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Pennsylvania License Plate History & Images

John McDevitt, Walnutport, PA

ALPCA #4376


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The photos on this website, whether provided by me or other contributors, are intended for use solely on this website, and may not be otherwise used without permission.

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Posting 10/23/2016

The Friendship Fire Company of Bressler is now on the Special Organization plate list page for checking availability of personalized plates; however, the plate is not listed on the Approved Special Organizations page.  It should be noted that there are many discrepancies, inconsistencies and gaps between these two pages that should be essentially identical.  Anyway the Friendship Fire Company of Bressler is located near Steelton, a suburb of Harrisburg.  No image available and no plates are in use yet.  Formatting is expected to be 00000F/B.


About 3 years ago the Save Wild Animals - Tiger plate was discontinued.  Sadly it was replaced by this Support Your Zoo thing, but I'm not going to debate the merits of this plates, only to say that the plate here represents the lowest number spotted on the visitPA base.  For whatever reason only a handful of under-100 plates have been issued, as there is a two-tier system with this plate.


Here's the latest high Teen Driver plate.  The Teen Driver plate is considered an optional plate along with the In God We Trust plate.  There are nearly 9 million licensed drivers in PA and nearly 12 million registered vehicles and yet only about 60 Teen Driver license plates on the road.  And from the picture some are in use on driver training vehicles.  Thanks to Jordan Irazabal and Tom Perri for the picture.


Here is a personalized version of an Emergency Vehicle plate.  The EV is required, the 48 in this case represents a fire and EMS station number, and the 71 is the officer's position within the organization.  It's the owner's radio identification number.  Such a plate should also be available with a dash or a space and up to 5 alpha-numeric characters.  The cost for a vanity is an extra $100.  The list of vehicles that qualify for EV plates is quite extensive, such as canteen support, certain PA Turnpike vehicles, Philadelphia Parking Authority, and personal vehicles for those occupying certain positions in emergency services, etc.


These Vietnam War Veteran plates have been added to the plate gallery just to show a 3-digit and low number 4-digit plate.  The VW01617 was photographed by Steve Ondik.  This plate type has been around since 1999, then it has moved to the color graphic base about 2 years ago which allows for vanities.  The current high is V/W10235.


Here's the first photo of a 1921 Trailer plate.  The plate was auctioned recently and the owners, Mike & Ruth Culbert, gave me permission to use it.  It appears likely that 1920, '21, '22 and '23 plates were formatted much the same with the T prefix, PENNA along the bottom left, TRAILER bottom center and the 4-digit year along the bottom right.  The color for 1921 was dark blue on yellow.  Some sources suggest that all the plates during the 4 years were 6" x 16", however, this plate clearly measures 6" x 15.  Click open the image on the upper left.  I still need quite a few trailer plates between 1917 and 1933.


Clayton Moore posted this 1935 Trailer plate.  Despite the plate having endured an unsheltered life, it still retains most of its identifying features, and except for some rust and paint loss, it's not a bad plate.  The first series was 1 to 9999, then an alpha-numeric progression as seen here; however, most plates would have had three numeric characters.  Click the link above to see another alpha-numeric example.


This extremely nice original condition 1953 Motorcycle plate with a K13 serial number, was provided by Jeff Hinkle.  The first series was 1 to 9999, then an alpha-numeric progression as seen here; however, most plates would have had three numeric characters.  Click the link above to see other formatting variations.



This 1921 Dealer plate comes from Mike & Ruth Culbert.  It's a little hard to see but the serial is X1-774.  Like the '21 Trailer plate above this plate would be expected to be 6" x 16", however, from the photo this plate appears to measures 6" x 15.  Click the link above to see an additional '21 Dealer plate.


This 1930 Dealer plate fills a gap, as this was the only year for which I didn't have a Dealer plate image.  Thanks to Mike from Pl8source who has it up for grabs on eBay.  The series ran from X1 to X9999, following that, there were other combinations of 2, 3, 4 and 5 character plates with the X in the second or third position.  Also plates with 4 characters or less were 6" x 10", whereas this, and other 5 character plates, measure 6" x 12".


The 1955 Used Car Dealer plate on the far left and the 1956 New Car Dealer plate on the near left are courtesy of John Willard.  Note the '55 plates is a 'shorty' at 6 x 10 inches, while the '56 plate is 6 x 12 inches, as plate dimensions became standardized in 1956.  Also for '56 there ware two font styles.  The wide font or die is shown here.  Click the 1956 link above and the one of Miscellaneous Dealer plates shows the narrower fonts, sometimes referred to as the '57 dies.  These were used later in the year.


For 1957 Dealer plates the base map has been stretched to allow more room for characters which are now up from 5 to 6, along with the narrow dies giving the plate a more modern appearance.  The use of 6 characters also made it unnecessary for the final alpha character to shift one space to the left as the combinations ran out. 



Posting 10/16/2016

I have many more plates that I was unable to post this week.  Note update to the Penn State Official plate from 10/9.


Here's a vanity rendition of an In God We Trust plate from Tom Perri.  With the personalized version after paying the additional $100, you get up to 5 characters plus the required G/T prefix.  These plates have been available just shy of two years.



On the far left is an on-the-fly traffic shot from Bruce Bufalini showing the latest reported high University of Pittsburgh high.  And beside it is the soon-to-be next generation of Pitt plate.  Newly issued plates will get new numbers; to get an old number reissued it would be considered a vanity plate and would require the extra $100 fee.


Bruce Bufalini spotted this high number 82nd Airborne Division Association plate.  These plates have been around since 2007.




Here's a Bronze Star vanity plate sent to me by Arthur Levine.  Personalized editions of many of these newer veteran plates appear to be popular.




This 1954 Transit Dealer plate photo is of the earliest known plate of this type.  Thanks to John Willard for allowing me to photograph this plate.  Now the question still remains, how far back do these Transit Dealer plates go?  The A-series New Car Dealer and B-series Used Car Dealer plates were launched in 1946, but so far we have no evidence of when this C-series Transit plates began. Rick Kretschmer on his website,, reports seeing a 1952 test plate and suggests that they may date back to 1946.  Can anyone provide additional information?


I have quite a display of early Tractor plates this week, mostly from Tim Gierschick, one from John Willard, one from Clayton Moore and one from Dave Lincoln.  In some cases the small thumbnail images don't do justice to the plate, please click the thumbnails to see them in full size.  I've also tried to represent them as accurately as possible by maintaining the correct length to width aspect ratio.  We start with this 99 year old 1917 Tractor with a two-digit number.  The E stands for engine and does not advance.  The colors were white on brown and the plate measures 6" x 14".  Thanks Tim.


Next in the lineup is this bold red on black 1919 Tractor plate also from Tim Gierschick.  Yes, the colors are correct.  This particular plate measures 6" x 13", however, there were also 6" x 16" plates for E+4 character plates and 6" x 10" for E+1 or 2 character plates.  Unfortunately we don't have good records on the number issued because at the time Tractors and Trailers were counted together.  Why would you do that!?  We know at least 2,300 Tractor plates and 1,100 Trailer plates were issued, total of both was reported to be 5,000.


This 1920 Tractor appears to be a repaint.  The white on black colors are correct.  Note the use of a space in the serial number.  When the number exceeded E 999, the next plate was E1-000 substituting a dash for the space.  Thanks again to Tim Gierschick.  The plate measures 6" x 16".


The next plate is this 1921 Tractor, also from Tim Gierschick.  This plate appears to be in nice original condition.  The colors are black on yellow.  This plate is in the 4,000 series and employs the dash (-) separator as described in the 1920 plate above.  The plate also measures 6" x 16".


Next is this 1923 Tractor plate.  This plate is very similar to the '21 plate above in size and formatting aside from the colors.  Again thanks Tim Gierschick for the use of the photo.



John Willard provided the opportunity to photograph this spectacular 1929 Tractor plate, although some might prefer the plate to be in its natural state.  Aside from that, note that for 1929 (actually beginning in 1928) the use of the TE in place of the E prefix for tractor plates.  The TE stood for traction engine.  The E as the first letter was now reserved for the alpha-numeric passenger car progression.  The plate measures 6" x 15".


Here's a 1930 Tractor plate from Clayton Moore.  This repainted plate shows the continuation of the TE prefix.  Click the link above to see another 1930 Tractor plate with fewer digits.  All of the '30 Tractor plates are believed to measure 6" x 15".



Here is a Dave Lincoln 1933 Tractor plate.  This is the final year for the TE prefix.  The '33 Tractor plates are all believed to measure 6" x 15".  After 1933 the TE was dropped and the word Tractor was added as the legend.

At this time Tractor plate images are needed for 1927 and 1932.  We've come a long way, thanks to those who have so generously helped.



Posting 10/9/2016

Penn State Official plates over the years.  These are issued to Penn State-owned vehicles.  I'm really not certain when these plates made their debut, but I believe they were on the streets by 1983 the mid-1980s, quite possibly earlier.  The earliest plate shown here appears to be on a '77 base with the upper left and right sticker wells, and the large open keystone.  Later plates had the sticker well in the lower left, and although seldom used, the A31-82A plate has a permanent sticker.  Note, only the A45-28P plate is a recent photo and represents the current high thanks to Tom Perri and Jordan Irazabal.


Speaking of '77 base plates, here's a 1980s Plymouth Reliant with such a plate.  This was spotted over the past weekend in Ocean City, MD.  I'm thinking that this is probably not a YOM plate.  It does have a 17 validation sticker, and the registration number is valid.



Here's a VW Jetta with an Antique Vehicle plate, in fact it the newest high.





Minor update made to Disabled Veteran plate data, basically narrowing down the transition point when the use of two sticker wells (upper left and right) was changed to a single sticker well on the lower left.  Anyone have a DV plate in the 21000 series?


More plate history thanks to John Willard.  These Commercial Motorcycle plates from 1939 and 1948 were part of a 12 year series of plates.  Colors were the same as passenger plates.  In 1950 the Commercial Motorcycle registration was reduced from $5 to $4 eliminating the need for this plate type. Plate serial numbers ranged from 1 to under 1000.  Plate photos are still needed for a number of years.


Here's the first image of a 1921 Dealer plate.  At the time there were only two other dealer types, those being Motorcycle Dealer and Tractor Dealer.  The dealer plate shown here is black on yellow and made of steel, legend on bottom, PENNA, then DEALER, then 1921, series ran from X1 to X999, then X1-000 to X11-503 or higher. All plates are believed to be 6" x 16" because of the layout of the legend.  Again thanks to John Willard for today's run of dealer plates.


Next up is this 1946 Miscellaneous Dealer type.  1946 signaled a major change in dealer plate formatting with the addition of New Car Dealer, Used car Dealer and Miscellaneous Dealer plates, marked as Dealer, as shown here.  The plates had a distinctive format with A000A for New Car, B000A for Used Car, and X0000 for Miscellaneous.  All plates were five character.  The leading A and B are fixed characters, while the other characters can advance.  The X can be in be in various positions progressing from the left.  It should be noted that at some point in time a C000A Dealer plate was issued.  The earliest known plate is 1954, but these could have been issued at an earlier date.  Additional research or evidence is needed.


Here is a nice 1947 Used Car Dealer plate.  Not as many used car dealer plates were issued as new car dealer, but this plate would suggest that at least 1,637 plates were issued.  Thanks John Willard.



Again thanks to John Willard, we're able to display these very nice 1948 New Car Dealer and a 1948 Used Car Dealer plate photos.  These plates measures 6" by 11".



Next addition is this 1949 New Car Dealer plate.  This photo is actually an upgrade of a previous picture.  This plate also has an interesting number.  The photo gallery also has a plate with A00D0 — a different new car dealer with the final letter in the 4th position.  Thanks to John Willard.



Next in this dealer progression is this super nice 1950 Miscellaneous Dealer tag with the 'X' identifier in the second position.  This is a John Willard plate and measures 6" by 11".



Here is a very nice 1952 Used Car Dealer plate, again thanks to John Willard.  For 1952 the plate size was reduced from 6" by 11" to 6" by 10, at least on the dealer plates that I've seen.  Some other plates remained 11".  This was done by shrinking the map border width on the left and right side, and probably done to reduce the cost.


Finally this week is this near mint condition 1953 Used Car Dealer plate of John Willard.  The size and formatting remained the same from 1952 thru 1955 with the obvious reversal of the colors each year.



  •  Be sure to check back next week for more Dealer plates including a 1954 Transit Dealer, the oldest C000A plate known to exist.  Anyone know when these were  first issued?  Again thanks to John Willard for providing so many plates from his collection for photographing.

  •  Also watch for some old Tractor plate images from Tim Gierschick.



Posting 10/3/2016

Here's a new high Action for Animals Humane Society plate.  Plates have been around since 2012.  Thanks to Bruce Bufalini for the plate photo.




Jordan Irazabal spotted this new high Spring Mill Fire Company No. 1.  The fire company is located in Whitemarsh Township, Montgomery County, and they have about 11 plates in use



In legislative news, Senate Bill 1155, which provides for special plates for current members of the armed forces of the United States, has been passed by the house and senate, and presented to the governor for his signature on September 27.  This includes members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and PA National Guard with the plates designating the appropriate branch of service.  This suggests to me that 6 new military plates are in the offing 120 days after the bill is signed into law, so possibly late January of 2017.


At this time there does not appear to be any movement on House Bill 1154 to repeal the elimination of validation stickers.


This very nice '58 base Amateur Radio with a '59 sticker was provided courtesy of John Willard.  These plates were first issued in 1956.




Up to this point I believed that plates between 1 and 999 were never issued in the Antique Motorcycle series.  I have been to many motorcycle shows and events and have never seen one, although I have images of 140 Antique Motorcycle plates.  John Willard, the owner of this plate, believes otherwise, stating that this plate was part of a Bureau of Motor Vehicles pictorial display showing this plate as an example of the issued plates at the time.  It does have the correct hole spacing for the early plates.


More thanks to John Willard for sharing these older Bus plates beginning with this 1934 Bus.  This is the first year with the word BUS to distinguish the plates from others, since it is the only year without an identifying prefix, which in this time period would have been the letter O.  The number issued according to an old BMV document was 5,705, with the series beginning at 1.  All plates are believed to measure 6" x 10".

John also had a 1932 and 1933 H plates which were commonly believed to be the other class of bus plates; however, based on research provided by Jake Eckenrode and Eric Tanner, the H Bus plate were discontinued after 1929, and plates after 1929 are now believed to be passenger vehicle plates.


Next is this very nice 1941 Bus also courtesy of John Willard.  After the 1934 plate year, the 'O' prefix was again restored to Bus plates.  It is believed that the number sequence likely began at O1 and progressed to somewhere around O6614.  The plate shown here is a 5-character plate and measures 6" by 12", while plates with 4 or fewer characters would have been 6" by 10".


The next plate in this week's lineup is this very nice 1942 Bus, also thanks to John Willard.  The use of the letter O continues to be the trademark of a bus plate and continues to this day on Omnibus plates.  According to the BMV some 78-hundred  plates were issued that year.  The plate shown here is a 5-character plate and measures 6" by 12", while plates with 4 or fewer characters would have been 6" by 10".


The final bus plate for this week is this 1947 Bus.  Please this year measured 6" by 11", and with plate production exceeding 12,000, plate formatting had to be adjusted to accommodate more plates.  The solution was to add a letter to the serial number beginning at OA000.  Each advancing letter would allow for an additional 1000 plates, thus solving the problem.  This practice actually began in 1946.  John Willard has been very helpful in closing a number of bus plate gaps.  This leaves only 1932, '33 and '39 Bus plates needed.


Here's a nice example of a 1917 Motorcycle plate.  The plate was a recent eBay auction.  The owner at the time of the auction, bigdon45  gave me the OK to use the picture.




Posting 9/25/2016

On Saturday September 24, I attended an ALPCA license plate meet near Nazareth, PA, set up by Dale Bernecker.  I had an opportunity to take well over 100  images from John Willard's license plate collection.  It will take me a while to process all the images but look for Commercial Motorcycle, Motorcycle Dealer, Motorbike, Dealer, including a '54 Transit Dealer, Motorboat Dealer, Tractor Dealer, Suburban, early samples, early vanities, Trailer, Bus, Z series Truck, Foreign Consul.


Commonwealth Constables Association now has, or soon will have, 9 plates in use.  These plates were approved at the end of 2015.  Since these plates are law enforcement related, they have been grouped with Fire, Police and EMS organizations.  They are headquartered in Steelton, PA, which is just south of Harrisburg.


The plate on the far left is not a high, it's not even a good picture, but this Fire Fighter plate is within a few number of the current high of FF38686 as recorded by Tom Perri.  These are supposedly available as vanities which I'd like to see, since generally organizational vanities on the visitPA base use a flat screened logo and name.  PennDOT now calls these as Volunteer Fire Fighter plates, and shows the near left prototype image which appears to be a screened.


Here's the latest high Nazareth Area Chamber of Commerce plate.  The image was provided by Dale Bernecker.  These have been around for 10 years.



Brendan Sherry snapped these two West Virginia University plates.  The far left plate is a low number, on the www base with WVU Alumni Association as the legend, while the newer plate is on the visitPA base and closer to the current high of W/V01653 according to Tom Perri.


This is a new high NASCAR 14 Tony Stewart plate.  The picture was taken by Bruce Bufalini.  I'm not a NASACAR fan per se, but have always been a NASCAR plate enthusiast.  To this day there are still about 15 variations of NASCAR plates with no photos.  Most of these are where only 1 or 2 plates were issued but about 20 NASCAR 5 Terry Labonte plates were issued and never been photographed.  An then there are 8 or 9 plates that were never issued.


Bruce also snapped this Honoring Our Veterans 'THANKS TO YOU' vanity plate.  This is a Special Fund plate with the series being available since late 2012.







Added this Apportioned Bus sample plate image to the bus gallery.  In the early years of this plate, the number of plates issued was only into the hundreds, but in later years the number seems to have increased considerably with the current reported high of BN-03831, while the actual issued high is around BN-03980.  After BN-03999 is reached, the series is expected to jump ahead to BN-04200.  Why the jump in numbers?  Will they then be on the visitPA base?


This 100 year old 1916 Motorcycle plate and registration document were up for grabs on eBay by bigdon45 who gave me the OK to use the pictures.  The two-digit plate is rare enough, and quite a bit more so with the owner's card.  The plate measures 4" high by 6" in length.  The colors are black on orange.  Click the link above to also view a 3-digit, 4-digit and 5-digit plate for 1916.  There were some 21-thousand plates issued that year. 



I thought this Suburban plate would be my last to display.  It shows the characteristic Q in the fifth position.  Then John Willard provided me with the opportunity to photograph Suburban plates from the runs that were still needed.  With the three plates below, the gallery now has a plate from each of the eight Suburban combinations.  The last plate shown below with the Q4C-280 is the highest number known at the end of the Suburban series.  This particular run would have started at Q0A-000, with A being the final character to advance, and in this case advancing to C.

I will show some additional Suburban Press Photographer plates sometime in the future.








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Images and photos are always welcome.  Please send to:

John McDevitt, Walnutport, PA

ALPCA #4376