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The Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA) is the largest such organization in the world. Founded in Rumney Depot, New Hampshire, United States, in 1953 and holding its first meeting in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, in 1954, its members have come from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (often state subsidiaries exist as well) and twenty-four other countries, although the bulk of its members reside in the United States, followed by Canada, Germany, and Australia.
ALPCA currently has approximately 3,200 registered members and 11,824 registered member numbers, although many of the earlier—and therefore lower-numbered—members are now deceased or are no longer members. When an individual joins, he or she is assigned a membership number, which started with #1 and are currently being issued in the 11,000 range. Members treasure their "ALPCA number" and often are known as much by the time period in which they joined than by name or geographic home. The club hosts an annual convention each June or July that attracts several hundred members, and regional meets take place in a number of countries throughout the year. The 2013 convention, open to members only, will be at Reno, Nevada.
The most common goal of a license plate collector has been to put together a set of one expired license plate from each state of the United States. Many members collect one or more expired plate from each country of the world. Beyond that, many have the goal of building a "complete run," which consists of a set of a single or a pair (from the jurisdictions that issued them in pairs), for each year that a state issued them. Generally it is believed that Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Wisconsin were among the US states to first issue standardized plates., Many local jurisdictions required them before that, and there were a plethora of jurisdictions first issuing registration numbers in the early years, by way of a registration card or emblem, but leaving the actual creation of a plate up to the vehicle owner. The old cards, emblems, and discs are now, of course, also highly collectible. Early "pre-state" plates provide another area for collectors to explore. Much has been forgotten or never recorded about license plate registration systems, giving aficionados something else to gather research about as well.
With the advent of "slogan" or "logo" plates, another area of collector interest was born. For instance, New Hampshire had its now defunct "Old Man of the Mountain" pictured in 1926 and Massachusetts had a cod fish on its car plates in 1928. Texas' lone star has appeared on its license plates as a number divider since the earliest days. Today, most states have a proliferation of contemporary "specialty" issues, with affinity organizations sponsoring the majority of them, and usually sharing a portion of the extra cost of the registration fees. Common themes for accumulators of expired plates have included wildlife graphics, such as birds, fish, reptiles, dogs and cats (animal friendly), bears, and wolves. Many coastal states feature lighthouses.
While in the past most states generally employed only one license plate format at a time, there are now overlapping formats in many places. Most occur when a new series starts to replace an older one, over a period of several years. In those places, the old plates finally go away, often to a collector. But, in other places, old plates never die or fade away. Delaware plates issued since the 1940s are still valid there, and that state even allows reproductions of the early plates to be licensed on newer cars. There is an active market in low number registrations (not necessarily for the license plate, but for the rights to use it). California plates issued since 1962 can still be valid, either on the original vehicle, or re-licensed to subsequently assigned vehicles. Montana now issues four types of "general issues," and you can take your pick of any different regular plate series issued over the past 25 years.
Many ALPCA members maintain their own interests and websites, sometimes overlapping, and sometimes going way beyond the confines of license plate collectors. A subset of them are "extra-mile club" members, who seek to visit every county in the United States, often while picking antique shops and other venue for old tags. One member keeps track of the "highest numbers" issued in each state, and his website records what combinations are the latest to be issued. While, like ALPCA, most jurisdictions began issuing license plates with #1, and just kept going, currently, most states now employ some variation of the six or seven digit system pioneered by California in 1955, when it became the first to run out of the most common alpha/numeric combinations. While originally most states hesitated to issue more than a million license plates in a straight numeric format, seven alpha/ numeric characters are now common in the more populous jurisdictions.
While at one time most jurisdictions changed license plates every year, this is no longer the case. Today, long-running registration systems keep the same plate on a vehicle for 3-7 year rotations, and in some cases for the life of the vehicle. Adhesive plate stickers are used in the majority of places, with windshield stickers in a few other, most notably Texas. Collectors thrive on viewing the distinctive types and colors of the stickers, and perhaps are more observant of them than even law enforcement agencies may be!
Since 1970, club members have voted each year to name one United States or Canadian license plate design—and in some years two such designs—introduced during the previous year as the "Plate of the Year," to state media coverage. Members vote based both on the plate's legibility and its aesthetics. For 1995, 1997, and 1998, the club recognized one standard-issue plate and one optional-issue plate, while in 1985 and 1989, two jurisdictions' designs tied for first place.
|ALPCA Plates of the Year|
|1973||Prince Edward Island||1||"The Place To Be ... In 73"||general|
|1974||South Dakota||1||Mount Rushmore||general|
|1977||Mississippi||1||"The Hospitality State"||general|
|1979||Indiana||1||"1779 George Rogers Clark"||general|
|1981||South Dakota||2||Mount Rushmore||general|
|1982||North Carolina||1||"First in Flight"||general|
|1983||California||1||"The Golden State"||optional|
|North Dakota||1||Theodore Roosevelt||optional|
|1986||Utah||1||"Greatest Snow on Earth"||general|
|1989||Nova Scotia||1||"Canada's Ocean Playground"||general|
|1993||North Dakota||2||"Discover the Spirit"||general|
|1995||Texas||1||"150 Years of Statehood"||general|
|1996||Arizona||1||"Grand Canyon State"||general|
|1998||Alaska||1||"Gold Rush Centennial"||general|
|1999||Virginia||1||"George Washington Bicentennial"||optional|
|2001||Arkansas||1||"The Natural State"—hummingbird||optional|
|2002||Oregon||2||"Crater Lake Centennial"||optional|
|2003||Kentucky||1||"It's That Friendly"||general|
|2005||Kansas||3||"Home on the Range"||optional|
|2006||South Dakota||3||"Great Faces. Great Places."||general|
|2008||Delaware||1||"Centennial Plate 1909-2009"||optional|
|2009||Oklahoma||3||Sacred Rain Arrow||general|
|2010||New Mexico||1||"Centennial 1912-2012"||general|
|2011||Arizona||2||"1912 Centennial 2012"||optional|
|2012||Nebraska||1||"Union Pacific Railroad Museum"||optional|