What Are Vintage Plates?

If you are a classic car enthusiast, you may have encountered a few antique license plates in your time. Antique license plates have many collectors after them but antique license plates, also known as collector, classic, vintage, or historic plates, are not just things that are considered valuable, but there are a number of stipulations a license plate must fulfill to be considered a vintage or antique license plate. Let’s show you a little history of how license plates came to be, and what you need to know if you want an antique or vintage plate.

A Brief History of License Plates in the US

The road to official license plates began at the turn of the twentieth century. As newspapers started reporting on injuries caused by dangerous motorists, city and state governments began to implement more rules and regulations to ensure compliance, which is where license plates came to be.

New York became the first state to require license plates, and the initial license plates were made from different materials, for example, leather or wood, and were allowed to be fashioned by the owners themselves. As governments and states began to enforce license plates, the materials changed, with the first license plates made of porcelain, which remained popular up until 1916, when most states had switched to embossed metal.

World War II caused a decrease in the production of license plates, but after the war reflective license plates became popular by the end of the 40s, and by the 1960s and 70s reflective sheeting became the norm.

What Makes a License Plate Vintage?

The simple answer is its Age.

As a general rule, a license plate is considered to be vintage if it is over 25 years old and has not been issued. Many people purchase license plates and go to register their plates as antiques, which is the same process as when you register a motor vehicle, but you would also need to fill out a special registration form that stipulates what type of plate you would place on your car.

The state will usually tell you where the vehicle is from and will assign you the appropriate license plate. For example, in the state of New York, you receive plate dates for the year the car was made. States will make the decision as to what they think is a historic or antique vehicle but there are states that will give antique plates to cars as young as 20 years old. Generally, 25 years is the standard, but it completely depends on the location.

If the Car is a Collector's Item

You can purchase antique license plates but an antique car can only obtain one if the vehicle is declared as an antique. This means the motorist is agreeing to the fact that the vehicle is only being used for display purposes and a few other stipulations.

Do antique plates have value?

Any collectible item will have a perceived value, depending on any number of variables. In terms of old license plates, the car has to be classed as antique, but if the license plate is perceived to have value by itself, this can also be beneficial to antique license plate collectors. Here are a few things to consider:

  • The date it was manufactured.
  • The total number of plates made.
  • The physical condition of the plates.
  • If any plates remain.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Vintage Plate

Does It Qualify?

When you are purchasing a vintage plate, the first thing you need to do is make sure your car qualifies. You need to ensure it is old enough to fit the criteria in your local state, but you also need to look at the restrictions that come with the plates. If you are in Florida, a vehicle needs to be at least 30 years old to be considered antique or historic.

What Are the State Rules?

Once you have registered the plate, you have to understand the state regulations for having them on your vehicle. If you do not follow the rules and regulations of the state to the letter, you could end up with tickets or fines. If you move to a new state with antique plates, it is essential to understand the local regulations, even if you already have antique plates on your vehicle.

Depending on the state, you may have very specific limitations on what you can do with your car, for example, you may only be able to drive the vehicle in certain ways, such as to and from a garage, to an auction, for a test drive, or to car club functions.

For example, in the state of Virginia, you can drive up to 250 miles away from your home, but in Tennessee, it can only be used for general transportation on the weekends with no limits on how long you drive, and Vermont allows you to transport passengers or cargo only one day a week. The rules can seem complex, but it is important for you to follow them so you don't end up paying more for your prized antique plate in the form of fines.

How Old Do You Need To Be?

If you are purchasing vintage license plates for a vehicle, you would need to check state rules for the minimum age of the driver, as in some states, you need to be older than 25. However if you are just collecting an antique license plate there is no age restriction

How Long is a Plate Going to Be Antique?

This will depend on the state. The average number of years an antique license plate is considered vintage or antique is usually 5 years, but, depending on the state, some are valid for up to 10 years.

How Valuable Are Vintage License Plates?

There can be a number of different answers to this question. Antique license plates can have monetary value but many people make extra money by acquiring old license plates. There are people online searching for entire collections of valuable license plates, but there are others who out vintage plates as a hobby.

There are incredibly valuable vintage plates, including one valued at a staggering $20 million, but vintage license plates hold a special place in the hearts of many motorists as it takes them back to a moment in time when there were fewer cars on the road and things were simpler.

As you can see, a vintage license plate can come with many interesting rules, so if you are looking for great vintage plates for either your classic vehicle or you are looking to start a wonderful collection of Americana, you can check out our vast selection.