Don’t Discard Old License Plates

This 1936 Arizona Maricopa County license plate sold at auction for $85. Photo credit: Jimmy Garcia/EJ’s Auction & Appraisal.

Recently, I saw a story about digital license plates, which are now available in Arizona. The technology is very impressive – the plates will actually flash “Stolen” if the vehicle is taken. You can use an app on your phone to renew registration, and in the future, these digital plates may have the ability to act as a virtual wallet, allowing drivers to pay for freeway tolls, parking meters and other expenses.

The story was timely for us, especially since one of our consignors had a huge collection of antique and vintage license plates. The collection was so big, we’ve been auctioning the license plates during our specialty auctions.

You’d be surprised at how many people collect old license plates. Here in the United States, the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association serves as a credible organization for hobbyists who want to network and learn more.

Some U.S. license plates date back more than 100 years, and it’s fascinating to see their designs. In fact, there was a time when each state would produce and distribute new license plates each year, rather than provide registration validation stickers.

The good news is that there is no shortage of U.S. license plates, and there are all types of collections. Some people collect passenger plates from a particular state while others may prefer to collect truck, motorcycle, military, first responder or state government plates. Add in vanity plates and specialty plates for different clubs, universities and other organizations, and there are hundreds of designs to choose from.

It’s also common to see people collect ‘runs’ by state, year, and type. During our 2019 New Year’s Day auction, we sold a collection of 1937 Arizona license plates from every state county for $1,600.

This 1935 Manila Philippine Island sample license plate recently sold at auction for $275.
Photo credit: Jimmy Garcia/EJ's Auction & Appraisal.

Like any collectible, the value of a license plate can be affected by many factors, including where the license plate is from, its age, the material it is made of, its condition, and scarcity. Some foreign plates, for example, tend to be more valuable when they come from a country that is strict about controlling old and current license plates.

The secondary market is a great place to search for license plates. Some of the highlights of our last auction included a 1935 Manila Philippine Island sample license plate that sold for $275, a 1911 New Jersey porcelain license plate that realized $110, and a 1936 Arizona Maricopa County license plate that sold for $85.

Technology has definitely added a new twist to collecting license plates. If you can believe, a California vanity MM license plate is valued at $24.3 million. According to DuPont Registry, there are only 12 other examples of plates containing two repeating characters. And it’s the first license plate in the world to be paired with a Non-Fungible Token (NFT).

Collecting license plates can be a lot of fun. Just remember to do your research regarding value and check with seasoned collectors and other experts if you need guidance.

Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale. Contact him at or 623-878-2003.


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