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Pennsylvania License Plate History & Images

John McDevitt, Walnutport, PA

ALPCA #4376

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Posting 2/17/2019

If the wheels in Harrisburg turn according to plan, the following two plates should be unveiled this coming week: Combat Wounded Veteran Motorcycle (Purple Heart), and Legion of Merit. The Legion of Merit is authorized for automobiles, or trucks with a GVW of not more than 14,000 lb.  These were authorized by Act 108.  No photos or prototypes yet.  Stay tuned.

 


Sad day.  This, and several legacy plates (far left), are being replaced by what you see on the near left.  PennDOT takes pride (really?) in announcing that the official plates issued to Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln Universities will be joining the 'family of plates'.  Once the changeover takes place, the new plates will be issued as singles.  The A45-28P photo is thanks to from Jordan Irazabal and Tom Perri.  Watch for more on the other plates next week.

 


Here is a pair of Autism Society of America plates.  The plate on the far left was recently acquired by Brandon Sowers and represents a high number before the changeover to the map outline.  The near left plate with the map was a street shot taken by Bruce Bufalini.

 


Every now and then a blank plate of the original series of Special Fund plates comes to the forefront.  So it is with this DARE plate which had not yet been given its debossed edge and sticker well.  The term DARE is short for Drug Abuse Resistance Education  Also not yet part of the plate are the embossed features including the serial number and state name.  DARE plates are very sought after by collectors.  Thanks to Devan Ciemiewicz for this photo. 

 


Here's an early Disabled Veteran plate.  I believe these DV plates date back to 1976, and have never been replaced.  So had this plate been registered over the years, it could still be on the street; however, this plate belonging to Tom Firth, has never been used.  Current issue is in the DV-37000 series.

 


Nothing all that remarkable about this Person with Disability plate, but noticed that I had no plate photos between 00009PD and 14808PD — quite a gap.  Thanks to Brendan Sherry for the photo.

 

 


Here's a well-preserved 1940 Motorbike plate.  These are very similar to Motorcycle plates of the time in terms of color, size and shape.  The main difference is the use of MB, as shown here, vs. MC for Motorcycle.  The other difference is the number of plates issued, with Motorcycle registrations far outnumbering Motorbikes.  Thanks to Lee Madigan for the use of this photo.

 


Here's a nice yellow on green 3-digit 1948 Motorboat License plate.  It measure 5⅛" by 11".  The 11-inch width started in 1947 to accommodate 5 character serial numbers.  Even 1, 2 and 3-digit plates used the 11 inches width.  The photo gallery now has examples of 3, 4 and 5-digit plates.  Plates were issued in pairs.  Thanks to Rob Baran for the use of this photo.

 


This is a pair of 1949 Motorboat License plates.  Like the plate above all measure 5⅛" by 11".  The 11-inch width, which started in 1947 would run through1949, after which the use of narrower dies in 1950 allowed the plates to be motorcycle size.  Thanks to eBay users rbq507 and mg00000 for the use of these photos.

 


During the years from 1920 to 1923, the word Commercial was added to truck plates as the identifying legend.  ALPCA member, Rob Baran, recently did a very informative article for the February 2019 issue of Plates Magazine entitled Pennsylvania Commercial Plates 1920-1923.  Rob put forth a great effort to research these plates and help remove much of the shroud of mystery.  The mystery comes about through the apparent lack of a weight classification system.  For those not familiar, the weight classes are identified by the first digit in the number, which equates to Classes 1 to 8.  Rob has kindly forwarded these 1923 Class 2, 4 and 5 images.  The generally held belief was that all plates were 6" by 16" in size regardless of the length of the serial number; however Rob has noted 2 sizes.  Most plates are 6"  by 16"; however, two plates, 56-188 (shown above) and another, actually measure 6"  by 15".  The 15-inch plates have the left side of the plate trimmed, and the beveled edge removed.  He also notes that the positioning of the holes and the slots are reversed on the short plates.  Check back next week for more on this series.  A big Thank You to Rob Baran.  (Sorry for the long read.)

 


As truck plates transitioned from 1923 to 1924, the word Commercial disappeared and the R through Z (except X) prefixes were established to identify weight classes.  These prefixes, and in some R-class plates as suffixes, were the best identifier of truck plates, since the word TRUCK did not appear on plates until 1934.  This 1924 R-Class Truck plate was provided by Jeff Hinkle.

 


Posting 2/10/2019

Did Passenger plates suddenly jump ahead to the L-series? The plate image on the far left was sent to me by Nathan Krawzyk wondering if it is a legitimate new high, and indicating that the plate appeared to have a keystone separator, not a dash.  What's strange is that recent reported highs have been in the KYJ-series, which makes this plate quite a leap ahead.  It would not be the first time a plate was issued out of sequence.  Turns out after doing a plate check, this appears to be a vanity.

 

 


Here's an eye-catching number 1 vanity version of a Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue plate.  Could be the serial number is a little off center?  Since the logo supposedly occupies a 3" by 3" canvas on the left, I'm not sure exactly where the center point would be.  This is the first plate of this series to be spotted without the sticker well, and without the small map.  It is unknown at this point how the current issue of the serial numbered plate is configured.  The recorded high still has a validation sticker.  Thanks to Tom Perri for the photo.

 


There are many tales of strange sightings, superstitions and curses surrounding the Gettysburg Battlefield.  This Gettysburg 1863 plate may be part of the mystique.  Bill Ceravola, who shares the photo, indicates that this is a recent issue.  As a new plate it does not have the sticker well, nor does it have the map outline.  These plates made their debut in 2014, and have been popular for personalization.  Serial numbered plates are currently around 00694G/B.

 


Here is a pair of Bronze Star plates.  Both now have the map outline.  The far left image is from Bruce Bufalini and actually dates back to June of 2018, the near left plate is a recent photograph from John Fedorchak, and is the current high.  The previous reported high with the sticker well was 00421B/Z.

 


Here is a personalized Honoring Our Veterans plate. These plates have been available since 2012. It is part of the Special Fund group of plates with the proceeds benefitting the Veterans Trust Fund. Personalized plates can have up to 5 characters with stacked H/V suffix, with a dash or space counting as a character. This photo is courtesy of Nick Tsilakis. The current high in the serial numbered plates is above 02500H/V. This plate is also available as a motorcycle tag.

 


They're still legal!  These We The People plates, sometimes referred to as Constitution plates, are all over thirty years old, and are the only yellow on blue plates that are still legal. They were issued only during a 3 month period in 1987 ending on December 31 of that year, with fewer than 5000 issued.  They commemorate the 200th anniversary of U.S. Constitution.  These plates have never been replaced by a newer design.  They may be considered PA's first optional plate.  The 9 plate is thanks to Nick Tsilakis, and the 3891 is thanks to Devan Ciemiewicz.

 


This is an image of a first generation U.S. Armed Forces Retired plate.  This plate type dates back to 1990, and were replaced on the www base around 10/17/2001.  The www plates were then discontinued by May of 2006; however, they are still eligible for renewal.  This photo is thanks to Devan Ciemiewicz.

 


Consular and Foreign Consul plates are very sought after by collectors. This one has the year 71 lightly etched in the upper left sticker box, along with a 72 sticker in the upper right, with the Bicentennial State slogan at the bottom.  They would have been used up through 1976.  This plate is in mint unused condition and was provided by Tom Firth.  The 1977 base came out next and had the words Foreign Consul spelled out on the plate.  Click the link above to see more.

 


This is a 1939 Format 2 Passenger plate.  Format 2 plates consisted of the series from A100 to Z9999.  So both 4 and 5 character plates were used, and as a result both 6 inch by 10 inch and 6 inch by 12 inch sizes were used.  This image came from eBay user Bonner397.

 

 


Here is a 1940 Format 2 Passenger plate.  Aside from the color reversal, the formatting of this plate is similar to the '39 plate above in that it is also from the series A100 to Z9999; however, this one is four characters instead of five.  The shorter serial also allows for the 6 inch by 10 inch size.  Thanks to eBay user Wonderplumber.

 


Here is a pair of 1946 U-Weight Class Truck plates.  Class U plates used four serial progressions, including U000A, U00A0, U0A00 and U00AA.  All truck plates were 5 character, and measured 6 inch by 11 inch size.  Thanks to from eBay user Geeseautopa and Pl8source for the use of the photos.

 


Posting 2/3/2019

This new high Apportioned Truck street shot from Preston Turner is being posted only one week after posting AG-80391.  Preston also spotted AG-82802 a week earlier but was not able to get a photo.  The plate check tool indicates a high of AG-83287.  In looking at the numbers, between June of 2018 and February of 2019, an 8-month period, about 10,000 plates were issued.  The AG series would be expected to run out of numbers during 2020.  Next series AH?

 

 


Here's an eye-catching photo of a personalized Fraternal Order of Police plate.  As an organizational plate program, it dates back to 1987.  Plate check shows the current high being a few plates shy of 22000.  There was a small number of these plates without the sticker well, current issue plates now have the small map.

 


Here's a recent photo of a nice 32 Masonic Learning Centers for Children from Tim Gierschick.  These plates have been around since 2007, with the current high of 00081L/C according to Tom Perri's PA Plates website. 

 

 


Here's the latest high number Villanova University plate thanks to Jordan Irazabal.  Plate 00486V/U was spotted back in May of 2018 with the the map outline.  It may be worth mentioning that there was an earlier plate called Villanova University Alumni Assoc. with the V/U on the left of the serial number.  It appears that the earlier style was discontinued when the graphic style shown here was introduced in mid-2006.

 


I went to the state capital on inauguration day, not to take part in the political festivities, but hoping to score some new plate photos.  Unfortunately I did not see any political types with the map outline but did get this State Senator #3 plate with the wide-spacing between the district number and the PA symbol.  The other plate shows the PA symbol first, then standard spacing between the plate characters. 

 


This is a personalized U.S. Coast Guard Veteran from Nick Tsilakis.  Could it mean Chief Warrant Officer 4?  In addition to USCG Veteran plates, there are also USCG Active Duty, USCG Auxilliary, and USCG Reserve.  The last two are organizational plates.  Am I missing any?  Still need a photo of an Active Duty type.

 


Pennsylvania has issued special event plates over the years for a variety of activities.  The earliest that I am aware of were Governor's inaugural plates issued every 4 years since 1963 up through 2015; however, after the 1999 issue they were no longer issued by the state.  Golf tournaments have also been a popular venue for such plates.  The plate shown here, courtesy of Todd Mickinak, is the earliest known golf tournament plate.  Such plate were permitted to be displayed for a brief period around the time of the event for state issued plates.  Plates not sanctioned by the state would generally be considered souvenirs, and not intended for display on the rear of the vehicle.  There were also many official and non-official front plates.  Some have been used to identify the vehicle as being official, while others can be described as booster plates or even novelty plates.

 


Here's a very nice example of a first generation 3-digit Antique Historic Car plate from Devan Ciemiewicz.  This series is believed to have started in 1954, with this plate issued around 1956.  Despite its age, many of these plates are still in use today, and to many enthusiasts, are more popular than today's version.  The series started with the number 1 and progressed to 9999 before switching to various alpha-numeric combinations.

 


Here is a Berks County Civil Defense plate from Devan Ciemiewicz.  These unique plates were issued during the cold war years of the 1950s and 60s.  There were blue on yellow steel plates, then yellow on blue aluminum plates as shown here.  Plates were issued by the State Office of Civil Defense, today known as the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency or PEMA, and were distributed by PA's 67 counties.  Plates were front mounted on vehicles, and were given to those who had a role in civil defense.  Plates measure 4" by 9". The first part of the plate number represents the County code, the second part is the plate serial number, all are undated.

 


The 1931 Governor's plate on the far left was recently auctioned on eBay.  The embossed center area is sometimes described as a raised loaf.  Some earlier plates displayed a state coat of arms in this area.  Thanks to eBay user Fairbrozz59 for the use of this photo.  It has been suggested that this plate would have been displayed on the front of the vehicle, while the near left #1 plate (previously posted) would have been mounted on the rear.  That plate was courtesy of the License Plate King Company.

 


Posting 1/27/2019

This Apportioned Truck traffic shot is not pretty, but it is a new high number.  It may seem hard to believe but this plate series started at AA back in 1982 on the blue on yellow base.  Later the series went to AB, AC was skipped, AD was yellow on blue, AE was on the www base, AF and AG on the visitPA base.  Finally there was a run of plates without the sticker well, and the most recent plates have the small map as shown here.  Click to see their history.

 


Here's a recent photo of a Colonial Park Fire Company#1, a suburb east of Harrisburg.  Their plate program dates back to 2009.  According to Tom Perri's PA Plates website, the current high is 20019C/P.

 

 


Here's a perfect image of a hot-off-the-plate-press Franklin and Marshall College tag.  The previous high was 00155F/M which had a 2-12 sticker, which suggests to me that the map was added closer to the 00172F/M.  This plate program dates back to 2006.  Thanks to Jonathan Ortmann for the plate photo, with a little help from Jordan Irazabal.   

 


Here's a new high in the Municipal Government series.  As you may recall these plates were originally yellow on blue, then went blue on white in 1977, then white on blue from '84 until early 2017 when this latest format made its debut.  The current series started at M/G9000J.  Thanks to Bill Houser for the plate photo.

 


Here's a recent issue Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran plate, now with the map outline.  The Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom plates date back to 2005. This photo is courtesy of Ian Emmett.  The plate says Jar Head.  Ian also had a plate with DVLDG for Devil Dog.  I do like these U.S. Marine-themed plates.

 


The two plates on the far left are the first images of non-commercial PA Turnpike Official Use plates.  The term non-commercial refers to passenger type vehicles.  The photo on the near left was previously taken by John Clark.  Note that the serial formatting is reversed, as this plate version is for use on commercial type vehicles or trucks.  Other state agencies have the option of having their own plate but so far only PennDOT and the PA Turnpike have gone in that direction.

 


This Taxi plate is another new high; however, it still retains the sticker well.  Research suggests that the next batch of Taxi plates will start at TX-52000, and will at least eliminate the sticker box.   Taxi plates date back to 1977 and were blue on yellow with a starting serial number of TX-10000 or TX10001.  Prior to this, Taxis were issued Bus plates.  Click to see Taxi history.

 


This is a 1942 Format 5 Passenger shorty.  This series included the progression of 000A to 999Z, with all plates in that range being 4 characters, the plates measured 6 inches by 10 inches.  Five character 1942 plates were 6 inches by 12 inches.  This photo was made available by eBay user nickelsndiamonds1013.

 


Here's a beautiful 1954 Format 15 Passenger plate.  I can't provide a full description of these plates other than plates with fewer than 4 characters are considered non-standard issue.  My thought is that these plates were the predecessor to vanity plates.  Formatting could be 3 numbers, 2 letters and 1 number or 1 letter and 2 numbers as shown here.  Plates were 6" x 10".  Thanks to Jonathan Ortmann for the use of this photo.

 


This is a 1948 Format 5 Trailer plate.  That year included the following serial progressions: 0001 to 9999, A000 to Z999, 0A00 to 9Z99, 00A0 to 99Z9, 000A to 999Z, with this plate being a part of the last group.  All plates measured 6 inches by 11 inches.  Thanks to eBay user Willy-K for the use of the plate photo.

 


Posting 1/20/2019

Here's the latest high number Person with Disability plate.  These plates have had the small map outline since 72000PD.  The PD suffix is a part of the registration number, as were the HP plates in the past. This plate photo is thanks to Bruce Bufalini.

 

 


Here's the first image of a personalized 82nd Airborne Division Association plate.  This plate program dates back to 2007, and is considered an organizational plate rather than a military or veterans' plate.  Thanks to Tim Gierschick for providing the photograph.

 

 


This is the second image of a Gwynedd-Mercy University plate with the newer logo.  On the previous plate photo, the tag legend was covered by the frame.  Now we see that the earlier name Gwynedd-Mercy College has been changed to Gwynedd-Mercy University.  The number would suggest that this plate replaced the previous issue.  Thanks to Tom Perri for the image.

 


Here is a Rutgers University sample plate.  The Rutgers plate program dates back to 2011.  Samples of current type plates are not easy to come by, but they are still sought after by some collectors.  Some years back the state used to market samples of almost every type, then they choose to discontinue the practice.  Today a few samples are produced for each organizational plate at the start of the plate program.  These are intended for the organization to use as they see fit.  Thanks to Paul Bagnarol for sharing this plate photo.

 


West Virginia Alumni Association plate W/V01715 was recently spotted by Bruce Bufalini.  It was a new high, and Bruce reports that it now has the map outline.  Plate W/V01653 still has the sticker well.  These is no way to pinpoint at what number the change took place.  Photo not available.

 


This is a recent photo of a Severely Disabled Veteran plate that still has the sticker well.  Previously posted plate D/V95738 does not have the sticker well.  After looking at an old inventory sheet, it appears that the removal of the sticker well took place at D/V95700.  Thanks to Tom Perri for the plate photo.

 


Here is a very well preserved 105 year old 1914 Porcelain Dealer plate.  In addition it is an X+3 digit format.  The series that year began at X1 and ran to X3367 according to DMV records.  Four different plates lengths were used that year.  Thanks to eBay user Pars1-2 for the use of this image. 

 


These 1960 and 1961 Motorboat plates are the final chapter of this series that was part of John Willard's display at the Valley Forge ALPCA Convention.  The serial numbers of these numeric plates could have 1 to 5 digits making 1, 2 or 3-digit plates very desirable.  Note some similarities between the '61 MB plate and Motorcycle plates of the time.

 


These are both 1933 Format 3 Passenger plates.  Format 3 includes the series progression of 0A to 9Z999.  Plates with 4-character would be a tougher find than those with 5 characters.  Note that while these are both 1933 plates the legends are reversed.  PENNA 1933 is the correct legend, while the transposed legend on the 1B612 plate is considered an error, of which a sizeable number were produced.  4-character plates measured 6" by 10", while the 5-character plates measured 6" by 12".  Thanks to eBay user Hildenbrandmilitaria for the 1V10 plate photo, and America on Wheels for the other.

 


Next is this 1950 Format 4 Passenger plate.  This format consists of plates from10A0 to 99Z99.  All passenger plates for 1951 were 6 inches by 11 inches in size for both 4 and 5-character plates.  This plate is courtesy of eBay user Jeopardyboy1.  Anyone have a 1950 Sample?

 

 


This is a 1924 Class T Weight Class Truck plate.  The Class T series went from T1 to at least as high as the plate shown here.  This plate marks a new class high.  1924 was the first year for truck plates to use the R through Z prefix system to designate weight classes.  X was reserved for Dealer plates.  This plate measures 6 inches by 12 inches.  There were also 10 inch plates, and 15 inch (R & S only) plates depending on the number of characters.  Thanks to eBay user tw19670 for the use of this plate photo.

 


Here is a 1937 Class T Weight Class Truck plate.  Class T used 3 serial progressions that year including T000A, T00A0 and T0A00 of which the plate shown here is part of the first group.  All Class T plates had 5 characters and measured 6 inches by 12 inches; however, the R and S classes had some 6-character overflow plates that measured 6 inches by 15 inches.  This photo is thanks to eBay user centipede16.

 


 

 

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Images and photos are always welcome.  Please send to:

John McDevitt, Walnutport, PA

ALPCA #4376

 

 

 

 

 

                  

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