How much are my vintage or collectible license plates worth?

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Mearto Specialist:


Delia has nearly 30 years of experience at regional and international auction houses in the United States, and is also currently the editor of an art and antiques trade publication that tracks market trends, auctions and antiques shows. Delia is a generalist in glass, ceramics, silver and other metals, fine art, textiles, antiquities, wines and spirits, stamps and currency, collectibles and dolls and toys. Additionally, she is a specialist in 15th to 21st Century furniture from around the world. Her extensive professional network of appraisers, curators, dealers and collectors has proven to be an invaluable resource in her work for Mearto.

Have you recently inherited or purchased a vintage or collectible license plate and want to know its value? Mearto provides quick and affordable online appraisals of license plates. All you have to do is click on the “Start Appraisal” button above and follow the steps to send us information about and images of your license plate. One of our qualified and experienced specialists will review and get back to you with a fair market and insurance value, typically within 48 hours.

Have questions about the valuation provided, or would you like some advice about selling your license plate? We are here to help! Our platform allows you to chat back and forth with a specialist to ensure that all of your questions are answered.

When were license plates first introduced?

The history of the license plate can be traced back to the late 1800s when the first automobiles began to appear on public roads. As more vehicles hit the roads, concerns arose about how to identify them and hold their owners accountable for any violations or accidents.

The first license plates were simple metal plates with sequential numbers issued by individual states. New York was the first state to require drivers to register their vehicles and display "the separate initials of the owner’s name placed upon the back thereof in a conspicuous place, the letters forming such initials to be at least three inches in height." Massachusetts was the first state to issue license plates in 1903, followed by Pennsylvania in 1906. By the 1920s, every state in the US had some form of license plate requirement.

Over time, license plates evolved to include more information, such as the state name and a combination of letters and numbers to identify individual vehicles. In the 1950s and 60s, some states began to use slogans or images on their plates to promote tourism or celebrate local industries.

Today, license plates serve as a means of identifying vehicles, ensuring they are properly registered and insured, and helping law enforcement enforce traffic laws and identify stolen vehicles. Additionally, license plates have become a popular collectible item and can be used for practical purposes such as decorating a garage or car showroom or as unique wall art in a home or office.

What are the different categories of collectible license plates?

Several categories of collectible license plates appeal to collectors due to their unique characteristics. Some common categories include:

  • Antique License Plates: Typically defined as plates at least 25 years old, these plates are sought after for their rarity and historical significance.
  • Vintage License Plates: Ranging from the 1930s to the 1960s, these plates feature unique designs and colors, making them popular with collectors.
  • Special Interest License Plates: Issued for specific purposes such as commemorating events, promoting causes, or supporting organizations, these plates are highly collectible due to their limited availability and unique designs.
  • Vanity License Plates: Customized with personalized messages chosen by the owner, these plates are sought after for their uniqueness and personal touch.
  • Foreign License Plates: These plates are collectible due to their rarity and unique designs, offering insights into the history and culture of different countries.
  • Sample License Plates: DMV-issued plates to demonstrate designs and formats, prized for their limited availability and unique designs.
  • Error License Plates: Plates issued with mistakes like misspellings or incorrect colors, highly collectible due to their rarity and uniqueness.

What was the most expensive collectible license plate ever sold to date?

Different from government-issued plates that can sell for millions, collectible license plates are often sold at specialized automotive auctions and can go for tens of thousands of dollars based on rarity, condition, age, and historical significance. Some examples include:

  • 1921 Alaska license plate - $67,500 (sold in 2013)
  • 1928 Massachusetts license plate - $43,000 (sold in 2018)
  • 1911 Montana license plate - $41,000 (sold in 2014)
  • 1914 Pennsylvania license plate - $37,000 (sold in 2011)
  • 1930 Ontario license plate - $35,000 (sold in 2012)

What factors determine the value of a vintage or collectible license plate?

Several factors affect the value of collectible license plates:

  • Rarity: Plates produced in limited quantities or with unique designs are more desirable and valuable.
  • Age: Older plates are typically more valuable, as they are harder to find and hold more historical significance.
  • Condition: Plates in excellent condition without rust or damage are worth more than those with imperfections.
  • Historical Significance: Plates associated with significant events or figures may have higher value and demand.

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I received a response and information regarding my items in less than 48 hours, which I appreciated. The appraiser was very knowledgable.

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