Overseas Personalised Number Plate History
It was 1980 when legislation was passed to allow Illinois drivers to order vanity and personalized license plates. As defined then, vanity plates contained up to six letters or the numbers 1 to 999. Personalized plates had a combination of desired letters and numbers. In the very first year, 24,000 state residents decided they wanted to pay extra to show off their vanity to fellow motorists.
Drivers were displaying personalized plates long before 1980 however.
There was no law that he could find before 1980 authorizing such plates. Instead, he figures it likely was a typical case of not what you knew being important, but who you knew.
There’s no question, however, that it was 1907 when the Motor Vehicle Act, which required motorists to register with the secretary of state’s office, became law. For a one-time $2 fee per vehicle, motorists received a round aluminum disk with a registration number to affix to their vehicles. (Drivers had to furnish their own plates until 1911. The disks were dropped in 1917.) From July 1, 1907, to June 30, 1909, the state registered 20,224 vehicles. Sidney S. Gorham, of LaGrange, was issued license plate number 1.
As you might guess, that “one-time fee” didn’t last long. Probably realizing they had a cash cow on their hands, the state began charging an annual fee in 1909 and re-registered all vehicles.
More interesting plate trivia: In 1912, front plates were perforated so more air could flow through a car’s radiator. Aluminum license plates were issued for the first time in 1950. The slogan “Land of Lincoln” debuted in 1954, although a requirement for showing Lincoln’s image was dropped because it was deemed impractical at the time.
Purple and white plates were issued in 1964 to honor both McKendree College and Rockford College (as they were known then). In 1966, for the first time in 30 years, fees were increased 50 cents to pay for a new reflective coating. In 1977, drivers were able to complain about lousy photos on their licenses for the first time. The discontinuation of annual plates in 1979 ended a 67-year run, the longest in the United States. In 1985, all vehicles were charged the same fee ($48) rather than one based on horsepower.
“Once you’ve bagged that number plate – if it’s a good one it adds value to it. Some are iconic and will be sought after. Some of the best are simple but exquisite.”
The biggest went for £180,000 in May last year – for KR15 HNA – which was a new British record for the most expensive current style personalised registration plate.
Today, plates with just one number and two letters cost an estimated £60,000, 20 times more than the early 1990s, when drivers could expect to pay somewhere between £3,000 to £5,000.
A DVLA spokesman said: “Many people enjoy displaying a personalised registration number and the general sale and auctions remain extremely popular with the public.
“Since we began selling personalised registrations we have raised around £2.3 billion and all the money raised is passed to the Treasury.”
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