On this page are photos and information about various items that resemble, but are actually not, real Maryland license plates.
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On this page I present various objects that resemble Maryland licenese plates, but which are not.
I actually struggled a bit over whether I should even create a page on the topic of replica license plates. I've wavered from wanting to finish building the page to wanting to delete it and dispose of all my replica plates. On the one hand, I feel that replica plates should have no place on a site that purports to document the history of real license plates. On the other hand, some types of replica plates, notably DAV keychain tags, are legitimate collectibles in their own right, and their history is closely intertwined with the history of real license plates.
Fake license plates are an anathema to collectors and historians of license plates – they're the equivalent of conterfeit money. ALPCA, the Automobile License Plate Collectors' Association, prohibits its members from trading or selling fake license plates. However, plate collectors and historians and even ALPCA all recognize that known fakes should be identified and documented so as to prevent future generations from being fooled by them.
Movie prop plates kind of fall into a gray area in the plate collecting world. By a strict definition, they'd probably have to be considered fake plates, but they're nevertheless collected by movie buffs as well as license plate aficionados, including many ALPCA members. And then, there are reproduction and fake movie prop plates, to make matters even more complicated.
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.
For several decades, from the late 1940s or early 1950s until the mid 1970s, the Disabled American Veterans made miniature replicas of license plates with real plate numbers printed on them, and mailed them, unsolicited, to the motorists to whom the plate numbers were registered. This was a fundraiser for the DAV; a request for a donation accompanied the miniature plates. These little plates were intended for motorists to attach to their keychains; stamped on the back were instructions that if the keys were found, to drop them in any mailbox and the DAV would return them to their owner. Of course, the DAV's mailing address was also stamped on the back.
The inherent flaw in this concept is that if someone lost their keys, whoever found them would be easily able to find the car they went to, since the car's license plate number was on the keychain tag, and get into it or even drive it away. This was one factor that possibly led to the demise of DAV keychain tags. Another factor may have been the increasing use throughout the country of multi-year plates renewed with year stickers. Since motorists kept the same license plates year after year, they possibly didn't see the value of a new DAV keychain tag each year, and stopped making annual donations.
Toy plates are miniature replicas of license plates intended for children to attach to their bicycles. Some toy plates were premiums in boxes of cereal or could be obtained by sending in cereal box tops, notably, the Wheaties plates of 1953 and 1954, and the Honey Comb plates of the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Other toy plates were personalized with children's names and were sold in toy stores and souvenir shops.
The black 1954 plate above was actually a Wheaties cereal premium from 1953. All of the U.S. toy plates offered by Wheaties that year were dated 1953, except for those from Maryland, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C., which were all dated 1954. This corresponded to real life, as Missouri and Wisconsin had converted to staggered expirations and indicated the expiration month and year on their plates, while Maryland and D.C. plates primarily used during 1953 expired in March 1954 and indicated a 1954 date.
The yellow "NANCY" plate probably most closely resembles 1966 Maryland plates, but having never seen one of these during my childhood in Maryland in the 1960s, it might have been sold during the time of the 1955 expiration plate.
A small (6" by 3") white-on-red 1920 Maryland plate with plate number 8-609 and the legend Solid Tire at the bottom is a miniature replica of a full-sized Maryland license plate issued to a solid tire vehicle. Usually, solid tire vehicles were trucks. It's been reported that a license plate collector in the 1960s had these replica plates made, and he gave them to acquaintences to promote his collecting interests.
Often in movies, televisions shows, commercials, etc., real license plates are not used on vehicles. Instead, plates that resemble real license plates, usually with impossible or fictitious plate numbers, are made or obtained by the prop department and displayed on vehicles. Such plates are called "movie prop plates" by license plate collectors, regardless of whether they were used in a movie or something else. Sometimes, movie prop plates don't even identify a specific state or other issuing jurisdiction, but usually they do.
Movie prop plates vary tremendously in their accuracy, the materials from which they're made, and so on. However, they're almost always sufficiently different from real license plates that even a casual plate spotter can immediately identify them as props. Sometimes a movie prop plate will have writing on the back that identifies the movie or other production in which the plate was used.
Some movie prop plates become so well known that replicas of the prop plate are made and sold as novelty items. This is especially true of plates from car-centric movies and TV shows such as American Graffiti, Back to the Future, Christine, Dukes of Hazzard, The Rockford Files, and so on.
Anyway, a suprising number of movies and TV shows were set in Maryland and used Maryland movie prop plates on vehicles. Off the top of my head, I can think of Enemy of the State, Homicide: Life on the Street, Ladder 49, Patriot Games, Sleepless in Seattle, Tin Men, and True Lies.
All of the plates shown above are made of cardboard. It appears that the 1970, 1971, and undated red-on-white plate were all made by the same place. I have no idea what production(s) these might have appeared in; I can't even tell whether any of these were actually used.
I consider a fake plate to be one that could reasonably be confused with a real license plate. Therefore, fake plates are full-sized and made of metal. Fake plates generally fall into one of these broad categories:
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