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A Little Plate History

Updated: May 9, 2022

Today’s post owes much to Dan P. Smith’s little publication, A Complete Guide for Idaho License Plates and DAV Tags. Dan is a license plate collector and authority on Idaho plates.

I’m revisiting this subject because one of my readers asked when Idaho began using the numeral/letter county designators on license plates. The answer is 1932. Those designators have appeared ever since on most plates, but do not appear on specialty and personalized plates.

I was surprised to learn that there were Idaho plates issued before the state issued them. That is, six cities issued automobile license plates in the early years, starting in 1910. They are extremely rare. Only 14 are known to exist. Some were made of porcelain and some of steel. Some were made of leather by the car owners themselves and featured metal numbers of aluminum or brass. Issuing cities were Boise, Hailey, Lewiston, Nampa, Payette, Twin Falls, and Weiser.

State of Idaho plates were sold beginning in 1913. Motorcycle plates came along in 1915.

Information is hard to come by for plates issued before 1950. In 1950, according to Dan’s book, Idaho Governor C.A. Robbins offered the job of state transportation director to the Gooding County Assessor. The man wasn’t interested in the job, but did agree to travel the state visiting all 44 counties on a consulting basis to determine the needs of each county. The trip was reportedly a success, with many best practices implemented. While the man was out of his temporary office, someone decided it would be a good idea to clean it. They disposed of all the piles of paper and boxes of old records that were cluttering up the place. Those records happened to be the historic records of Idaho license plates.

Early license plates that cost a few dollars can fetch a few thousand dollars today, if they’re rare.

I guess I collect plates a bit, myself. Those pictured are some of the personalized plates I’ve used over the years. I still use the bottom two.

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