Presidential Inaugural License Plates a Tough Collection to Fill

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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