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Presidential Inaugural License Plates a Tough Collection to Fill

by Andy Bernstein (10/06/08).

he very first presidential inaugural license plates were issued by the District of Columbia on March 4, 1933 to commemorate what would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inauguration.

Presidential Inaugural license plates have always been highly sought after by both political collectors and license plate enthusiasts. But be warned: if trying to complete this specific collection, it’s going to be hard, as filling an entire series of inaugural plates is one of the most challenging endeavors of the license plate hobby

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The very first presidential inaugural license plates were issued by the District of Columbia on March 4, 1933 to commemorate what would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inauguration. Since then, these special license plates have been issued for each inauguration with the exception of 1945, when an effort to conserve metal due to World War II was in effect.

These colorful plates—always in a red, white and blue theme—were to be issued in lieu of regular registration plates during a three month period and valid from January 1 through the last day of March. A key element when focusing on the collectability of these unique plates is the actual number on the plate and the individual to whom it was assigned. By tradition, the number 1 plate is reserved for the president of the United States and the number 2 plate is reserved for the vice president. All other single-digit and double-digit plates are normally issued to VIPs, senators or legislators.

In 1933 there were approximately 500 pairs of these plates issued. These first-issue inaugurals generally bring between $5,000 and $7,000 each if in very good condition. In 1937 and 1941, there were about 1,000 pairs issued. A 1937 plate in very good condition would be worth $1,500-$2,500, while a nice 1941 would be worth about $700-$1,000. Nearly 2,000 pairs were issued in 1949, about 3,000 in 1953, and some 4,500 pairs in 1957.

The small quantity of presidential inaugural plates for the early years has added significantly to the intrinsic value of a presidential inaugural license plate collection. Most experienced collectors will undoubtedly agree that the first two inaugural plates, 1933 and 1937, are the toughest to find.

An interesting note in the design of both the 1953 and 1957 plates are the two oval portraits of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. The photos are actual decals that were affixed to the plates during manufacturing. It should be noted that in comparing the photos of both presidents in the 1953 and 1957 plates that both men are smiling in the 1953 photos but appear much more serious in the 1957 photos. Both of these style inaugural plates would generally be worth between $175 and $250 each if in very good condition.

All inaugural license plates from 1933 to 1957 were made of steel with embossed numbers and letters. The 1961 and 1965 plates were made of flat aluminum and were fully silk-screened with printed numbers.

In 1969, inaugural committee staff members were issued plates with a “B” prefix and in 1973 used an “S” prefix. In 1973, White House staff members used plates with a “WH” designation.

Andy Bernstein is a Worthologist who specializes in license plates.

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41 Responses to “Presidential Inaugural License Plates a Tough Collection to Fill”

  1. Mary Brenneman says:

    these are really cool!

  2. Sarah says:

    Do you know where to get Obama inaugural plates? My dad has had them for thirty years now, except for the bush jr ones, and I would love to get him the obama ones…any ideas? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Sarah

  3. Al Gambino says:

    Good luck. During the last Presidential celebration, for the first time in history, the District of Columbia government refused to authorize the committee issuance of the license plates. Citing “illegality”, the highly Democrat-run district government, in a thinly veiled attempt to rebuke the Republican President, refused to authorize the issue. Though issued since 1933, for both Democrat and Republican Presidents alike, the current obstructionist district leadership made an absurd decision that they are “illegal”. I just checked the official Obama website and they are not listed. Though I am slightly surprised, apparently even the district government recognized that bias would be a little too obvious if they issued them for President Obama. Or, perhaps due to ignorance, the current district “leaders” are too foolish to attempt to challenge a previous administrative decision. After all, the plates are sold at a premium and help raise money for the celebration. I predict that private vendors will create non-official “license plates” for collectors. However, I haven’t found them yet. I bought two issues previously distributed for two Presidents and produly (and legally) displayed them on my car — a rarity because I never ever saw them on a car outside Washington, DC.

    • The Kurtster says:

      Or, they are just illegal.

      I know I got a ticket for using them when I lived in Texas even though I had a form saying I could use them for 90 days following the 1996 Clinton inaugural.

  4. George A. Sperry IV says:

    Please, if anyone knows about any license plates and if they are to be issued, let me and others know. I like to order a pair each time, and then put them on my car and save them for my children. Thanks so much! Sincerely, George

  5. MICK CHOPPER says:

    Spoke with someone in Washington DC. It seems there is some infighting within the DC Council. They are claiming some law or rule prevents them form issuing Presidental plates. They are aware that this long standing procedure has existed since FDR but don’t seem to care. This is a fine example of fools running the store. It’s just one more event that is destroying this county.

  6. Andy Bernstein Andy says:

    While it is true that as of this date, January 12th, the DMV in Washington,D.C. has yet to make a firm decision regarding the legal use of Inaugural license plates, the plates indeed do exist. I will be submitting a photo of one very soon to be included with this article on Inaugural license plates. I greatly appreciate all the comments that I have received on this subject of Inaugural plates. Any questions, please feel free to contact me.

    Andy Bernstein
    Worthologist

  7. Roger Winston says:

    Please let me know when you find out more. I just called DMV and they said they were not doing this and directed me to http://www.democrats.org

  8. Roger says:

    I found this website. Not sure how official these are. http://www.mvls.com/

  9. Marlo Ivey says:

    My husband has collected these since the Carter term. When living in Arizona, for the few months it’s allowed, he proudly (and legally) displayed them on his car too. Quite a conversation starter.

  10. dcg says:

    I have a set of 2009 inaugural plates. The design is the same as the commemorative plates with ‘OBAMA’, but are number. Mine is specific to an organization. I’m TOLD they are valid vehicle tags, but I have not verified that information. They look great, however, and I’ll certainly keep one in new condition!

  11. harry gerst says:

    I’ve made all the calls as mentioned above-no one seems to know anything. I had to give them information! A shame considering this is a tradition that goes back to the 30′s.

  12. Greg says:

    The MVLS plates are on a whole bunch of police cars and official vehicles – I was on the Mall last night for the concert and saw lots of them. I understand you can buy custom plates out of their eBay store.

  13. doreen Quimby says:

    I have a question. what ever happen to the original plates that were on the actualy limo for the president. In particular 1969.

  14. Charlie Gauthier says:

    Doreen – the Inaugural plates used on the Presidential car during the Inauguration activities are typically saved for inclusion in the future Presidential Library. There are always extra sets of the plates made, since other sets are typically given to the Smithsonian Library, the National Archives, etc. Also, plates are made available to the President for his use.

    At least one of the 1969 Inaugural plates # 1 from Richard Nixon’s Inauguration is in a private collection and is autographed by President Nixon.

  15. Andy Bernstein Andy Bernstein says:

    Indeed the #1 plates used on the Presidential limo are traditionally duplicated and several are in private collections. I do own a few of these. While it is too early to determine exactly where the #1 white on blue license plates used by Barack Obama on January 20th ended up, I do promise to provide you an update as soon as I can get conmfirmation.

  16. Rare ones says:

    I have some 2001 Inaugural plates, printed in Texas on “official” State of Tx license plate material. Few people know anything about this as only few were printed and are in private hands. Mine actually ;) Other than the “few” people who knew about them. I have a couple “bricks” of these, originally sealed and never opened!

  17. Hi Rare ones…..Thank you very much for your most interesting post. I must admit that I have never seen any type of 2001 Inaugural issue on a Texas license plate base. I would very much like to see a photo of what you have and ascertain if these were actually issued (I suspect that they were not) and or some kind of sample or prototype. Many thanks again.

    Andy Bernstein
    Worthologist

  18. Cathleen says:

    Hi – I just inherited a pair of 1941 inaugural plates in very good condition as well as 1 1941 plate. I also have 2 tickets for the 1941 inauguration that go with the plates. I am still digging through my boxes, but I thought they were pretty neat and looked them up on line. How would I go about fining an interested buyer. It seems like such a niche market; I can’t imagine ebay would be the best spot. Thanks Cathleen

  19. Hi Cathleen…..Great to hear about the 3 Inaugural plates you have! I would need to learn more about the plates. Condition is key on these as are the numbers.(i.e. a 3 digit vs. a 4 digit plate etc.). I would need to know if the plates have any extra holes added. When you refer to 2 tickets that go with the plates I assume that these are the registrations?? When looking for a buyer remember that Inaugural license plates appeal not only to license plate collectors but also to those collectors into political stuff in general. Id also be interested in learning if you might have any history as to who these were registered to since they were in your family. Thanks!

    Andy Bernstein
    Worthologist

    • Cathleen says:

      Hi Andy – I’m slow to reply! They are in great shape and have 2 holes each where they were hung. I am sure they’ve been in conditioned storage and well protected all this time. I incorrectly stated that I have 3 1941; I really have 2 matching 1941 (in the 800′s) and 1 1937 (in the 800′s). The tickets I refer to are for the inauguration itself; I haven’t found anything regarding the plates. The family member it belonged to was the owner of DC’s largest Chrysler dealer at the time. Not sure why that entitled him to the plates, but I guess he was a big deal in DC around those years. I need to list them somewhere – so any additional info would be great. Thanks.

  20. Bill Ruud says:

    There’s a hobby for everything I guess. I can’t believe how much some of these license platest cost. I happen to be in possession of a couple of vintage plates from the 40′s and I found similar ones going for a few thousand dollars online. Crazy!

  21. Toni says:

    Hi mr. Bernstein I finally found my license plate on worthpoint. I obtained the plate over 25 years ago while working at a car dealer ship. It is a yellowish orange color with # 1 in the middle , NEW YORK under that. However there is no date and it does not say Gorvernor on it. I have been serching for it on the internet for the past several months.Finally there it was on worthpoint. Almost a perfect match. Is this a rare plate ? Sincerly Toni

    • HI Toni. The plate you have is a SAMPLE NY Governor license plate. It would be from the years 1973-1985 when the state of New York used the reflective dark blue on orange plates. It is not particularly rare at all.

      Thanks for your comment.

      ANDY

  22. Thomas K H says:

    I have a 2001 Bush – Cheney Plate and the no is MP 20. What does that mean
    Thanks

  23. J.N.K says:

    I have a 1987 DC Inaugural plate that is also The “City Council Member At Large” with an “A” after it…
    Red Topped with ‘A Capitol City’

    I have been trying to sell it along with a pair of 1990 City Council Member At Large (followed by an “A” again)…

    Also multiples of DC # 28, #168, #209 (one never on the car) #235 & #266…

    Any help would be great…

    naipier@comcast.net

  24. J.N.K says:

    I dislike double posting in forums, so I will say dorry right now for doing so.
    ============================

    I would like to say thank you to Mr. Bernstein for such an informative read: Presidential Inaugural License Plates a Tough Collection to Fill.

    It has opened my eyes to the whole world of Plate / Tag collecting.

    I had seen tags in so many places around the world from Bars, Restaurants, homes, even art from tags in hotel rooms and so many other places… Never really giving much thought to such a wonderful past time.

    Thank you for the email too.

    I do have more questions for the author.

    Books on the subject, are there any that you would suggest a person new to the world of US plate / Tag collecting / admiration should attempt to find?

    How long has this been a part of your life?

    What started you on the road to collecting?

    I only ask as you have not only perhaps peaked my own interest in the subject, my 3 young sons also read the above piece & have all expressed an interest in the subject.

    Any light you could cast on ‘starting out’ for a family who would perhaps not be as avid collectors as yourself but whom would all be more interested in the history, the production & such.

    Thank you in advance for any answers / advice.

    J. Naipier-Kane.

  25. Joe B says:

    I have a 1953 Inaugural Plate # 1237 with the oval Ike & Nixon images that I have had since 1965. Plate is in fair condition. Looking for a value to sell. Plate has 4 origial holes for mounting, 2 at top, 2 at bottom

    • Hi Joe. Thank you for your comments. You state that your plate is in fair condition but value would depend on if the “damage” to this plate is in the area of the images of the two presidents or on the rest of the plate. The two images of the presidents are key details on the 53 and 57 Inaugural plates.

      Thanks again.

      ANDY

  26. Jason says:

    I have a 1957 Washington D.C. Inaugural plate #975. Any idea how I go about finding who it was issued to, and what it is worth? It has two holes on top, and two on the bottom. A few scuffs around the edges, but otherwise in excellent condition.

    • Hi Jason. I do not know of any place that holds records to find out who this particular number was registered to. Those that saved their Inaugural plates often saved the registration card with the plate but if these are long gone it would be difficult to find out. A three digit number is better than a four digit number and while you describe it as otherwise in excellent condition I would need to see the exact scuffs to assign an exact value. If I can be of further assistance do not hesitate to contact me.

      Thanks!

      ANDY

  27. Scg says:

    I have a 1931 inaugural plate in fair condition. What do you recommend as the place to sell?

  28. Scg says:

    Oooops. I meant 1933.

  29. Hi SCG. There are several ways you could go about selling this plate. Seeing that is it is quite rare I would suggest you get it appraised to know what you could expect to get for it. If you would like me to appraise it through Worthpoint’s “ASK A WORTHOLOGIST” Id gladly provide you a full appraisal along with some very sound suggestions for selling it. Many thanks for your comment on this great plate!

    ANDY

  30. Rob says:

    I love collecting license plates because of the number of ways they represent the unique history of the United States. The designs, history, colors, numbering system, year and geography all make for interesting collection ideas. License Plates auction websites are great for this.

    Thanks for the great column on presidential plates. This is some great history.

  31. Angus says:

    I have a set of brand new 1957 plates (No. 3011) that are still in their orignial packagking. What’s the best way to go about selling them?

    • Hi…..Thank you for your message. You might want to try listing these on line auction style. Both collectors of license plates and political memorabilia would be interested in Inaugural license plates.

  32. Michael says:

    As a follow up Andy, do you know 1) where any of the Obama plates ended up; 2) what approximate values might be; 3) any approximations on the number produced; and 4) who may have any for sale?

  33. Chuck Harrington says:

    Well here we go again for 2013 Obama Inauguration License Plates. Can be purchased directly from MVLS. Check their web side at: http://www.mvls.com These plates are not to be legally displayed on vehicles and are for collecting purposes only.

  34. Mike Beecher says:

    Andy,
    Like the Website, I do have a question for you. I have a set of Inaugural License plates that were registered to me. I was involved in President Reagan’s Inaugural. I was the NCOIC of the Parade Vegicles. I submitted for the Inaugural Plates and they were registered on my car. It seemed to me that we were able to have them on until March but that was to many years for me to remember. The interesting part was that I was able to select three names for the plates in order of preference. I selected (1) BEECHR, (2) VEGAS and (3) NEVADA. I was sent NEVADA. (Thought that was strange them but now I’m happy someone saw a potential. What I’m trying to do is determine the value of these. I also have a couple of plates with RYDER – ## for the trucks we had and some other stuff. I don’t have the regestration paperwork anymore but do have the plates.Can you give me any Idea. Thanks

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