Some people collect stamps, others collect coins, but for about 3,000 members in America, they are die hard license plate collectors. The 54th annual meeting was held in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the Salt Palace, where they displayed over 1,000,000 license plates.
The Automobile License Plate Collectors Association, or ALPCA, was founded in 1958. They're the largest license plate collector organization in the world. Members are found in over 19 countries. The ALPCA is "dedicated to the promotion of license plate collecting and research, the exchange of information and plates, as well as all fraternal benefits of sharing a common hobby interest with others throughout the world." (ALPCA) One collector, Craig O'Brien, has License plates that are as old as 1912. California has required license plates on motor vehicles since 1905. New York since 1901. But license plates have basically been around since the transition from horse and buggy to car.
168 plates by 1899
"License plates have been around almost as long as automobiles, appearing in the earliest period of the transition from the horse, 1890 to 1910. The Netherlands were the first to introduce a national license plate, first called a "driving permit", in 1898. The first licenses were simply plates with a number, starting at 1. By August 8th of 1899 the counter was at 168." (Wikipedia)
UTAH - THIS IS THE PLACE Region of ALPCA, is the regional name to Utah's chapter. Utah is said to have one of the most active and avid collector's group, sporting just over 100 members. The last time the annual convention was held in Utah was 36 years ago in 1972. Utah has seen some interesting new license plates, from 2002 Olympic license plates, to new takes on the Arches, and snow/ski plates. This is possibly why the regional club has seen so much success, however, collectors are more likely interested in an all 50 state collection.
Complete one-of-a-kind Utah license plate collection
After attending the convention myself I got to take a peak at some of the rare collections. Among the most famous is Allan Aitken's complete collection of Utah's license plates from 1919 to 2008. I also learned from John Clark that the organization had the leading roll in creating Utah's 2008 license plate. It replaces two Utah license plates, one for the north, and one for the south. Putting together both the red hieroglyphs and skiing together on one plate.
Fragile and Impractical
Imagine the earliest license plates as fragile porcelain. Yes, that's right, porcelain. They'd bake it onto iron, or possibly even more fragile, simply use ceramic with no backing. This is possibly why there aren't many, if any at all, license plates from the early era. Standardized plates were not even issued until a year before the organization's creation, in 1957. By then they figured out to drill the license plates on to the bumper.
License plate sizes
- 12 by 6 inches (300 mm by 150 mm) - Used in the majority of the Americas.
- 20.5 by 4.5 inches (520 mm by either 110 or 120 mm) - Used in the bulk of the European countries and many of their former overseas territories.
- 14.5 by 5.3 inches (372 mm by 135 mm) - Used in Australia and some other Pacific Rim countries, about halfway between the dimensions of the other two standards, longer than Western Hemisphere plates but taller than European ones.
Not just an old geezer collector's item
Collecting license plates is apparently not just for old men. Membership dues suggest they're interested in the younger crowd too. You can even pay with PayPal! $42.00 for a first class membership annual due for adults, while only $19.00 for youth under the age of 18. This is very similar to the costs to register in the USCF or U.S. Chess Federation, who are also avidly trying to recruit the younger crowd. It seems to be a trend for most organizations who stereotypically speaking, you might think only old geezers enjoy.
Their magazine also features a picture of a boy holding up a futuristic plate. PLATES Magazine is the ALPCA's published magazine. Six times a year a 68 page magazine is shipped out to all the members. 58 pages for license plate history, current news, member profiles, a calendar of events, and convention coverage. 10 pages of classified ads for traders to buy and sell.
- Associazione - Italiana Studio Targhe Automobilistiche License plate club in Italy
- De Nummerplaat - License plate club in the Netherlands
- Europlate - A license plate collectors' club based in Europe; a number of ALPCA members are also members of Europlate. This site features info on their two books: Registration Plates of the World, and Interpol Guide to Vehicle Registration Plates.
- Francoplaque - A great site featuring not only license plates of France, but of the whole world. Lots of interesting color images. Aussi disponible en Français. Francoplaque produces an excellent CD-ROM which is also the source of most of its funds.
- NPCC - Number Plate Collectors' Club is based in Australia.
For membership meeting times and places in an area near you, go here. Meetings are typically not open to the public, however.