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How Much Are Old License Plates Worth?

I have an old license plate collection and believe that life is lived to the fullest when you share your knowledge with others.

Antique license plate collecting can be a lucrative hobby.

Antique license plate collecting can be a lucrative hobby.

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

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

  • the date of manufacturing,
  • the total number of plates made,
  • the number of plates surviving,
  • and the physical condition of the plate.

In a 2008 story in Forbes Magazine, it was noted that a 1921 Alaska license plate was 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 the extreme value of an antique license plate, it is enough to cause anybody who is cleaning out their garage to take a second look at what they may find.

You'd be surprised by how high the value of some old license plates can be.

You'd be surprised by how high the value of some old license plates can be.

How Much Are the Most Valuable Antique License Plates Worth?

The amateur license plate collector may not pay attention to things like rust and dents and may just want an interesting plate to hang on the wall. More serious license plate collectors often belong to the ALPCA, or the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association, and they visit antique auctions in search of valuable license plates. Their plates are stored in elaborate display cases and are treated 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.

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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.

How Much Is My License Plate 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. They also pay attention to what similar plates are selling for at auction and on sites such as eBay.

Can You Make Money Collecting and Selling Antique License Plates?

There are a few die-hard antique license plate collectors who actually make a living from their hobby. Again, these are the people 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.

Even if you can't sell your old license plates, they make great decorations.

Even if you can't sell your old license plates, they make great decorations.

Where to Buy and Sell Old License Plates

Online. 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, the widow or child of a license plate collector will be found selling an entire collection for much less than it is worth.

Salvage Yards. 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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