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How Much Are Old License Plates Worth?

Updated on December 13, 2015
The value of old license plates like this one can be incredible.
The value of old license plates like this one can be incredible.

How Do You Determine The Value Of Antique License Plates?

Among the many things that people collect are antique license plates. People collect them for a variety of reasons, such as to remember states and countries that they have visited, to make money from, or as a reminder of the golden age of motoring. It is a hobby that I dabble in myself when I get a chance to, acquiring interesting plates from time to time when I visit a new place as souvenirs of my trip.

What Is The Value Of Old License Plates?

As with any collectible item such as coins, the value of old license plates depends on a number of things including age of manufacture, total number of plates made, number of plates surviving and the physical condition of the plate. In a 2008 story by Forbes Magazine, it was noted that a 1921 Alaska license plate had been estimated to be worth over $60,000. It had been bought only a couple of years earlier for the amazing sum of $40,000, in a transaction that unbelievably enough happened in a parking lot. While such an amount represents an extreme antique license plate value, it is enough to cause anybody who plans on cleaning out their garage to take a second look at what they may find.

What Are The Most Valuable Antique License Plates?

The amateur license plate collector may not pay attention to things like rust, dents, etc., and may just want an interesting plate to hang on the wall. The serious license plate collectors often belong to the ALPCA, or Automobile License Plate Collectors Association, and they often visit antique auctions searching for valuable license plates. Their plates are stored in elaborate display cases and treated almost as gently as if they were rare coins. These collectors are often seeking to complete their state or country collections and are very aware of how antique license plate values are calculated. In the video below you can see some of the exhibits from the 2010 ALPCA convention. There are antique license plate collectors in almost every country in the world, and the hobby is growing at a surprisingly fast rate. Because it is a growing hobby, the value of antique license plates is likely to continue to increase due to demand.

Some Ways To Find Out How Much Old License Plates Are Worth

The main way that both amateur and expert antique license plate collectors determine how much old license plates are worth is by referring to books like "License Plate Values" by Bob Crisler and also by paying attention to what similar plates are selling for at auction and on sites such as eBay.

Can You Make Money Collecting Antique License Plates?

There are a few die hard antique license plate collectors actually making a living from their hobby. Again, these are the persons most likely to belong to the ALPCA. These collectors spend a lot of time searching online and elsewhere for nice specimens to add to their collection and trading with others who share the same hobby. One reason that license plate trading is so popular is that many people try to put together collections of as many plates as they can get from one state or country. Many active license plate collectors maintain online stores and are power sellers on eBay. They dedicate many hours a week to selling and acquiring rare antique license plates. Though you probably won't be able to quit your full time job, you may be able to make a little extra income by picking up old license plates worth a few dollars at garage sales for pennies on the dollar. A mechanic friend of mine, who has almost every old Texas license plate ever made, frequently searches Craigslist for entire collections of valuable license plates for sale. Sadly, often enough, a widow or child of a license plate collector will be found selling an entire collection for much less than it is worth. You can also find old license plates at automobile salvage yards. If you find the kind of junk yard that will allow you to walk around and pick parts, you may be able to find license plates worth a few dollars each, but pay only a few cents for them. It helps to have a resource such as a license plate value book along during your search and an idea of what you are looking for ahead of time.

Even if you never make a dime collecting old license plates, it's a hobby that can pay you back in other ways. You can decorate your garage walls with old license plates and celebrate the glorious past of the automobile age. I enjoy sharing my collection of old license plates with visitors. It's a hobby you might enjoy as well.


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