License Plates are around us all over the place, so much so, that most of us
probably don't even give them a second thought unless something "makes
us" aware of them... like an accident, or a sporty car with a custom
exhaust and a plate that says "vroooom". I proved this point
the other day by talking to two people. One was a woman who had an SUV
with the "NJ" Maryland tags, and she was oblivious to them,
so I explained to her why they looked different (she had never ever noticed
in the 6 years she had them). The other was a guy with California plates on
his truck, and I asked him what the numbers in the front have gotten "up
to". He had no idea what I was taking about until, again, I explained
to him the numbering system California uses, and he lived there!
This page will concentrate on plates from Maryland, but I will use plates from other
states to illustrate a point or compliment a series until I find one from Maryland.
According to Wikipedia, Maryland first required license plates on cars in 1910.
Maryland probably has more varieties than most states except for maybe Virginia,
as anyone in a group with at least 50 members who promise to get the plate,
can have a special series made just for them. I've also seen a lot of
special plates in Georgia, Michigan; and California seems to have a LOT of vanity tags.
If you take a trip, and have a car full of kids, you can get them to play games
with license plates, by getting them to look for certain types of plates,
specific numbers or series of numbers, special categories like ham radio, etc...
the possibilities are almost endless.
FYI - I got a lot of these from Ebay listings, so the pictures may not be the
best, but as we say in the train world, a poor picture is better than none
(well, sometimes :-)
A Little Background.....
According to the ALCPA website, 32 states and 5 Canadian Provinces issue both
front and rear plates, the rest only issue plates for the rear.
The great majority of standard license plates
come in what they call the 3x3 variety, in
other words, you have 3 numbers and 3 letters separated by a space, such as
ABC 123. It doesn't matter which
group comes first, although from observation, most states started with the
letters first as can be seen from these plates from MS and MD.
Some states had or still use county codes on their plates in lieu of the
standard 3x3's. Tennessee used to, I believe Wyoming still does.
In lieu of a number for the county, many states, like the Mississippi plate
above, put the county name somewhere on the plate (Florida and Georgia also does this).
OK, so what happens when you run out of standard 3x3 assignments?
There is no consistency, as states have done a number of things:
In order to keep the 3x3 arrangement, they can reverse the order, so instead of ABC 123, they now do 123 ABC.
They can add a number in front of the ABC 123, as California did, to give
you 1ABC123 - I believe, as of 2022, they are up to "8".
They can make the plate a 4x3 or 3x4, such as Pennsylvania which did with 4
numbers, or as Ontario did with 4 letters.
A couple of states, Maryland included, has now dis-joined the 3x3, and
shifted things to the right, still separated by a space, so it now becomes
This format didn't get very far, since Maryland started the "War of 1812" series.
Massachusetts took a slightly different approach as the plate above
illustrates, 12A B34.
If you get hung up on collecting license plates, one challenge you could
face is to collect "the complete series", for instance,
under three of a kind, collect xxx000, xxx111, xxx222..... xxx999, or AAAxxx,
BBBxxx, CCCxxx, etc. This becomes much more difficult, and may be near
impossible with the letters since there are only a thousand of each.
The current license plate, with black lettering on a white reflective surface and a
state medallion in the middle came into being around 1984.
If you got a vanity plate or a special series plate, they did not put the state medallion on them.
Between 1939 and 1986, all Maryland license plates expired on March 31st.
After that, the expiration dates were staggered, meaning, they could expire at
the end of any month, related to when the plates were acquired.
Back in the late 70's, Maryland decided on black letters on a white plate because
they were the cheapest color inks they could buy. I remember seeing a newspaper article on the topic.
Historic tags can be placed on your car or truck if the vehicle is older than 25
years. If you happen to have a pair of plates laying
around that the year agrees with the year of your antique car, you can use them
on the car. Supposedly, if you have historic tags on your vehicle, your
insurance company will cut you a break on your insurance for that car, but
you're only supposed to drive it once in a while, like weekends, not everyday
for the purpose of going to work. (But, how is one supposed to get a pair
of old plates if you are required to turn them in when you get rid if a car?????)
Maryland started two year renewal cycles in 1992.
Custom series plates originally started out
with an abbreviation for your organization with 3 letters , and then 4 numbers
(ABC1234), looking like the standard issue Maryland tag. The "neat"
series, which included a symbol for your group, was started maybe 6 or 7 years
ago. The two styles are illustrated below.
The latest plate for Maryland to issue is the
War if 1812 plate, which was first issued on June 10th, 2010. It is being
used as the new issued tags for passenger cars, SUV's, trucks, and motorcycles
(and their handicapped versions), and will be issued until 2015. The first
series of this plate was issued as M over a D for Maryland, then, when they ran
out of these assignments, they started with A over A, then went to A over B, and so on.
More info at:
With all of the other crap I collect, electronics, radios, slides, trains, junk,
etc, I don't really have a lot of room for a massive license plate collection,
so here are the few I happen to own......
from Al Virta
1969 - White painted letters on light blue painted plate, AA_0000 format
from Al Virta
1970 - Light blue painted letters on white painted plate, AA_0000 format
right one from Al Virta
1971 - 1975 - White painted letters on light blue painted plate, AA_0000 format, first multi-year plate issued
from Al Virta
1976 - 1980 Red painted letters on white painted plate, AAA_000 thru HMN_xxx
from Al Virta
1980 - 1986 - Blank painted letters on white painted plate, AAA_000 thru KHN_999
from Al Virta
1983 - FEB 1984 - 350th Anniversary plates, first reflective plates, 000_AAA thru 999_AKE, and first plates to use the MD emblem
This is the only license plate Maryland produced that won an award from the
American License Plate Collectors Association for best new plate.
Only issued during 1983 and 1984, but usable thru September 1987.
FEB 1986 - SEP 2004 - Black letters on white reflective plate, NAA_001 thru ZZZ_999 (86-92), then AAA_001 thru MZZ_999
SEP2004 - FEB2005 - Black letters on white reflective plate, new order, 1AA_A01 thru 9AK_Z99
FEB2005 - LATE2005 - Black letters on white reflective plate, 1AL_A01 thru 9CM_Z99,
added www.maryland.gov to the plate
LATE2005 - 2006 - Same as above, BUT, made in New Jersey due to riots in the prison,
you can tell by the look of the letters on the plate, 1CN_A01 thru 9CN_Z99
2006 - JUN2005 - Back to the same plate before the riots, will resume with 4GD J48 in June of 2015
These plates were issued between 2010 and the summer of 2016 as the standard
Maryland license plate. Maryland suspended issuing plates that were
1AB C23 when they started handing out the War of 1812 plates. The
highest series I have seen so far is CG. The series actually started
with the MD series before starting at the beginning of the alphabet with AA.
Each letter series, like BB, contains 100,000 plates. So to get thru
the whole A series, means 2.6 million cars were licensed. One of my
favorites caught early on, is 4AA4444, but I don't have a good picture of
it - I actually saw it twice around in Timonium, so the one I caught on a
jeep will have to do with 4488...... Notice that I try to catch
plates with a cool series of numbers on it, like 4488, or 8080, or 6x6333 :-)
These plates were only issued for a short time in 2015. By
the time I found out about them, which was on December the 31st, the DMV was
already closed early for the holiday. They were not open on Friday the 1st
or the following Monday. So I trundled down to the main DMV office in Glen
Burnie to see if they were doing anything to make up for the fact that they
closed early on the 31st. The first person I spoke with at the information
counter DIDN'T EVEN KNOW THEY WERE AVAILABLE!!! So I asked another person
at the info counter, and they said you had to go upstairs to the special
plate counter. Well, I was there around 1pm, and even tho the fellow at
the counter said you could still get them, when he went in the back to process
the paperwork, he came back out and said they had cut off the processing of them
AT NOON! I have some real choice words for the DMV on this one!
These plates were so quietly announced, I'm surprised anyone knew about them....
If you think of the "B" as a "2", then it becomes 6 of a kind :-)
Many years ago, I was on my way to Richmond VA by way of US 301 to bypass the
awful I-95 corridor. When I got down to La Plata MD, I spotted this plate
and got a picture of it, but somehow, I managed to erase the SIM card and all of
these pictures were on, dammit. So this is a photoshopped version of the
plate. I caught up with the fellow that was driving the car at a red
light, and complimented him on a "perfect" plate number, and he was completely
unaware of the "cool number" he had on his car. It goes back to what I
said earlier about a lot of people just aren't aware of their license plates :-)
Good thing Americans don't know Spanish, huh? :-) :-)
I hope not all at one time! :-)
I wonder if he heard a Who?
Initial plates like this were among the first vanity tags to show up in Maryland many, many years ago.
Virginia has to be the king of vanity plates, there are all over the place!
This was MY favorite tag. I got it in 1980 (I think). It is in honor
of the Union Pacific steam engine #8444, now #844. Back in 1982, I was on
a field assignment in Johnson City / Erwin TN. One day I stopped at the
Johnson City Southern Rwy office, and chatted with the agent on duty. At
some point, he looked at the calendar hanging on the wall, looked at my license
plate, and asked me how I was able to do that. It just so happened, that
that month, UP 8444 was the featured engine of the month, and they had one of
the UP calendars hanging in the office. I told him it was a vanity plate,
and as such, you could get anything on it you wanted (for $80 a year :-)
When it came time for new plates and had to turn these in, I told them it had
been stolen (and it kinda was.....) I think they are used to that excuse
with vanity plates.
I was born in 1951, and graduated high school in 1969, so I'm always on
the lookout for plates with those two numbers in them, especially if they are all by themselves!
For a whole bunch of plates from 1951, check out Chris Woodcock's page at:
In Maryland, all of the different police jurisdictions have their own special license plates.
As a police officer, you can get Fraternal Order of the Police plates for
yourself. In the beginning, Maryland offered a plain plate as FOPxxxx.
When they ran out of this series, they changed it to FPOxxxx. They now issue the
"standard" custom series plates for FOP plates, with the FOP emblem on the left side.
In addition, there are a number of special plates for other police related groups.
Maryland handicap tags come in quite a number
of varieties and series. Almost every series, such as the Bay Plates,
Agriculture, standard plates, ham tags, etc, all have their versions, even the
new "War of 1812 plates".
Some colleges and universities in Maryland
have their own license plates, but most will have "LG" or "SG" plates, since
they are part of either the state or local governments. Alumni can get
plates with their school on them, or for the sorority or frat you belong to.
You can get a special plate if you work at THE Shock Trauma center at the University of MD hospital in downtown Baltimore.
This facility handles adult cases, Johns Hopkins Hospital handles the under 21 age group.
Maryland used to separate the SUV and light truck categories with an "M" plate.
When they started this class, they first placed the M to the left side(M123456).
I believe the next place they moved the M was to the middle (123M567), then the
M shows up in the 6th position (12345M7), and finally at the right side
(123456M). Which spot will they move it to next? Probably not,
because it looks like Maryland is now including SUV's in the regular 1AB2345
series (as of 12/2022).
Heavy trucks, tractor trailers, dump trucks, tow trucks, and trailers all have their own special plates.
Medium Size Trucks
I'm not sure of the exact weight of this class, but it seems to take in
everything larger than pickups up to but not including semi tractors.
For some reason they seem to have started off this series with a
"P", as in 12P 345. You can now find letters all over the place.
These are license plates used by car and truck dealers while you take a car out for a
test drive, or they are loaning the vehicle to someone for a few days. I've
seen them with 1's and 2's, but none so far with 3's.