(VIDEO) 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 license plates so we made a short video segment; hope you enjoy it!
Would you like to purchase or have repaired your own leather license plate?
Click to read and print the Information & Order Form
A quick history lesson….
Early in automotive history, governments wisely decided that some form of registration was required. The first licensing began in Europe, but quickly spread to Northeast United States. The state of New York (and the city of Cleveland, Ohio) first required license plates for these new motorcars starting in 1901 as a way to control reckless drivers of the day. Soon the practice spread across the northeast; however once registered, the early motorists 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 of a porcelain enamel coated metal plate. Slowly, additional states not only registered automobiles, but also supplied the motorist with that state’s official license plate, thus ending the Pre-State era of US auto license plate history. The last states to adopt the state issued license plate were South Carolina and Texas, both in 1917. To determine which year your state first issued their own plate, go to the “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 your own leather license plate. All the necessary information is contained in the two-page file. You’ll need a PDF reader, I suggest getting Adobe Reader here.
How it was done back then…
100+ years ago you would have either ordered a leather license plate directly from a vendor or traveled to your local hardware store where you could buy the materials needed from their shelves. This page from a 1911 Beckley-Ralston catalog (image courtesy of The Nethercutt Automotive Research Library and Archive) is typical of vendor’s offerings to the hardware trade. Other suppliers included Chancellor & Lyon, E.A. Featherstone and Weinstock-Nichols.