Early in the history of automobiles, governments wisely decided that some form of registration was required. Some of the first licensing began in Europe, but quickly spread to northeastern United States. The state of New York (and the City of Cleveland, Ohio) first required license plates for these new motorcars starting in 1901. It was a way to control reckless drivers of the day. Soon the practice spread across the northeast; however once registered, the motorists themselves needed to supply the actual license “tags” or “plates” with the appropriate registration numbers. The most common construction was house numbers riveted onto a leather base.
In 1903 Massachusetts started issuing their official license plate (dark blue with white lettering) made on an iron plate and coated with enamel porcelain. Slowly over time, additional states not only registered automobiles, but also supplied the motorist with the state’s official license plate, thus ending the Pre-State era of US auto license plate history. The last states to adopt the state supplied license plate were South Carolina and Texas, both in 1917. To determine which year your state first issued their own plate, go to “Product Info” page then click on the Information and Order Form in the middle of that page. You can view this file and learn about pre-state license plates for your USA state or Canadian province plates and how to order. All the necessary information is contained in the two-page download. You’ll need a pdf reader, I suggest getting Adobe Reader here.
Recently I had the privilege of being invited by Jay Leno to his BIG DOG GARAGE in Burbank, CA. Jay was interested in learning about leather plates so we taped a short video segment. I hope you enjoy it.
100+ years ago you would have either ordered a plate directly from a vendor or traveled to your local hardware store where you could buy the materials needed from their shelves. This copy of a 1911 Beckley-Ralston catalog is typical of vendor’s offerings to the hardware trade. Other companies include Chancellor & Lyon, E.A. Featherstone and Weinstock-Nichols.
If I can help in any way, please contact me direct. Thank you for your interest.
Mount Vernon WA USA
Tele & text: 360-661-6060