Old License Plates Range in Value — How to Determine Their Worth

The world's most expensive license plate just sold for $15 million in Dubai. So, are old license plates worth anything, and what makes them valuable?


Apr. 14 2023, Published 9:44 a.m. ET

License plates didn’t become an official requirement until the beginning of the 20th century when newspapers began reporting crashes. Back then, city and state governments started implementing more rules and regulations and used license plates as a way to keep track of drivers.

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While the first license plates were made of wood, leather, and porcelain, today, they’re made of metal and may feature graphics or vanity plates.

If rare and vintage license plates excite you, keep reading to find out if old license plates are worth anything.

Are antique license plates worth a lot of money?

Antique license plates are a collector’s item for many reasons like to commemorate states and countries someone has visited, make money, or as a reminder of the good old days.

As with any collectible item, the value of older license plates depends on a few factors such as the manufacturer’s date, the total number of plates made, how many plates are still around, and the condition.

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Today, people who make a living collecting and selling antique license plates search online and in person to find plates or trade with others.

Whether they use Craigslist, eBay, a junkyard, car shows, or the local DMV, collectors will go to great lengths to find, buy, and resell vintage license plates.

If you’re wondering how to price vintage license plates, you should buy a license plate value guidebook and join the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA).

Which license plates are worth the most money?

The older the license plate, the more valuable it is. However, there are many factors that help determine which license plates are worth the most money. Consider these factors:

Material: The first license plates were made of wood, leather, and porcelain. They're very valuable due to age and significance.

Age: Older license plates, like from the early 1900s, can be more valuable due to historical significance.

Condition: Plates in excellent condition, without rust, dents, or fading, are more valuable than beat up ones.

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Rarity: License plates issued in limited quantities or for special events, such as a commemorative or promotional plate, can be more valuable. Plates from territories or countries that no longer exist are also in demand.

Design: Unique designs can make a license plate more desirable to collectors like plates with unique graphics, slogans, or color schemes.

Serial number: License plates with low serial numbers, special sequences, or unique combinations of letters and numbers may be more valuable.

Historical significance: Plates issued during important historical periods or events, or associated with noteworthy individuals, can be more valuable.

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Which states have the rarest license plates?

The license plate on the U.S. presidential limousine
Source: Getty Images

Diplomatic license plates can be valuable.

Many collectors like to collect plates from every state or a plate for each state from their birth year. Others build collections around special graphics, sports teams, universities, or different countries.

There are others who search for diplomatic plates or very rare plates from places like the Vatican, North Korea, and the Cocos Islands. In the U.S., collectors consider the 1921 Alaska plate (worth up to $60,000) and the 1912 and 1913 Mississippi plates ($35,000 to $50,000) to be the holy grail.

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In 2014, many early porcelain license plates like 1910 Vermont, 1913 Indiana, and 1915 Connecticut and a leather Washington “pre-state” plate sold for nearly $1,000. In 2020, a pair of 1963 Shelby American manufacturing plates sold for $5,310 and $7,080.

In 2018, a Delaware license plate fetched more than $410,000 at an auction.

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Who bought the most expensive license plate?

In April 2023, the most expensive license plate in the world sold at an auction for a record-breaking $15 million in Dubai. The license plate, a vanity plate that says "P7," was auctioned off at a charity event to benefit the UAE's "One Billion Meals," a global food initiative founded by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.

Vanity plates have a history of crushing it at auctions. In 2008, billionaire businessman Saeed Abdul Ghafour Khouri paid $14.3 million for a single-digit plate that featured the number one.

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