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License Plate Gallery

A Plate Collector's Biography

[Wisconsin license plate]

Automobile license plates have fascinated me all my life. How did it all begin, though?

Growing up in West Virginia, I was fascinated by anything with bright colors, distinctive shapes, and simple words or phrases from the moment I could walk and talk. Early childhood strolls around the neighborhood were invariably occupied by myself pointing out to my patient parents all the road signs and car models in sight, so license plates were only a natural progression from that.

My very first plate was a yellow Wisconsin issue of the '80s; number FD 8864, although to be honest I have no recollection of how it came into my possession. It's not in great shape (aluminum bends easily in the hands of a four-year-old) but I still have it today, and it certainly had its part in setting the ball rolling towards license plate appreciation as a hobby.

[License Plate Book]

A few years later, I discovered a copy of Thomson Murray's License Plate Book while rummaging around in the map pocket of my grandfather's van. From that moment, the cat was securely out of the bag: I must have spent hours poring through that book for pictures and information. I got a copy of my own new 1992 edition as a Christmas present the following winter, and it occupied a revered place on my bookshelf for several years later, minor inaccuracies notwithstanding.

One specific subset of matter that engrossed myself were license plate stickers and the colors thereof. One day when I was barely less than four years old, I looked on with great interest as my father walked around to the back of the family car holding a paper card. He then peeled a black-and-orange sticker from the card, and covered the omnipresent "89" designation in the corner of our West Virginia license plate with a brand-new "90."

[WV 1989 sticker]

This pressed upon the curious tendencies of my childhood mind. "If there's a yellow '89' underneath the orange '90,' I reasoned, "what is under the yellow '89?'" As a consequence, I immediately ventured to find out for myself, peeling the new validation sticker off as a logical first step. [WV 1990 sticker] Unfortunately for me the sticker was too reluctant to come off in one piece, and too stubborn to piece back together neatly after the fact. I gave up on the venture altogether before I had found out anything, and got quite a bit of scolding after the fact for my trouble. My curiosity remained strong, however, and I eventually determined what the West Virginia sticker colors back to 1984 were thanks to spotting overlapping sticker stacks and the errant expired tag on parked cars.

[My well-worn copy of License Plates of the World]

During a vacation trip to Manitowoc, Wisconsin one summer in 1995, I came across yet another book (at the public library, as the case may be) that truly made my day: License Plates of the United States: A Pictoral History, 1903 to the Present by collector (and James Gang rock drummer) Jim Fox. That book practically made my jaw drop when I opened the cover: It contained photographs of license plates from every state back to the age of the horseless carriage! It contained more information on an infrequently-expounded subject than I ever dreamed of knowing before. And yes, it did contain information on the colors of West Virginia validation stickers prior to 1984! Of course, I had to get a copy of my own after that.

Immediately thereafter, I discovered the web. I pulled up one of the Netscape 1.0-equipped machines at the local college library one day, and did a search query for "license plates" to see what sort of thing would pop onto the screen. The only websites I came across at the time devoted to the subject were Michael Kustermann's (which was actually navigable back then) and a few foreign sites, but I felt engrossed in information nevertheless.

[Wisconsin license plate number JCW 2]

A lot of other noteworthy license plate websites popped up along the way after that: Jon Upton's Back Bumper and Royce Williams' Alaskan License Plates, to name but a few. My collection itself grew dramatically during my middle-school years, going from exactly three plates in 1995 (Wisconsin, Michigan, and one off the family car) to nearly thirty, thanks in no small part at the time to donations from sympathetic friends and relatives.

The physical acquisitions tapered off when I was in high school and my interest in the matter itself waned and waxed, but it generally remained strong. This remained the case at the time I entered college in 2003, although I never failed to find new points of interest: Detail variations, technical information, and the general historical context of registration history helped to tickle my enthusiasm in more ways than ever before. I started fine-tuning my collecting interests, and finally carved out a section of my personal website devoted to the hobby.

[U.S. Forces in Germany license plate number PE-1246]

I learned about and became interested in ALPCA—a real-life club of people that collected license plates—when thumbing through the back pages of the License Plate Book over a decade earlier. After mentally weighing the pros and cons of joining such an organization for quite a few years, I finally took the plunge, and in December 2005 was inducted into the club as member 10240. I attended my first convention in Huntsville, Alabama two summers later, where I was privileged to meet and converse with many other collectors from nationwide and abroad. I've enjoyed attending collectors' meets, improving my collection, and learning new and exciting facets of information ever since!

License plates merely make up one of many hobbies and eccentricities I have in my life, and they don't overrun it: Computers, art, music, and other interests are equally important, as the varied subject matter of my website would attest. Still: They're fun!

Andrew at a meet

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Last update September 28, 2014.