plate Archives 

Maryland passenger car license plate

A Pictorial History of Maryland License Plates

Passenger car plates dated 1954 to present
(including special interest plates issued to passenger cars)

 

This page presents the history of Maryland passenger car license plates, from the dated 1954 expiration plate through the present day. 

Latest noteworthy updates to this page
  • March 10, 2014  –  Added a photo and descriptions of the new 1910 Vintage special interest plate. 
  • January 1, 2014  –  Replaced 2014 and 2015 expiration plate images with those of plates I've added to my collection.  Updated 2015 and created 2016 expiration serial number ranges.  Added a placeholder for the 2016 expiration plate.  Minor text revisions. 
  • August 13, 2013  –  Added a photo of a 2015 expiration plate.  Replaced 2010 expiration War of 1812 plate photo with that of one I've added to my collection.  Replaced 2014 expiration plate image with one that I photographed myself. 

Introduction

This page addresses sequentially-numbered Maryland passenger car plates dated from 1954 to the present.  However, while studying these, it's important to be aware of the existence of organizational member reserved-series plates, which between 1954 and 1986 expirations, had passenger car serial formats with reserved serial letters.  Often these reserved serial letters were within the range of sequentially-issued plates and cannot be readily distinguished without knowing the specific reserved letter codes.  In other instances, the letter codes reserved for an organization were outside the range of sequentially-issued plates, or included letters such as the letter "I" that were not used on sequential passenger car plates.  These organizational member plates are are only mentioned in passing on this page, as they're covered in detail on my Maryland organizational member plates through 1986 page. 

Besides standard passenger car plates, special interest plates are also covered on this page.  These have completely different backgrounds than the standard-issue plates.  All special interest bases have been issued in passenger as well as non-passenger types; this page specifically addresses only the passenger car versions.  As a rule, non-passenger special interest plates are addressed on the appropriate Maryland non-passenger plate pages.  (Just FYI, graphic plates that are made on the current standard white reflective base are either organizational member or military service plates; these are not covered on this page, but rather may be found on the Maryland organizational member plates 1986-present page. 

Maryland license plates dated 1939 and later indicate on the plates themselves, or via metal tabs or stickers, the year in which they expire.  Exceptions to this include undated, unstickered plates that expired in 1976 and 1981, and front plates issued since 1986, which are not dated and do not bear stickers.  I consistently refer to plates by the year that is shown on the plate, regardless of when the plate was actually issued. 

Between 1939 and 1986, all passenger car registrations expired annually each March 31.  In some years, the expiration month, or month and day were indicated, at other times only the expiration year was shown.  Beginning October 1986, passenger car registrations can expire in any month.  Two-year registration periods were phased in during the early 1990s for passenger cars owned by individuals, and during the late 1990s for passenger cars owned by businesses and organizations.  Two-year registrations have now become virtually mandatory. 

All Maryland passenger car plates since those expiring in 1956 have been issued in pairs.  The 1957 expiration plates were the first to conform to the North American standard dimensions of 12 inches wide by 6 inches high.  The letters I, O, Q, and U have never been used on Maryland regular passenger car serial numbers, although the letter I has been used on organizational member reserved-series plates with passenger car serial formats. 

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.  Please note that all plates shown that are credited to another person are plates that I am still seeking for my own collection. 

Maryland passenger car plates, 1954-1956

1954 passenger 1955 passenger 1956 passenger

The Maryland plates issued in March 1953 and expiring in March 1954 had a number of differences from prior years.  These dated 1954 plates were the first Maryland passenger car plates to have an alpha-numeric serial number format, rather than an all-numeric serial.  Also for the first time, trucks and some other non-passenger vehicles were issued plates with a serial format distinct from those of passenger cars. 

With the obvious exception of motorcycle plates, all Maryland license plates dated 1954 through 1956 were 13 inches wide by 6 inches high, and had an embossed border, long bolt slots, Maryland at the top, a two-digit expiration year centered at the bottom, embossed serial separator(s) whose shape varied from year to year, and distinctive serial dies not used before or since.  All types of plates from a given year shared the same color scheme.  All sequentially-issued passenger car plates, and most organizational member plates, were in the format xx-00-00, but the only letters used were A through L, excluding the letter I.  Lead zeroes were not used, and so serial numbers began at 10-01 in each letter series. 

The 1954 and 1955 plates were only issued as single plates.  Most 1954 and 1955 plates had tab slots flanking the two-digit expiration year, allowing for the possibility that renewal tabs could be attached for subsequent years.  However, these were never needed, as new plates were issued each year.  It's been reported that a small number of 1954 and 1955 expiration plates were made without tab slots. 

The 1956 plates were issued in pairs, as have all Maryland passenger car plates since then.  1956 plates were made without tab slots. 

1954 –  yellow on black   two vertical rectangle separators, | tab slots |
1955 –  black on yellow   two diamond separators, | tab slots |
1956 –  burgundy on white   two colon separators, no tab slots

Maryland passenger car plates, 1957-1970

Passenger car plates, 1957-1964

1957 passenger 1958 passenger 1959 passenger 1960 passenger 1961 passenger 1962 passenger 1963 passenger 1964 passenger with long bolt slots 1964 passenger with short bolt slots
Two 1964 expiration plates are shown, with long and short bolt slots, respectively. 

During the mid-1950s, the various motor vehicle departments throughout the U.S. and Canada all agreed to standardize the size of passenger car plates.  This new standard called for plates to be 12 inches long and 6 inches high, and with 7 inches horizontally between the centers of the bolt holes.  The 1957 expiration plates were the first Maryland plates to conform to these standards, although they were made with elongated bolt slots to accommodate older vehicles with attachment points that were other than 7 inches apart.  The serial dies first seen on 1957 expiration plates were used continuously until mid-year 1974. 

Virtually all Maryland license plates from this period had an embossed border, long bolt slots, Maryland at the top, Exp- followed by a specific expiration date at the bottom, and embossed separator(s) whose shape varied from year to year.  All types of plates from a given year shared the same color scheme.  All regular passenger car plates and samples, and most organizational member plates, were in serial format xx-00-00, and all of these have a March 31 expiration date.  Lead zeroes were not used; each letter series began with plate number 10-01. 

Again, the only serial letters used were between A and L, excluding I, through 1961 expirations.  Beginning with the dated 1962 plate, any letter A to Z could be used, except for I, O, Q, or U.  Because more letters were used in the second position, the first position letter never got past F or possibly G, except for organizational member reserved series, between 1962 and 1964. 

It's been said that the black-on-light-green color scheme of the dated 1961 plates resulted in a lot of complaints from unhappy motorists, and that's why this color combination was never repeated.  I was too young to remember these myself. 

Late-issue 1964 expiration plates were made with the short bolt slots otherwise found on 1965-1970 expiration plates.  This change began at approximately the FN series. 

1957 –  dark green on cream   two square separators 1961 –  black on light green   two colon separators
1958 –  cream on dark green   two square separators 1962 –  blue on white   two square separators
1959 –  blue on white   two colon separators 1963 –  white on blue   two diamond separators
1960 –  white on blue   two diamond separators 1964 –  blue on white   two colon separators
Passenger car plates, 1965-1970

1965 passenger 1966 passenger 1967 passenger 1968 passenger 1969 passenger 1970 passenger with short bolt slots 1970 passenger with round bolt holes
Two 1970 expiration plates are shown, with short bolt slots and round bolt holes, respectively. 

The dated 1965-1970 plates differed from the dated 1957-1964 plates in several subtle ways.  First, the state name and expiration date switched positions. Second, the separator between the second and third numeric digits disappeared.  And third, the bolt slots were noticeably smaller.  The highest first serial letter issued each year advanced from G to H to J during these years. 

The embossed separator between the letters and numbers was replaced with a space separator on the 1970 expiration plates.  Late-issue 1970 expiration plates were made with the round bolt holes used on all 1971 and subsequent base plates, beginning either in the late H series or at the start of the J series. 

1965 –  white on blue   single dash separator 1968 –  blue on white   single dash separator
1966 –  black on yellow   single diamond separator 1969 –  white on blue   single diamond separator
1967 –  yellow on black   single colon separator 1970 –  blue on white   single space separator

Maryland passenger car plates, 1971-1975

1971 passenger 1972 passenger 1973 passenger 1974 passenger 1975 passenger with old dies 1975 passenger with new dies
Two natural 1975 plates are shown, with old and new serial dies, respectively. 

The dated 1971 base plate was used for five years, from March 1970 to March 1975 in the case of passenger car plates.  The embossed 71 in the lower left corner indicated the initial expiration year.  This base was then renewed annually with stickers on both the front and back plates, indicating the expiration years "72" through "75".  Passenger car plate expiration dates continued to always be March 31 of the year indicated on the plate or sticker.  During this five year span, all plates had the embossed 71 on them, regardless of when they were actually manufactured or issued. 

Maryland license plates from this period were white on blue, and had an embossed border, bolt holes rather than slots, the embossed 71 in the lower left corner, Maryland at the bottom center, and an embossed sticker box in the lower right corner.  All regular passenger plates, and most organizational member plates, used serial format xx 0000, with only a space separator.  Lead zeroes were not used, and serials began at 1001 in each letter series. 

During mid-year 1974, the serial number dies were changed in preparation for the new general replacement plates to be issued in March 1975.  Therefore, some natural expiration 1975 plates were made with the old dies, and some with the new dies.  The new characters were shorter, narrower, and more boxy-shaped than the previous characters.  I have photographic evidence that the die change occurred in the midst of the RF series, and not at the start of the RF series as usually reported.  Plate numbers at least as high as RF 2693 were made with the old dies, and were made with the new dies no later than RF 3590.  These dies introduced in 1974 continue to be used through the present day. 

1971 base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
(excluding reserved organizational member letter codes)
1971 –  no sticker  Natural serial letter range approx. AA to JN. 
1972 –  red on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. JP to LE. 
1973 –  aqua on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. LF to MW. 
1974 –  red on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. MX to PK. 
1975 –  white on blue sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. PL to RF (old dies); RF to SE (new dies). 

Maryland passenger car plates, 1976-1987

Maryland standard-issue license plates from this period continued with an embossed border, round bolt holes, and only a space serial separator.  Passenger car plates continued to expire on March 31 of each year.  The embossed Maryland and sticker box were relocated to the top of the plate, with the sticker box remaining on the right side of the plate.  All standard passenger car plates, and most organizational member plates, were given a new serial format xxx 000, and for the first time could have serial numbers with lead zeroes.  Triple zeroes were not used however; each letter series began at 001. 

Standard passenger car plates, 1976-1980

1976 passenger 1977 passenger 1978 passenger 1979 passenger 1980 passenger with red sticker box border 1980 passenger with white sticker box border
Two natural 1980 plates are shown, with and without the red-bordered sticker box, respectively.

The red-on-white base plate was a general replacement introduced in March 1975; unlike the previous base, there was no initial expiration year stamped on the plate.  However, this undated base plate was valid without stickers through March 1976.  Both front and rear plates were then renewed annually with year stickers indicating the expiration years "77" through "80".  All red-on-white passenger car base plates then expired on March 31, 1980. 

During the last year of issuance of the red-on-white base, the height of the embossed sticker box border was reduced so that it was still raised but no longer painted red.  This change occurred during either the HCx or HDx series.  The lower-height sticker box border continued on the subsequent black-on-white base. 

SUVs, passenger vans, and motor homes no longer get passenger car plates

In early 1979 – January, I believe – a new vehicle registration class was introduced for multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs).  This new class included SUVs, passenger vans, and motor homes, among other vehicle types.  These vehicles had all previously been issued passenger car plates.  New registrations of these vehicle types received MPV plates, and car plates for existing registrations of these vehicles were replaced with MPV plates, some in March 1979 on the red-and-white base with 1980 expirations, and the remainder in March 1980 on the undated black-and-white base expiring in 1981.  I don't know why they weren't all replaced at the same time, but they weren't. 

MPV license plates are covered in their own section on the Maryland miscellaneous personal vehicle plate page.  Although MPV plates are for specific passenger vehicle types, they more closely resemble plates used for true non-passenger vehicles.  MPV plates continue to be issued today for these same vehicle types.  See an early issue MPV plate. 

1976 base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
(excluding reserved organizational member letter codes)
1976 –  no sticker  Natural serial letter range approx. AAA to middle E series. 
1977 –  white on blue sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. middle E series to early F series. 
1978 –  white on red sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. early F series to late F series. 
1979 –  white on blue sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. late F series to late G series. 
1980 –  white on red sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. late G series to HNx series. 
Standard passenger car plates, 1981-1987 (non-reflective)

1981 passenger 1982 passenger 1983 passenger 1984 passenger 1985 passenger 1986 painted passenger with normal space 1986 painted passenger with wide space
Two natural 1986 plates are shown, with normal and wide spacing between serial letters and numbers, respectively.

The painted black-on-white base plate was a general replacement introduced in March 1980.  Like its immediate predecessor, this plate did not indicate an expiration year; it was valid without stickers through March 1981.  Both front and rear plates were then renewed annually with year stickers indicating the expiration years "82" through "86".  This plate was issued to new applicants through January 1986. 

During the last year of issuance of the painted black-on white-plate, the space separating the serial letters and numbers was widened, as was being done on the new reflective plate being produced as an upcoming general replacement. 

White-on-red "86" stickers expired at the end of March 1986.  At this point, the conversion to staggered registrations took place, and existing registrations of this base plate were renewed one last time, with both month and year stickers on the rear plate only, to an expiration month falling between October 1986 and September 1987.  This conversion is covered more fully below.  The last of these expired on September 30, 1987. 

Out-of-sequence HNE-series
This plate was issued out of
sequence in about August
1980.
HNA-HNE series plates issued out of sequence

Black-on-white plates in series HNA through HNE were issued out of sequence in the summer of 1980, during the first registration year of this base.  It has been stated by some knowledgeable collectors that these must have been organizational member plates for the Holy Name Society, a Catholic group.  However, I personally knew someone who was issued an HNE series plate in August 1980, and she and her family were Mormons. 

Rather, I've concluded that what likely happened is that late in the life of the previous red-on-white base, two batches of HNA-HNE series plates were inadvertently stamped.  The first batch had its embossed features painted red and was issued during the final months of the red-on-white base.  The mistake was discovered before the second batch had its raised areas painted.  So, the embossed features on this second batch of plates were painted black, and rather than having to keep them in storage for several years until they would be in sequence, the plates were just distributed to new registrants as ordinary passenger car plates, once the black-on-white plates were on the street. 

Or, perhaps both were partly true – maybe the HNA plates were issued as organizational member plates, since that's the letter code the Holy Name Society uses on their current plates, and the HNB through HNE plates were given out to the general public.  We may never know for sure, unless someone can provide additional information about these plates. 

1981 base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
(excluding reserved organizational member letter codes)
1981 –  no sticker  Natural serial letter range approx. AAA to late E series; also HNA to HNE. 
1982 –  black on yellow sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. early F series to late F series. 
1983 –  white on red sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. late F series to middle G series. 
1984 –  white on blue sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. middle G series to middle H series (excludng HNA to HNE). 
1985 –  white on black sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. middle H series (excluding HNA to HNE) to middle J series. 
1986 #1 –  white on orangeish-red sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. middle J series to KEL (narrow space), KEM to KHN (wide space). 
1986 #2 –  black on white sticker   No naturals on this base; renewals only, expiration months Oct. - Dec. only. 
1987 –  red on white sticker   No naturals on this base; renewals only, expiration months Jan. - Mar. and May - Sept. only. 
Special interest passenger car plates, 1976-1987

1976 Bicentennial passenger 1977 Bicentennial passenger 1985 350th Anniversary passenger
Natural 1976, 1977, and 1985 expirations are shown. 

Bicentennial plate, 1976-1980

The optional U.S. Bicentennial base plate was Maryland's first graphic plate.  The graphic elements and legends were screened onto reflective sheeting, and only the serial numbers were embossed.  As you can see from the example shown above, the off-white reflective background has tended to yellow with age. 

This plate was available only for private passenger vehicles, including cars, SUVs, passenger vans, and motor homes.  Sequentially-numbered passenger car plates in serial format 000 xxx were issued to all of these vehicle types.  Like on the standard base, lead zeroes were used in the serial numbers.  Other plate types that would be appropriate for such vehicles were also made on this base, including vanity plates, amateur radio operator plates, organizational member plates for a few specific groups, and government official plates.  Examples of some of these may be seen on the corresponding History of Maryland License Plates pages. 

As far as I know, this base plate was issued with natural 1976 and 1977 expirations only.  One report from that time period states that the plates were available between December 1975 and February 1977, which is consistent with my own observations.  In any event, the plates were valid through March 1976 without stickers, and then until March 1980 with appropriate renewal stickers.  The same stickers used on the standard red-on-white base were also used on this optional base. 

350th Anniversary plate, 1984-1987

The optional 350th Anniversary base plate was Maryland's second graphic plate.  It was introduced in the summer of 1983, and was offered in 1983 and 1984 (and possibly January and February 1985) only, and so could have only natural 1984 or 1985 expirations.  I obtained a pair of these for my own car soon after they were introduced in 1983.  However, I tried to get a pair for my wife's car in June 1985 and was told that they were no longer available. 

Like the earlier Bicenetennial plate, all elements were screened except for the serial number.  350th Anniversary plates were available only for private passenger cars and multi-purpose vehicles.  Serial numbers for passenger car plates were again in the format 000*xxx, with the asterisk indicating the location of the graphic shield separator.  Lead zeroes were used in the serial numbers.  Multi-purpose vehicles (primarily SUVs, passenger vans and mini-vans, and motor homes) were issued sequential plates with a different serial format, with no shield separator.  Vanity plates and amateur radio operator plates could also be had on the 350th Anniversary base; these also did not get a shield separator, even if there was space for one.  I'm not aware of organizational member plates or government official plates being made in 350th Anniversary versions. 

350th Anniversary plates were valid until March 1984 without stickers, and were updated with annual stickers for March 1985 and March 1986 expirations on both the front and rear.  Stickers were the same as were used on the standard black-and-white embossed base.  Correct renewal sticker location was in the lower right corner, so as not to cover the screened 1634 and 1984 dates in the upper corners, but there was no sticker box or well to provide guidance.  Many motorists were confused about the correct sticker location, since it differed from the standard-issue plates, and placed their renewal year stickers in the upper right corner, covering the screened 1984.  This plate, like the standard black-and-white base of the same time period, was converted to staggered registration with month and year stickers applied to the rear plate only, extending its life one final registration period to a new expiration date falling between October 1986 and September 1987. 

Conversion to staggered expiration dates, 1985-1987

standard painted base, March 1986 expiration standard painted base, December 1986 expiration optional base, March 1986 expiration optional base, December 1986 expiration
Motorists who were assigned staggered expiration months of October, November, or December ended up with two 1986 stickers.  The white-on-red "86" sticker was the last non-staggered expiration sticker, and it expired at the end of March 1986 for all passenger cars.  The black-on-white "86" sticker was used for subsequent staggered expirations, and was only valid with an accompanying month sticker, which could be October, November, or December 1986.  Both the standard base and optional 350th Anniversary base were affected similarly. 

standard painted base, March 1986 expiration standard painted base, September 1987 expiration
Motorists who were assigned staggered expiration months of January through September were instead issued red-on-white "87" stickers and appropriate month stickers.  Although only the standard base is shown above, this also applied to the 350th Anniversary base as well. 

From 1939 to 1986, all Maryland passenger car license plates expired and were renewed every March.  But registrations of passenger cars owned by individuals that were renewed in March 1986 were assigned staggered expiration dates 7 to 18 months out; in other words, between October 1986 and September 1987.  Generally, the new expiration month was assigned based on the first letter of the owner's last name.  Registration fees were prorated based on the length of the registration period. 

Month stickers, which consisted of a white month number on a red background, were issued for the first time.  A new black-on-white 1986 year sticker was issued for those plates assigned October through December expiration dates. (The 1986 sticker that expired in March was white on red.)  Month stickers and their corresponding year stickers were placed on the rear only, unlike the earlier non-staggered year stickers which were placed both front and back.  The black-on-white 1986 sticker and the 1987 sticker were larger than previous years' stickers and did not completely fit into the embossed sticker box on the standard base plates. 

Passenger cars owned by businesses and organizations were not staggered at this time; they continued to expire each March, and those renewing in March 1986 were issued a "3" month sticker along with an "87" year sticker. 

Black-on-white, all-embossed plates, and 350th anniversary plates, with a month sticker and either a black-on-white 1986 year sticker or a 1987 year sticker, are renewals only; there were no naturals of these bases with these stickers.  (That is, except for a small number of dump truck plates issued in April 1986 with May 1986 expirations.) 

Maryland passenger car plates, 1986-present

Maryland license plates from this period do not have an embossed border, nor do they have sticker boxes or wells.  They do have holograms running vertically down the center of the plate which contain "MD" and a two-digit year of manufacture.  Month and year expiration stickers are applied to the upper corners of the rear plate only. 

Standard plates very closely resemble the optional 350th Anniversary base issued in 1983 and 1984 (and used through September 1987).  They're black on reflective white, with a screened script Maryland at the top center.  Standard passenger car plates, and some non-passenger plate types, have a four-color graphic shield resembling the state flag in the center of the plate. 

Standard passenger car plates, 1986-present (reflective, without state web site legend)

1986 reflective passenger 1987 reflective passenger 1988 passenger 1989 passenger 1990 passenger 1991 passenger 1992 passenger 1993 passenger 1994 passenger 1994 passenger 1995 passenger 1996 passenger 1997 passenger 1998 passenger 1999 passenger 2000 passenger 2001 passenger 2002 passenger 2003 passenger 2004 passenger 2005 passenger 2006 passenger with old serial format 2006 passenger with new serial format 2007 passenger without web site
1986 expirations on this base were rather unusual.  Two natural 1994 plates are shown, from the late "Z" series and the early "A" series.  These as well as the 1993 plate were issued in 1992; two-year registrations began on July 1, 1992.  Two natural 2006 plates are shown, with old and new serial formats, respectively. 

The reflective black-on-white base was introduced in February 1986, and through September 1986, it was issued to only to new registrants.  This base had staggered registrations from the very start; normally, for vehicles owned by individuals, the first registration period would end on the last day of the same month in the following year.  In other words, if you registered your vehicle any time in May, the registration would expire on May 31 of the following year.  The new design was then also issued as a general replacement plate between October 1986 and September 1987. 

Passenger car plates again had serial format xxx*000, but serial numbers began in the "N" series to avoid conflicting with the previous base plates which had gotten into the "K" series and were still in use.  Serial numbers began in the NAA series, but many copies of plate number NAA*001 were made and distrbuted as sample plates, so I seriously doubt that plate number was actually issued.  The lowest-numbered plate I've come across that was actually issued is NAA*166.  I do not have any idea why Maryland chose to start the new base in the "N" series rather than the "L" or "M" series. 

Generally speaking, "N" series plates were issued in 1986 to new registrants only; "P" through early "V" series were issued between October 1986 and September 1987 both to new registrants and as replacements for motorists renewing their existing registrations, and then beginning October 1987 from the early "V" series forward were again only issued to new registrants.  Nearly all plates issued on this base during 1986 had initial expiration dates in February 1987 or later, but there were a few special situations where registration periods could be shorter than one year, and as a result, a very small number of the new base plates had initial March, October, November, or December 1986 expirations, such as the one shown above.  Likewise with January 1987 expirations. 

Correct sticker placement is in the upper corners, but early issues of this base (primarily "N" and "P" series) are often found with the stickers in the lower corners.  Motorists were again confused after finally getting the concept that the stickers went in the lower corners on the similar 350th Anniversary plate. 

Rental cars were issued different plates distinct from passenger car plates between approximately 1991 and 1995.  See a rental car plate here.  In about 1995, these plates were recalled and rental cars were again issued standard passenger car plates. 

Starting July 1, 1992, new registrations of personal passenger cars and other personal vehicle types were nearly always for two years periods, rather than the previous one year period.  As a result, natural 1993 expirations are normally only found with January through June month stickers, and natural 1994 expirations are normally only found with July through December month stickers.  Mandatory two-year registration periods were phased in between July 1992 and June 1994 for individual owners of passenger cars and several other vehicle types who renewed existing expirations. 

When serial ZZZ*999 was reached in the late summer of 1992, the previous painted bases were by then off the road, and so the serial numbers just rolled over to AAB*001 and continued. One of my sources states that the Motor Vehicle Administration chose not to make plates with serial prefix AAA on this base. 

Company-owned passenger cars continued with one-year registrations, and also continued to have fixed March expirations, until about 1998.  At that time, Maryland converted to staggered expiration dates and phased in two-year registration periods for passenger cars and several other vehicle types owned by businesses and organziations. 

2000 passenger with smart sticker
2000 "smart" sticker plate

Some Maryland plates with 1999 through 2003 expirations may be found with rather strange-looking year stickers.  These were issued in very small quantities from self-service kiosks found in various malls and shopping centers throughout the state, for renewals only.  Sticker colors were not consistent even within the same year, but all of these stickers had black characters on either white, light blue, or light green backgrounds.  I don't know whether the kiosks were eventually modified to dispense standard stickers, or whether they were discontinued and removed entirely.  The ALPCA archives cover these stickers in greater detail. 

In September 2004, after being issued on this base for over 18 years, the xxx*000 serial format was finally exhausted upon reaching serial MZZ*999, and a new serial format 0xx*x00 was begun for passenger car plates.  In this new format, all numbers change before any letters do; however, the number zero is never used in the first position.  In theory, at least, the first serial in this format was 1AA*A01.  When 1AA*A99 was reached, the following plate number was 2AA*A01; when 9AA*A99 was reached, the next plate was 1AA*B01.  This format should serve the state for another 15 or 20 years before running out of numbers. 

The last of the passenger car plates with no web site legend at the bottom were issued in the spring of 2005, with the highest plate number at about 9AK*Z99.  The latest natural expirations of the legend-less base would therefore have been in the spring of 2007.  This base plate is considered to be permanent, and even the oldest "N" series plates issued in 1986 are still in use today, if they've maintained continuous registration. 

1986 base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
(plates issued to individuals only)
1986 –  black on white sticker   Very few issued on this base; format xxx*000, probably all in the N series with March or Oct. – Dec. expiration months. 
1987 –  red on white sticker   Natural serial letters in the N, P, and early R series, expiration months almost always Feb. – Dec. only. 
1988 –  white on black sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. early R series to middle V series (U series skipped). 
1989 –  white on red sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. middle V series to middle W series. 
1990 –  black on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. middle W series to middle X series. 
1991 –  yellow on black sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. middle X series to middle Y series. 
1992 –  black on yellow sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. middle Y series to middle Z series. 
1993 –  yellow on black sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. middle Z series to late Z series, expiration months nearly always Jan. - June. 
1994 –  white on red sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. very late Z series to early A series; expiration months nearly always July - Dec. 
1995 –  red on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. middle A series to early B series. 
1996 –  green on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. early B series to very early C series. 
1997 –  blue on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. very early C series to very early D series. 
1998 –  white on green sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. early D series to late D series. 
1999 –  white on blue sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. very late D series to late E series. 
2000 –  green on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. very late E series to late F series. 
2001 –  blue on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. very late F series to very early H series. 
2002 –  white on green sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. early H series to very early J series (I series skippped). 
2003 –  white on blue sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. early J series to very early K series. 
2004 –  green on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. early K series to early L series. 
2005 –  black on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. middle L series to early M series. 
2006 –  green on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. middle M series to MZZ, then format 0xx*x00 from letters AA*x to approx. AF*x. 
2007 –  white on green sticker   Continue format 0xx*x00; natural serial letter range approx. AG*x to AK*x without web address. 
2008 and beyond No naturals, renewals only; see subsequent sections for sticker colors. 
Standard passenger car plates, 2005-present (with state web site legend)

2007 passenger with web site 2008 passenger with Maryland serial dies 2008 passenger with New Jersey serial dies 2009 passenger with New Jersey serial dies 2009 passenger with Maryland serial dies 2010 "shield" passenger 2011 "shield" passenger 2012 "sheild" passenger
Two 2008 expirations and two 2009 expirations are shown, one of each with Maryland serial dies, and one of each with New Jersey serial dies.  Plates with the letters CN to the left of the sheild graphic were made with New Jersey serial dies.  (2008 New Jersey die plate was photographed in actual use.) 

Beginning in February 2005 at about plate number 1AL*A01, another change to Maryland standard passenger car plates made it appearance.  The address of the state government's web site, www.maryland.gov, was added to the bottom of the plates.  The web address is screened using the same italicizedx font as had been previously used on non-passenger and organizational plates that bear identifying legends.  Since in some special cases, plates are issued with the initial registration period less than two years, some of these early plates had initial expiration dates in 2006.  The vast majority have had natural expirations in 2007 and later. 

Maryland passenger car plates began to be seen with New Jersey-style serial dies beginning in November 2006.  New Jersey die characters are much more squared-off than the rounded Maryland die characters.  Maryland had New Jersey stamp out more than 30,000 plate pairs for them, due to the Maryland plate manufacturing facility at the state prison in Jessup being shut down for three weeks due to inmate unrest.  Passenger car plates made with New Jersey dies have serial numbers between 1CN*A01 and 9CN*Z99.  Maryland dies resumed being issued in December 2006 at serial number 1CP*A01, but New Jersey die plates continued to be issued at least into February 2007. 

In 2008, Maryland began issuing some different-looking year stickers to a relatively small number of motorists.  These new stickers are fairly obvious due to their colors being different than regular year stickers.  However, the more significant difference is that these new stickers' serial numbers match the serial numbers of the plates to which they're assigned.  Several variations of these stickers have been observed thus far; all are 1-1/2 inches wide by 1 inch high, slightly smaller than regular stickers which are 1-1/2 inches wide by 1-3/16 inches high.  These new stickers are addressed in greater detail on my History of Maryland license plates, general information page.  All 2011 and subsequent year stickers, other than those for five-year fleet registrations issued in 2006 through 2008, are in the same black-on-white color and the new, smaller size, regardles of whether they have the plate number or an unrelated sequential serial number on them. 

This base was last issued in mid-June, 2010, but like all reflective bases issued since 1986, continues to be valid if the registration is kept current. 

Regular year sticker colors and natural serial number ranges are shown below:

2005 base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
2005 –  black on white sticker   (2005 expirations on the web address base, if any, would be quite rare.) 
2006 –  green on white sticker   (2006 expirations on the web address base were only used for rare one-year registrations.) 
2007 –  white on green sticker   Natural serial letter range AL*x to approx. BL*x with web address. 
2008 –  green on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. BM*x to CR*x. 
2009 –  white on green sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. CS*x to DV*x. 
2010 –  green on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. DW*x to EV*x. 
2011 –  black on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. EW*x to FV*x. 
2012 –  black on white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. FW*x to GD*J. 
2013 and beyond No naturals, renewals only; see subsequent section for sticker colors. 
Standard passenger car plates, 2010-present (War of 1812)

2010 War of 1812 passenger 2011 War of 1812 passenger 2012 War of 1812 passenger 2013 passenger 2014 passenger 2015 passenger 2016 passenger
Standard passenger car plates with natural 2010 expiration in the initial M/D series; natural 2011 expiration in the subsequent A/A series; and natural 2012 through 2015 expirations.  The 2010 and 2011 plates were both probably issued in June 2010. 

After over 24 years of essentially the same design, on Flag Day, Monday, June 14, 2010, Maryland introduced this new plate commemorating the War of 1812, and specifically the Battle of Baltimore, during which the words to the Star-Spangled Banner were written by Marylander Francis Scott Key.  However, this plate is not another extra-cost, optional plate like the Treasure the Chesapeake and Our Farms, Our Future plates.  Rather, it's the new standard plate being issued for all new registrations of passenger cars and most other personal vehicle types.  Passenger cars, multi-purpose vehicles (primarily SUVs, mini-vans, and motor homes), and regular trucks all share this odd 0A/A0000 serial format.  The standard plate has a larger flag graphic than is used on some of the other plate types.  Unfortunately, this large flag is causing some legibility issues.  The leftmost serial digit crowds the flag and is therefore difficult to read. 

Initially, plates were issued in the M/D series as shown above; but following that, plates were issued in the A/A series, and the serial letters have advanced alphabetically from that point forward.  It's not hard to figure out that the significance of the M/D designation is that Md. is the abbreviation for Maryland, but why the Maryland MVA saw fit to issue these first is anyone's guess; they did not just go to VIPs or cost anything extra. 

The state is not autmatically replacing the old-design plates with the new War of 1812 plates, however.  Black-and-white plates currently in use will remain valid and will continue to be renewed with updated year stickers.  However, motorists who want to trade in their old plates for new ones may do so upon payment of a $20 plate replacement fee.  They can do this at registration renewal time, or earlier if they so choose.  That's one of a few reasons why expiration stickers prior to June 2012 can be found on these plates, such as the 2010 and 2011 expirations shown above. 

Similar War of 1812 plates with different serial formats are now also being issued as standard plates for new regular motorcycle registrations, and also as vanity, handicapped, and vanity handicapped plates in both full-sized and motorcycle versions.  Other vehicle classes and plate types continue to receive the old-design reflective black-on-white plates. 

Regular year sticker colors and natural serial number ranges are shown below:

War of 1812 base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
2010 –  green on white sticker   (2010 expirations on the War of 1812 base were issued as replacements for existing plates.) 
2011 –  black on white sticker   (2011 expirations on the War of 1812 base were issued as replacements for existing plates.) 
2012 –  black on white sticker   Natural serial letters M/D issued first, then the A/x series from A/A to approx. A/E. 
2013 –  black on white sticker   Natural serial letters approx. A/F to approx A/N. 
2014 –  black on white sticker   Natural serial letters approx. A/P to approx A/Y. 
2015 –  black on white sticker   Natural serial letters approx. A/Z to approx B/G. 
2016 –  black on white sticker   Natural serial letters approx. B/H and higher, excluding M/D. 
Special interest passenger car plates, 1990-present

1992 first generation Chesapeake 2004 Our Farms 2009 second generation Chesapeake 2014 "1910 Vintage"
1992 first generation Chesapeake passenger, 2004 Our Farms passenger, 2009 second generation Chesapeake passenger; 2014 1910 Vintage passenger (Crum photo / plate)

Although Maryland offers many hundreds of various optional plate styles to motorists, nearly all of them are actually organizational member plates, which are distributed through the organizations to their members, employees, and donors.  Organizational member plates are always made on the standard black-on-white base.  There are actually only three special interest plates avaialable.  Well, four, if you count both versions of the Chesapeake Bay plate.  Special interest plates are completely different in appearance than standard black-on-white plates. 

I'm including special interest plates on my passenger car plate page because Maryland offers sequentially-numbered passenger car versions as well as other versions of all four special interest bases.  I'm actually covering just the sequentially-numbered passenger car versions on this page; I address the various other special interest plate types in detail on the respective non-passsenger plate pages. 

First-generation Treasure the Chesapeake plate, 1990-present

The original Chesapeake Bay special interest plate made its debut in early 1990.  It was available for use on passenger cars as well as certain types of non-passenger vehicles; vanity and handicapped plate types could also be had.  The colors are green embossed characters, and blue and green graphics, on a reflective, mostly white background that transitions to light blue at the bottom.  The prominent graphic is a blue heron bird which appears between the numbers and letters on passenger car plates.  The heron is omitted on some other plate types on this base.  All elements are screened execpt for the serial number. 

Passenger car serial numbers are in the same 000*xxx format as was used for earlier Bicentennial and 350th Anniversary plates, and lead zeroes were again used.  Passenger car serials began at 001*AAB and reportedly continued up to 899*BNN before this base was discontinued. Other vehicle types – multi-purpose vehicles, trucks, taxis, and trailers – as well as handicapped plates had different serial formats on this base. 

First-generation Chesapeake passenger car plates in the standard 000*xxx format with letters "BAY" were issued early and were sold for substatially more money than their bretheren with ordinary, sequentially-issued letters.  Multi-purpose vehicles were also able to get similar plates with the letters "BAY" on them. 

White-on-green month stickers were introduced for use on this plate, rather than the normal white-on-red month stickers used on standard plates, to better coordinate with the plate colors.  For the same reason, during the first few years of this plate's existence, the year stickers were also in different colors than were used on standard plates.  However, beginning with the 1996 sticker, all Maryland plates, standard or otherwise, have generally been issued the same color year stickers. 

Since this plate was introduced in 1990, when only one-year registration periods were available, 1991 would be the earliest expected expiration year.  It's possible that a few may have been issued with expirations later in 1990.  This plate was issued until late 2003, or possibly January 2004, when the second-generation Chesapeake plate took its place.  Although they're no longer issued, it seems that the old-school Chesapeake plates will remain in use indefinitely. 

First-generation Chesapeake base plate specific sticker colors
1991 –  white on blue sticker  1993 –  white on blue sticker  1995 –  white on blue sticker 
1992 –  blue on white sticker  1994 –  blue on white sticker 
Our Farms, Our Future plate, 2001-present

The Our Farms, Our Future special interest plate was introduced in early 2001.  Affectionately known as the "ag tag", proceeds from this plate benefit the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation.  This plate is available for passenger cars as well as certain types of non-passenger vehicles, for handicapped persons, and as vanity registrations.  The colors are black embossed serial characters on a background that fades from orange at the top to yellow at the bottom, with a farm scene at the bottom of the plate featuring red buildings and green trees.  All elements are screened except for the serial number. 

The passenger car serial format is A000000, but, departing from tradition, this format is also used for plates issued to some other vehicle types as well, including multi-purpose vehicles, light trucks, and taxis.  Lead zeroes are used in the serial number.  Trailer plates also have the same format but are restricted to the A900000 series. 

This plate did not receive its own color stickers.  One can readily find these agricultural plates bearing either a white-on-green Chesapeake month sticker or a white-on-red standard month sticker.  Personally, I think the red month sticker looks better on this plate. 

Since Maryland's vehicle registrations are now normally for two year periods, and this plate was introduced in 2001, the earliest expiration dates should nomally be in 2003.  However, it's not impossible that there may have been a small number of 2001 and 2002 expirations on this base. 

Second-generation Treasure the Chesapeake plate, 2004-present

On January 20, 2004, the Motor Vehicle Administration introduced a new design for the successful Treasure the Chesapeake special interest plate. This plate, like its predecessor, benefits the Chesapeake Bay Trust.  The new Chesapeake plate features black characters on a background fading from blue at the top to white at the bottom, with a heron sea bird on the left side of the plate, and a crab at the lower right corner.  This design is available for passenger cars, certain types of non-passenger vehicles, handicapped persons, and vanity plates. 

The standard serial format is 00000x/x.  The initial suffix letters were C/B; these were exhausted fairly quickly.  Later in 2004, suffix letters B/Y were then introduced, and then about the first of the year 2006, B/Y gave way to C/A.  In July 2007, the C/A suffix was used up, and suffix C/C was introduced. In March 2009, the C/D suffix was rolled out. (Wait, they forgot to use B/Z!)  It would seem that the first letter will remain C, and the second letter will march through the alphabet, for the foreseeable future.  This serial format and suffix letters are being used not only for passenger cars, but also multi-purpose vehicles, trucks, and taxis, similar to the agricultural plate.  The same serial format is also used for trailer plates, but with suffix letters G/A. 

This plate usually seems to be issued with the green month sticker, but it's not too hard to find one bearing a red month sticker, which actually doesn't look bad. 

Since Maryland's vehicle registrations are now normally for two year periods, and this plate was introduced in 2004, the earliest expiration dates should nomally be in 2006.  However, it's not out of the question that there may have been a small number of 2004 and 2005 expirations on this base. 

1910 Vintage

In January 2014, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration began offering rather plain, black-on-yellow plates with the words 1910 Vintage at the bottom, as shown above.  It wasn't the MVA's idea to issue these plates, however.  A law passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor in May 2013 required the MVA to issue for a period of one year a "special vintage reproduction plate" that resembled the first Maryland state-issued plates from 1910.  So, this plate will only be issued through December 31, 2014.  Anyone who gets a set by then will be able to continue to use them, but they won't be available to anyone else after that. 

Although the law provides few clues as to the motivation for such a plate, some of the draft versions of the bill that wound its way through the legislature do.  Maryland law allows for original, vintage state-issued plates to be used on historic vehicles whose model year matches the year on the plates.  Two matching vintage plates must be used on the front and back of the vehicle, respectively.  1910 was the first year for state-issued Maryland plates, but the 1910 plates were crudely made using inferior materials and methods, and relatively few have survived to the present day.  Those that have are generally rather beat-up looking, and cannot be restored to anything approximating their original codition.  Extremely few matched pairs of 1910 plates are still in existence.  It seems that owners of 1910 antique cars wanted the state to authorize a replica 1910 plate that they could legally use instead of the original 1910 plates or modern Historic plates. 

actual 1910 plate
Actual 1910 plate (Willard plate)

The resulting 1910 Vintage plate looks nothing like the actual 1910 plate, shown at right, other than the colors being more-or-less the same.  The law required that the reproduction plate resemble the original plate, but provided no specific details other than the color scheme.  It seems that the MVA either had no idea what a real 1910 plate actually looked like, or they didn't care, and just chose to follow the letter of the law rather than to honor its intent. 

1910 Vintage plates are authorized for use not only on 1910 model vehicles, but on all years of historic vehicles and street rods, as well as on all modern passenger cars, multi-purpose vehicles, and trucks up to one ton capacity.  Sequentially-numbered modern passenger car plates use serial format VR00000, where the prefix letters are constant.  I presume other vehicle types all share this serial format, but I don't yet know that for a fact.  I've also seen 1910 Vintage vanity plates.  I don't yet know if there is a handicapped version available. 

Related links

Page credits

Thanks to those who have directly contributed to the information on this page:  Greg Crum. 

Crum photograph is presumed to be copyrighted by Greg Crum, and is used with permission.  Willard plate is from the collection of John Willard. 


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