The small piece of metal 6-by-12 inches located on each vehicle that roams the streets of the United States. License plates showcase an owner registering their personal vehicle with their state. But, license plates can hold a lot more meaning when it comes to collectors and a state’s history.
With cars increasingly becoming mass-produced and driven by all socio-economic backgrounds, European municipalities took concern on how to identify owners and vehicles for public safety reasons. So, France invented the first version of the license plate in 1893.
Other countries followed France’s example, like the Netherlands who enforced a national license plate in 1898.
The system of license plates in the United States started in 1901 New York when Governor Benjamin Odell Jr, signed a bill requiring all cars to be registered with the state. Once a citizen registered their vehicle the state presented them with a plate marked with their initials.
For Kansas, certain cities and counties followed the trend of registering motor vehicles around 1909 and the first version of Kansas’ license plates were made from porcelain.
According to a porcelain license plate collectors website, Kansas created 14 varieties of the license plates across the counties. At that time, counties would release their own license plates until the state took over.
An example of one porcelain plate came out of McPherson county. The first version of the plates was 7-by12 inches with a number in the 100s and McPherson on the bottom. Later the county decided to increase the size to over 8-by-14 inches. In the collectors’ world, the smaller McPherson plates are seen as a rare find for them.
Other counties, including Wakeeney, Ottawa, Dodge City, Garfield, Larned and Iola, sometimes used leather to create their license plates.
As license plates came required and created by the state instead of counties, all license plates started to share an uniform look, including the slogan placed on the bottom.
1929: Kansas embossed on the plate
1949 to 1959: The Wheat State embossed on the plate
1960 to 1961: Centennial 1961 to mark one hundred years of statehood
1965 to 1970: Midway, USA
1974 to 1975: Wheat Centennial
The biggest change of Kansas license plates came recently in 2018, Kansas switched from the traditional walking out of the tag office with a plate to waiting for the mail.
In August 2018, Kansas moved to digitally-producing license plates that would be mailed to residents’ homes. When the change happened, Kansas Department of Revenue public information officer Rachel Whitten explained to the Wichita Eagle that “they are confident that if people have the directions, they will be able to follow through with them.”
License Plates Now
For brand new license plates, many people follow the standard look given by the state of Kansas, but some individuals decided to show their personality through the plates.
Through the Kansas Department of Revenues, Kansans can decide to get distinctive license plates, which includes: personalized license, educational institution license, organization distinctive license, military distinctive license and others.
Kansas also offers the Kansas Antique Plates that displays the word Antique on the bottom of the plate. Unlike a regular plate, residents get a lifetime registration with antique plates with only a standard one-time $40 fee.
While people are still getting new plates every day, the old plates still exist in thrift stores, garages and online selling websites, like Ebay.
According to Ebay, one of the highest sold license plates from Kansas was a 1913 repainted first issue plate, which the buyer paid $166.50.
Another big sale, a Kansas City Art Bunker VW Volkswagen vintage plate for $598.00.
In the license plate collecting world, the most expensive plate is a 1921 Alaska auto license valued around $60,000, according to Forbes.
The high value is due to plates being released before Alaska attained statehood and very few editions are known to exist.
While not all plates create such high value, Judy Jones, owner of Countrypolitan, does still grab them everytime she goes to a flea market.
“I pick them cuz they’re popular with men at the shop and some women are starting to buy them too,” Jones said.
While Jones prices her plates to match the market, she has seen the more expensive and rare plates.
“Some real early ones came out and they were even leather and I’m sure this would be really high priced,” Jones said.