Virginia passenger car license plate

Rick Kretschmer's License Plate Archives 

Virginia passenger car license plate

A Pictorial History of Virginia License Plates

Passenger car plates dated 1933 to 1972


This page presents the history of Virginia passenger car license plates, from 1933 through 1972. 

Latest noteworthy updates to this page
  • February 23, 2021  –  Replaced 1969 reserved low-number plate with a general-issue passenger car plate. 
  • October 28, 2019  –  Added a photo of a 1971 B-prefixed plate. 


This page addresses Virginia passenger car plates dated from 1933 to 1972; eventually it will be expanded to cover 1906 to 1972.  Let me start out by saying that I generally don't collect Virginia license plates, except in cases where I need them as part of a set.  (For example, I have a 1959 Virginia plate in my collection as part of my 1959 U.S. passenger plate set.)  Therefore, unlike most pages on this web site, very few of the plates shown here are actually from my collection, and I haven't meticulously identified each plate that's not from my collection.  However, unless noted otherwise, I did photograph all plates shown. 

So why do I even have Virginia plate pages on my web site?  Well, I've lived in states that bordered Virginia for nearly my entire life, and I regularly travel to or drive through Virginia, so I see Virginia license plates in use on a regular basis.  As a collector, I often have old Virginia plates in my trade box. .  There's also not a whole lot of detailed information already on the web regarding Virginia license plate history.  While I make no claim of being an expert on Virginia plates, I do feel like I can make a contribution by documenting what I do know. 

From 1910 until 1972, Virginia license plates displayed the year of issuance.  At least toward the end of this period, if not earlier, plates were actually valid through March 31 of the following year, however.  The last non-staggered passenger car registrations used the undated, unstickered 1973 plate, which was valid through March 31, 1974.  Staggered registrations were first issued in October 1972, with the earliest expirations at the end of October 1973.  Virginia has always issued passenger plates in pairs, except for the 1945 and 1946 plates. 

For many years through 1972, Virginia plates were issued annually, and colors alternated between black-on-white in odd years and white-on-black in even years.  The positions of the state name and year on the plate also varied each year.  Through 1970, Virginia plates were non-reflective, and passenger car plate numbers could be all-numeric, or had the prefix letter "A" followed by numbers.  The "A" indicated plate number one million, as the A-prefixed plates were issued after plate number 999-999 each year. 

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, please send me an e-mail.  If you have, or can take, a digital photo of a plate from a year not shown below, send it to me in an e-mail attachment.  I'll add it to this page, and will credit you for submitting it.  For any plates dated 1947 or earlier, please also provide me with the dimensions of the plate, so that I may make the size of the image in proportion to the others. 

Virginia passenger car plates, 1933-1946

1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946
(1944: Clark plate; other years: Benzie plates)

In 1933, Virginia plates became noticeably smaller, and began a 40 year run that had only minor deviations from consistent sizes, colors, dies, and other details.  Plates from the 1933-1946 period were slightly smaller than modern plates, measuring approximatley 5-3/8" by 11-3/4".  The 1933 plates did not have bottom bolt slots, but those were added in 1934. 

The 1936 plates were colored orange on blue.  A single white-on-black "1943" year tab was affixed to rear 1942 plates to validate them for an additional year.  The 1944 plates were colored black-on-yellow and were made of fiberboard.  Otherwise, plate colors predictably alternated between black-on-white and white-on-black.  Both the 1943 year tabs and 1944 fiberboard plates were in response to shortages of metal available for civilian use during World War II.  For the same reason, 1945 and 1946 plates, while metal, were issued as single plates rather than pairs. 

The 1944 fiberboard plates are worthy of further mention.  A number of states issued fiberboard license plates during the 1940s, but Virginia's were unique in that they were embossed (stamped) and painted just like metal plates, rather than made flat with the numbers printed on. 

All passenger car plates during this period (and through 1950) had all-numeric plate numbers, with a maximum of six digits.  A small square separator was positioned between the hundreds digit and thousands digit.  Numbering began at 1, with lower numbers reserved for politicians and other VIPs. 

1933 –  black on white   VIRGINIA – 1933, bottom 1940 –  black on white   1940 – VIRGINIA, top
1934 –  white on black   VIRGINIA – 1934, top 1941 –  white on black   19 - VIRGINIA - 41, top
1935 –  black on white   VIRGINIA – 1935, top 1942 –  black on white   VIRGINIA – 1942, top
1936 –  orange on blue   VIRGINIA – 1936, bottom 1943 –  white on black  tab on  black on white  1942 plate
1937 –  white on black   VIRGINIA – 1937, top 1944 –  black on yellow   1944 – VA., bottom (fiberboard plates)
1938 –  black on white   VIRGINIA – 1938, bottom 1945 –  black on white   19 - VIRGINIA - 45, bottom (single plate)
1939 –  white on black   VIRGINIA – 1939, bottom 1946 –  white on black   VIRGINIA – 1946, bottom (single plate)

Virginia passenger car plates, 1947-1970

1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970
(1947-1958, 1961, 1970: Benzie plates; 1962, 1968, and 1969: plates previously mine)

The major difference between these plates and the 1933-1946 plates, is that starting in 1947 the plate dimensions were increased to 6 inches in height and 12 inches in width.  This apparently happened midway through the year, as 1947 plates are known to exist in both sizes.  The one shown above, with a fairly low plate number, has the same smaller dimensions as previous years.  Most states didn't conform to the 6" x 12" North American standard until 1956.  Another, more subtle change was that the embossed dashes between the state name and year disappeared starting in 1947. 

The 1947 and 1949 plates had black numbers on an unpainted aluminum background.  A single white-on-black "52" year tab was affixed to rear 1951 plates to validate them for an additional year.  The 1953 plates were colored orange on blue.  Otherwise, plate colors predicatbly alternated between white-on-black in even years and black-on-white in odd years.  A small square separator, and later, a small rectangular separator, was positioned between the hundreds digit and thousands digit of the plate number. 

Passenger car plates through 1950 had all-numeric plate numbers, with a maximum of six digits.  In all of these years, numbering began at 1, with lower numbers reserved for politicians and other VIPs and people with political connections.  At some point, the practice began where plate numbers with four digits or fewer were reserved for such people, while plates with five or more digits were issued to the general public. 

The 1951 plate, which was used for two years, exhaused the all-numeric, six-digit numbering format.  Subsequent plate numbers issued in 1951-52 had an "A" prefix.  In most, if not all subsequent years, all-numeric plate numbers reached 999-999 and A-prefixed plates were required.  A-prefixed plates with up to five numeric digits mostly used the same serial dies as did the all-numeric plates, though I've heard there were exceptions to that.  A-prefixed plates with six numeric digits used narrower serial dies that could accommodate seven characters. 

The "extra" holes in the four corners disappeared starting in 1967.  Once the 1968 plates reached seven characters, the wide serial dies were retired, and so begining in 1969, all plates were stamped with the narrow dies previously only used on seven-character plate numbers. 

1947 –  black on silver   19 VIRGINIA 47, top 1959 –  black on white   19 VIRGINIA 59, top
1948 –  white on black   1948 VIRGINIA, top 1960 –  white on black   VIRGINIA 1960, top
1949 –  black on silver   VIRGINIA 1949, bottom 1961 –  black on white   1961 VIRGINIA, bottom
1950 –  white on black   1950 VIRGINIA, bottom 1962 –  white on black   19 VIRGINIA 62, bottom
1951 –  black on white   19 VIRGINIA 51, bottom 1963 –  black on white   VIRGINIA 1963, bottom
1952 –  white on black  tab on  black on white  1951 plate 1964 –  white on black   1964 VIRGINIA, top
1953 –  orange on blue   19 VIRGINIA 53, top 1965 –  black on white   19 VIRGINIA 65, top
1954 –  white on black   VIRGINIA 1954, top 1966 –  white on black   VIRGINIA 1966, top
1955 –  black on white   VIRGINIA 1955, bottom 1967 –  black on white   1967 VIRGINIA, bottom
1956 –  white on black   19 VIRGINIA 56, bottom 1968 –  white on black   19 VIRGINIA 68, bottom
1957 –  black on white   VIRGINIA 1957, bottom 1969 –  black on white   VIRGINIA 1969, bottom
1958 –  white on black   1958 VIRGINIA, top 1970 –  white on black   1970 VIRGINIA, top

Virginia passenger car plates, 1971

1971, version 1 1971, version 2 1971, version 3 1971, B prefix
1971 versions 1, 2 and 3 plates, and a B-prefixed plate are shown.  The version 1 plate is a reserved low-number plate issued to motorists with political connections. 
(Versions 1, 2, and 3:  Benzie plates)

1971 and 1972 were transition years, and there were many variations of 1971 plates.  Four such variations are shown above, but there were also a few others not shown.  Version 1 plates had a painted background, no border, and numeric plate numbers.  Version 2 plates had a reflective background, a black border, and numeric plate numbers; this version was apparently only issued in the 500-000 series.  Version 3 plates had a painted background, a black border, and numeric plate numbers.  All-numeric plates didn't exceed six digits.  Those with four or fewer digits were reserved numbers that required political connections to obtain.  Five- and six-digit plates were standard issues. 

Subsequent 1971 versions had an "A" prefix followed by up to six numbers, which had been issued for many years following plate number 999-999.  However, in 1971, plate number A999-999 was reached, and then, plates with a "B" prefix followed by up to five numeric digits, and plates with numbering format xxx 000 in the very early "A" series were both issued.  There's conflicting information regarding which came first.  At least some of these alphanumeric formats came in both bordered and borderless versions.  The "A" die used on the xxx 000 format plates was different than the "A" die used on the A-prefixed plates in that it lacked serifs.  Indeed, after A999-999 was issued, all of the letter dies were sans-serif from this point forward, though there are some known instances of serif dies making brief, unintentional reappearances. 

Virginia passenger car plates, 1972

(Benzie plate)

There was only a single version of 1972 standard passenger car plates, at least regarding the front of the plates.  The contrasting-colored border used on some 1971 plate versions was used on all 1972 plates.  At least some late-issue 1972 plates have white, rather than black backs.  This was the case for at least some non-passenger plate types as well.  1972 standard passenger car plates only used numbering format xxx-000, with the numbers in each letter series apparently beginning at 001.  The letters got up to the very late "D" series.  All-numeric plates with four or fewer digits continued to be issued as political favors in 1972 and continuing through the present day, but these were now clearly distinct from standard passenger car plates and will not be discussed any further. 

Normally, I believe each year's plates were issued through February of the following year, and they were definitely valid through the end of March of the following year.  However, in October 1972, the state abruptly stopped issuing 1972 plates and began issuing undated blue-on-white plates with expiration stickers indicating expiration dates one year out.  Because of this, the state had a lot of leftover 1972 plates that were never issued.  The 1972 plates that were issued remained valid through March 1973. 

1972 xxx-000 format plates in the CVx series appear to be passenger car plates, but are actually "convertible" plates, issued to vehicles that were used for both personal and commercial purposes.  Typically these plates were issued to station wagons, but not necessarily.  In previous years, "convertible" plates had the letters "CO" over "NV" on the left center of the plate, and had the appearance of non-passenger plates.  "Convertible" plates were discontinued after 1972, and dual-use vehicles were then issued regular passenger car plates.  I'm not aware of there being distinct rental car or light truck plates prior to 1973. 

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Page credits

Benzie and Clark plates are/were from the collections of Chris Benzie and Stanley Clark, respectively. 

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W3C valid