This week we are taking a break from the vehicle illustrations and focusing on what you would find on the back of a car. This the first in a semi-regular series of photo realistic license plate illustrations.
These are all passenger plates.
We start with 1972, which some hail as the start of the Malaise Era. It was still a mix of yearly issued plates almost all fully embossed with some jurisdictions using reflective sheeting. Delaware being Delaware was using a flat silkscreened plate. Nevada and Vermont debossed their plates. South Dakota silkscreened an illustration of Mount Rushmore on their plates as they have been doing for years. Pennsylvania being Pennsylvania jumped the gun on the American bicentennial by issuing a plate four years ahead complete with a 76 on it. Most striking is the bear shaped plate of Northwest Territories, something they have been doing since 1970 and continue to do until today.
1973 was more of the same with Montana joining Nevada and Vermont debossing their plates.
1974 had a a few changes. Colorado joined the list of states that debossed their plates while South Dakota used a design, of course featuring Mount Rushmore, printed directly on reflective sheeting from 3M.
1975 brought more changes. Several jurisdictions joined Pennsylvania in creating plates featuring the American bicentennial. Colorado and Wyoming used designs printed on reflective sheeting. Colorado used the design to commemorate the centennial of their statehood while Wyoming used it for the American bicentennial. Montana returned to debossed plates.
1976 brought more designs printed on reflective sheeting. Most of these were in some way connected to the American bicentennial. Perhaps one of the more interesting bicentennial designs is Michigan who just used paint and embossing to come up with a very striking license plate. New Mexico had an American flag design for their 1976 validation sticker that appears to have violated the Flag Code. Québec, which had Montréal hosting the olympics added the logo of the event to their plate.
Ah yes, back when most states changed the design and colors of ther plates every year. The year was often stamped right in the plate, so you had to change your plates every year, and not just a sticker. Seems kind of wasteful now.
Ohio quit putting the year on the plate after 1974 and switched to stickers shortly after. Most other states made the change around the same time as I recall.
One reason for the new plates every year was that many states have their plates stamped by inmates and it is big business. My state still has Correctional Industries make ours and they have milked it for ever increasing profit to offset their losses on the other inmate work programs.
When they first introduced the current basic design you could keep the old green and white plates. However they eventually made us replace those, claiming it was because they were running out of numbers and needed to clear out all the old ones still in use.
Then they started making those new plates be replaced every 7 years since 3M convinced them the diminished reflectivity of older plates was a safety hazard. They finally agreed to end the mandatory replacement plan. To make sure there was no loss in profit they now make the plates get replaced every time a car changes hands. In conjunction with that the registration also goes away with a sale also increasing the state’s revenue since in the past the existing registration was transferred to the new buyer and the renewal stayed the same.
My car was tagged in Oklahoma in the mid 70s. I recall the state switching the tags between red & green numbers. Tags expired in at the end of each year. Besides the waste of tags, the practice created long end-of-year lines. Oklahoma wasn’t the only state using this system either. Coming from Wisconsin which had long staggered expirations monthly, I wondered why states weren’t quicker to copy that system and reduce lines.
I have attached a license plate photo of a man who purportedly speaks the truth to explain to the Law.
That 1976 Alaska plate with the standing Grizzly Bear was the first modern picture plate that I ever saw. I can still remember where I saw it too. It’s always been a favorite of mine.
As a license plate collector, I’m thrilled to see these illustrations this morning.
I first got an interest in license plates due to one of the plates shown here. Back in the early 1980s when I was growing up near Philadelphia, a friend of mine found a pair of 1972 California plates in someone’s trash can (he had a hobby of looking through people’s trash to find things like old radios… no one minded that at the time). He and I both kept one of the plates, and for me it started a lifelong hobby.
I aspire someday to hang up my license plate collection in my garage… but unfortunately that’ll have to wait until I actually have a garage. Someday, hopefully!
Nice, an acquaintance of mine is also a license plate collector. On a serious level. Plates from all over the world, most of them from North America, I believe.
The plates are literally all over the place, wherever you look. They’re not only hanging in his garage (housing a 1971 Mustang) but also in his home. The hallway, kitchen and living room. Upstairs, I don’t know…
He claims to have more than 6,000 plates, and I have no reason to doubt that.
And note that he does have a wife. Mutual hobbies, so to speak.
I’ve heard of many license plate collectors from the Netherlands, and in fact in this month’s “Plates” magazine (published by a plate-collecting group), one such collector is highlighted. He happens to be one of the world’s foremost collectors of diplomatic license plates – much of his collection of diplomatic plates is featured on his website, http://www.diplomaticplates.com
My wife is rather forgiving of my license plate collection (unlike your acquaintance, my collection resides in boxes in our basement) and of my car-magazine collection (which is slightly more obtrusive). And a few years ago both my wife and daughters accompanies me to a national license plate collectors’ meet, and they all enjoyed themselves.
Plate-collecting is a fun and rather affordable hobby that tends to attract people who share an interest in both cars and geography.
Yes I remember when Maryland made the abrupt change from blue plate/white lettering to white plate/red lettering in 1976, which corresponded with a change from two letters/four numbers to three letters/three numbers. I remember it being explained to me that was because they were running out of distinct combinations to use, and letters provided 26 rather than 10 choices. The red on white didn’t last long; it was replaced by black on white which was in use for a long time. Could it get any more boring? At least it didn’t clash with any car colors. Also around that time, they went to only requiring stickers rather than new plates every two years. I still have the same plates from my first car in 1985! They get transferred to new cars when I buy them, but if I buy a crossover I’ll have to get new plates because that legally requires a “truck” plate.
When I lived in MD in 1976, thought it was interesting that you couldn’t put the new sticker on the plate except for one month of the year (I think it was March). If you put it on early, they could write you a ticket.
For decades I had the stamped, or perhaps thermoformed, plastic plates from Sweden that came on our 1964 Volvo, even though we bought it in the UK on American overseas delivery. But I tossed them sometime in the eighties, along with my massive collection of Road & Track and Car and Driver (and Sports Cars Illustrated) dating back to the fifties. What was I thinking??!!
Ah, back when States did not offer 100 different specialty license plates in the way the Post Office offered specialty stamps. I always remember the great anticipation to see what the next year’s plate would look like.
Apparently that tradition joined the annual model preview (including papered over windows at the dealer) in the historical archives.
Growing up in Louisiana, I never understood why the state replaced “Sportsman’s Paradise” with “Bayou State” in 1974, then returned to “Sportsman’s Paradise” in 1980.
As far as I know that slogan has remained on the plate ever since, with the exception of the plates issued to commemorate the 1984 World’s Fair, and bicentennial plates for the Louisiana Purchase, Louisiana statehood and the Battle of New Orleans.
Not just numbers on a plate of metal.
As I looked over the Alberta plates of different years, I began to go back and in time and know which plates were on my father’s car’s which plate came from a particular region and then fondly remembered those license plates on my first two new cars.
I never liked having a front plate on my 79 Mustang (esthetic reasons). RCMP in BC never pulled me over for doing so. Perhaps because the car was licensed in Alberta where I bought it from a dealer I knew. I didn’t bother changing over until over a year later when I married and we moved to Calgary. It was there I was ticketed and soon after put the second plate back where it belonged.
A few decades later, the Alberta government to cut costs or perhaps caving in to auto manufacturers did away with front license plates.
The Colorado plates with the number 76 in the center were to celebrate the Olympics being awarded to Colorado for 1976. After a bit of thought the good folks there decided the Winter Olympics were more trouble than they were worth, and let them be sent elsewhere.
In retrospect it was probably a good decision.
No, they were done to celebrate the centennial of the state.
Unless you were a resident of the state, and can prove your point, I disagree…I was, and remember very well these tags celebrated two different events. Sorry.
But to correct earlier comment: The Colorado centennial was Aug. 1, 1976. So the plate actually references both the 76 Olympics and 100 years of statehood. I had this plate on my 73 Plymouth. Liked it so much it remained on until 1979, even after moving to Alabama and Texas. For some reason the cops never seemed to notice.
I’ve always been amazed at the idea of changing plates every year.
Here in Australia the plates stay on the car for life (unless you pay to transfer them, or have bought special ones), and you used to get a decal for the windshield to show you had paid for the year. Much easier to change a decal every year than unbolt a plate that’s probably rusted on. With plate-reading technology, the decal has gone the way of the dodo. Theoretically the plates remain the property of the registration authority and are taken off the car when it’s scrapped, so you ‘shouldn’t’ be able to collect them.
Ours were much simpler. Up until about 1976 in Victoria we had a plain black plate with embossed white characters. Easily legible. But in the seventies there was a fad for slogans on plates. Initially they kind of made sense (Victoria, Garden State), but then politicians got in the way and changed them at whim. (Education state. Really? Implying others aren’t educated?) Or you might luck out and get one with just the state name. Here’s a Victorian plate from around 2005.
This is when you know you have a problem.
That is a problem indeed. Who in their right mind would ever have a window shade pulled down like that in the middle of the day?
There is a great book on 100 years of BC plates, Tales from the Back Bumper. My Forester still runs on Expo 86 plates since they stay with driver, not the vehicle.
And plates really are made by prisoners–at least in Michigan. I imagine it’s a better gig than working in the prison laundry.
Here in the Australian state of Victoria,the prisoners also make the plates.
I didn’t realize our basic plate design in Minnesota was relatively recent. About the only thing that changes for ours is the orientation of the numbers and letters. Every 7 years we replace the plates on our cars (with a few exceptions I’m not entirely sure of). The orientation of numbers and letters cycles through, going from 123-ABC to ABC-123 and back. About 10 years ago they stopped punching the characters through from the back and went to a reflective coating.
Do other states have a regular replacement schedule, and do similar things happen with numbers and letters?
Another thing that is apparently different about Minnesota is that the plate stays on the car when it’s sold. I’ve heard tell that in other jurisdictions the plate stays with the driver.
Where I live in Virginia currently, there is no regular replacement schedule, but after 10 years, you are encouraged but not required to get new plates because of wear and tear. I did this after 18 years for my ’98 Nissan Frontier, but am still using the same plates originally from 2004 on my current ’15 Camry Hybrid. (In VA, plates stay with the driver, not the car.)
The way the DMV website is set up to order replacement plates, it’s difficult to order plain non-vanity plates, which are free. Instead you are steered toward all of the myriad specialty plates which do cost, plus the vanity lettering that adds even more cost!
When my grandma stopped driving several years ago, my dad sent her old plate to the DMV. I probably could’ve kept it tho and I’d imagine no one would care.
Pennsylvania was one of the early states to switch to stickers, starting in 1958. At the same time, the character count was increased to six, with the first character a letter, and a keystone-shaped hyphen separating the third and fourth characters (PA is the Keystone State). The alternating yellow-on-blue vs. blue-on-yellow scheme was continued for some time when new plates were eventually issued (1965 and 1971, with the latter being the premature Bicentennial plate mentioned in the article).
I have a small collection of old and new plates from the states in which I have lived, plus this miniature collection of the family car’s PA plates from 1953-66, with just a couple missing.
BTW, I grew up always saying “license plates” or simply “plates,” but I know in some regions of the US (mainly the South I believe), they are called “tags.”
Drivers in Alabama also could receive a miniature of their plate as a key fob back in the early-to-mid 1960s. It’s a fuzzy memory so I’m not sure if they really came from the State, or from AAA, or from your insurance company, or if you had to order them from a commercial enterprise. I just remember I saved a few of them when those plates were no longer valid on my parents’ cars.
Ours came from the Disabled American Veterans. I’m guessing there was a small charge or donation.
Visit my web site
License Plates of the World
… to see thousands of license plates by jurisdiction.
Michael t, Thanks for the link!
In May I saw a plate on a Ford F-150. The owner is a 40+ man who had his 4-year-daughter in tow to enter a preschool. I neglected to photograph this plate but I present it to you for your laughs. Of note, the 4-year-old is one of three children. RSTDNUTZ.
About five years ago Maine passed a law so that you could get just about anything on a vanity plate. Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should. There are some hum dingers out there. Because of the complaints of vulgarity, they are now looking at rescinding that law. A google search for “vulgar Maine license plates” will give you a glimpse of some of them and keep this site presentable.
1973 was a significant year for New York because in addition to changing from yellow on blue to blue on orange, the plate numbers dropped the county code for a random group of letters. This made Fulton County less special since on the old plates the “FC” code was easily mistaken for a diplomatic plate and could get you out of a parking ticket in NYC.
I grew up in Delaware in the 70s and 80s. The Delaware plate has been basically the same since 1969. There have been some variations–in the late 90s or early 2000s, there were a couple of years when they used a different (inferior) font. Also, it used to be max six digits, but at some point they had to add a seventh digit, so the numbers got more crunched together. Another interesting thing about Delaware is that they used to issue plates with the prefix “PC” for station wagons. Pretty sure they now issue those to SUVs as well. Not sure what that stands for–I always heard that it stood for “passenger carrier” but Wikipedia says it stands for “pleasure commercial”.
My small collection is mostly Hawaii plates. The ’76 one shown is my favorite.
I had attempted to attach an image but it apparently flunked QC?
I’ll try a resized version.
It needs to be under 1200 pixels. Or if you just get the option to resize as one of four options pick the smallest or second smallest. It won’t actually make the image itself smaller visually, just data-wise.
I seldom use a PC anymore, have switched almost entirely to mobile device. With that, image resizing options are limited. The most workable option seems to be screenshot, with its loss in resolution.
Waiting for their destinies with the roofing nail. lol
I find it interesting how many cars have dealer supplied license plate frames that cover the the state name completely. With all the variations in design isn’t sometimes difficult to determine the issuing state or province? In Ontario where I live it is not too big a problem because there are no border very close, but in some areas do the US there must be quite a mix of plates from various states.
In 1999 the eastern part of the Northwest Territories was split off to create the territory of Nunavut. The new territory continued the tradition of plates shaped like a polar bear. A friend of mine moved there and stayed for about 15 years. She said there was a significant problem with tourists stealing the plates, particularly in Iqaluit where there are some private vehicles. There are actually very few vehicles in Nunavut as there are very few roads. All the communities are fly-in (or access by sea) so she did not own a vehicle (except a snowmobile) while she lived there, although she did have a Nunavut driver’s licence.