The State of California began requiring owners to register their vehicles in 1905. Doing so simplified law enforcement and generated revenue that could be used to improve road conditions and almost 5,000 registration numbers were issued that first year. To register a vehicle, the owner sent a request to Sacramento and paid a one dollar fee then waited for the state to send back a metal tag with a unique number. It then became the owner’s responsibility to make (or have made) a license plate bearing the number to mount on their vehicle. Most plates were handcrafted out of readily available materials such as leather or wood. Others were professionally made by specialized firms. California’s only requirement was that the plate be black and white. There were no restrictions on size or placement.
1905 (top) – Passenger vehicle / Nickel plated brass
Before California began issuing license plates, each individual required to buy a plate or have a third-party company make one bearing the registration number they were assigned. This plate possesses an extremely rare manufacturer mark, indicating it was professionally produced.
1905 (bottom) – Passenger vehicle / Nickel plated brass
This plate has evidence of a number on the back that is different from the one on front, indicating it was re-made, a rare event at the time.
1906 – Passenger vehicle / Leather with metal numbers
The majority of pre-state plates were homemade using readily available materials such as wood and leather. Since such easily degradable components tended to wear quickly because of the harsh use to which most early cars were subject, almost all such early handmade plates have disappeared.
1907 – Passenger vehicle / Leather with metal numbers
Leather plates were most likely to have been fabricated by a saddle maker, an ironic association that represents another of the automobiles’ encroachments into the realm of the horse.
1908 – Passenger vehicle / Steel
1909 – Passenger vehicle / Porcelain enabled steel
During the era before physical license plates were provided by the state, Auto Club members had the option of obtaining them from the Automobile Club of Southern California. Some are called "Mickey Mouse" plates because of their strong resemblance to the Disney character of the same name.
1910 – Passenger vehicle / Cast Aluminum
1912 – (two plates, left and below) Passenger vehicle / Porcelain enameled steel
It is unusual for both a front license plate and a rear license plate for the same car to have survived intact.
1912 – Passenger vehicle / Metal and glass
At the time, it was extremely rare to have a homemade plate that was illuminated. This example was modeled after the design of Auto Club license plates.
1913 – Passenger vehicle / Metal and glass
A single bulb behind the red lens on the left of the number field can illuminate the entire plate because of a specially designed internal diffuser and mirror reflects light evenly over a long surface.
1913 – Passenger vehicle / Nickel plated brass
While most plates during the time period were a flat piece of enameled metal, this plate features a "stippled" design.
1913 – Passenger vehicle / Metal mesh
The wire mesh construction of this plate allowed air to flow through (instead of around) it for more efficient cooling when mounted directly to a radiator core. The year 1913 was the last that motorists were obliged to buy license plates form a specialized manufacturer or create them themselves.
Tagged: , California , License , Plates , Plate , 1905 , 1906 , 1907 , 1908 , 1909 , 1910 , 1912 , 1913 , Petersen Automotive Museum , Petersen , Automotive , Museum , Nikkor , 24-70mm f/2.8G , Nikon D4 , Nikon , D4 , 1911