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California Archive - Part 2
II: STATE-ISSUED PASSENGER PLATES

California was very late in beginning the official issuance of license plates.  More
than a decade after New England first pioneered state-issued plates, California
first issued plates to motorists with a dated 1914 porcelain.  This ordinance was
passed on May 31, 1913, and became effective January first of the following year.
Newspapers reported that a contract for 100,000 pairs of passenger plates and
20,000 motorcycle plates weighing an aggregate of 165 tons was given to the
Motor Vehicle Department of the State Department of Engineering.  










Not a few Californians were miffed,
however, when the decision was made to
send East for the manufacture of the
plates, contracting with the Ingram-Richardson Manufacturing Company of
Beaver Falls, PA for the nearly $40,000 order.  As one bitter editorial in the
"Oakland Tribune" observed, "an automobile tag is not such a marvelous product
of the artisan that factories in this state cannot fashion it."  The plates cost the
state 21½ cents each, and the registration fees paid by California motorists in
1914, which ranged between $5 and $30 depending on horsepower, helped to
cover this expense.  In another misstep, the three-pound packages which
automobile owners began receiving late in 1913 were sent using Wells Fargo
Express Company, rather than parcel post.  As a result, the fifty-five cent cost of
mailing, which had to be paid by the recipient upon delivery, was markedly higher
than it would have otherwise been.  In January, this was rectified and the state
began shipping via the U.S. Postal Service for a charge of only twenty-nine cents
per package.  

For a while, the authorities were lenient on prosecuting those without plates on
their cars because of a bitter fight regarding the constitutionality of the new
automobile law.  However, once the state Supreme Court upheld the legality of
the law, the state cracked down, and any motorists driving without their 1914
plates after about mid-March were liable to arrest.  The state law required plates
be conspicuously displayed on both front and rear, not less than 16 inches from
the ground.  The plates were not allowed to be fastened in such a way that they
could swing back and forth, and the rear plate had to be illuminated from one half
hour after sunset to one half hour before sunrise.  Somewhere around 125,000
cars were registered in 1914, with plate #100,000 going to the Automobile Club of
Southern California.

When the State Engineer sought bids to
manufacture the 1915 plates, the initial
estimate was for 120,000 passenger plates.  
The contract once again was awarded to
Ingram-Richardson, but the resulting
plates were a bit different.  As collectors
well know, 1915 California porcelains were
manufactured of a much thinner metal
base and the porcelain was easily chipped.  

Registration remained high and California
earned the dubious distinction in 1915 as
the state with the highest motor vehicle
taxes of any state in the nation.  
Nevertheless, the yellow plates - reminiscent of the California poppy - were very
attractive, and authorities actually had to crack down on those who mounted
them on their vehicles before 1914 was over.  As a Christmas day article in the
"Los Angeles Times" noted, hundreds of motorists, "having become fascinated
with the bright yellow and black colors of the new license plates, have made
Christmas presents of them to their cars."  A different situation prevailed at
Christmastime in Oakland, where officials decreed that Christmas presents were
of greater urgency and postmen were instructed to delay delivery of license
plates until all Christmas packages had been taken care of - after all, the new
license plates weren't needed for another week.  When the first of the year rolled
around, and motorists now were required to have the new plates on their cars,
registration offices in Los Angeles were so swamped with people that the police
had to be called in to maintain order.  During this first week, busy offices were
handing out thousands of porcelain plates each day.  By January 8th, all motorists
were expected to have obtained their plates, and the grace period for non-
compliance was over.  For the first time, registrations surpassed 150,000 and by
the time the year was finished, the Superintendent of the California Motor Vehicle
Department reported that 163,716 automobiles had been registered in the state.










1916 saw a radical change in California's porcelain plates.  Most notably, they
were substantially smaller - a full three inches less in length and one inch in
height.  This was a welcome change for many motorists who complained that the
large California porcelains of the prior two years negatively interfered with the
flow of air through the radiators in the cars.  So long as they got their applications
in by January 1, motorists with 1915 plate numbers below #60,000 were given the
option of keeping their number or requesting a new one.  Beginning in the latter
part of December, 1915, distribution of pairs of these new undated bases began
from Sacramento.  These were designed to be used for four years, re-validated
each year with a different dated metal tab inscribed with a number matching the
plate number.  Over the next four years, the system would be hailed for helping
to reduce auto theft and aid in the recovery of stolen vehicles.  These tabs were
attached to the plates by three rivets, provided by the state.  With the adoption of
this new format, California thus became the first state in which multi-year
baseplates were validated annually with tabs.  Almost 600,000 pairs of these
undated bases were manufactured by the California Metal Enameling Company of
the Los Angeles community of Bairdstown, making them one of the most common
porcelain plates from the U.S.  California Metal Enameling had apparently been
fighting for years to gain the contract for California license plates, but was unable
to outbid its competitors until now.  As reported in
The Bakersfield Californian,
Ben Gocke, the head of California Metal, finally succeeded in gaining the contract
by submitting a bid of $65,000 - a full $35,000 lower than its competitors were
bidding for the contract.  It is notable that while some of these plates are marked
with the Metal Enameling Company's logo, many others are not.   







The 1916 tab that accompanied the first
plate was made of lead and was in the
shape of the California state animal - the
grizzly bear.  One very interesting aspect
of these bear tabs is that the front tab was
inscribed with the plate number, while the
one designed for the back was blank.  Initially, reports circulated that it was
required by law for owners to inscribe their name on these blank bears.   
Authorities felt this would be an excellent deterrent against vehicle theft.  
However, that met strenuous objection by many.  As one article in the L.A. Times
declared, inscribing a vehicle owner's name into the bear tab "is too much of an
advertisement and it gives wives too much of a chance to keep track of their
husbands.  With a string of cars out in front of a cafe, it is easy to locate 'daddy.'"













A second article added, "it would be embarrassing to some to have their cars
standing out in front of some country club or joy-water emporium and have
mother-in-law come along and positively identify the car by the name."  However,
such fears were allayed as it was soon announced that carving an owner's name
was optional.  The state had initially planned on issuing the tab with the owner's
name already inscribed, but the equipment did not arrive in time and the plates
had to be distributed.  For those who liked the idea and chose to put the name
on, engravers were happily waiting in the parking lot of the D.M.V., offering their
services to those who had just picked up their new plates for a charge of fifteen
cents.  














The 1916 plates were distributed from Sacramento in blocks of 15,000.  For
example, the city of Los Angeles received plates numbered from 1-15,000 while
motorists in the Sacramento area received plates from 15,000 to 30,000.  Los
Angeles got a second block when they ran out of the first - this time receiving
plates numbered from 30,000 to 45,000, while Sacramento's second grouping
numbered from 45,000 to 60,000.  Although not typically thought of as a distinct
type, it is notable that at some point late in 1916, the bolt hole placement was
changed on California porcelains.  Historian Eric Tanner has isolated this change
to approximately #230,000.

In 1917, the metal date tab changed from
the California state animal to the state
flower - the poppy.  The tabs were all kept
in Sacramento and motorists in Los
Angeles or other cities had to receive
them by mail.  Clerical delays kept some
motorists from receiving their poppy tabs
until late March and early April, even
though the applications were mailed in
December of 1916.  The California Metal
Enameling Company nearly doubled its
per-plate price in 1917 to 21 cents
compared to the 11 3/4 cents it charged in
1916.  This led the warden of San Quentin
State Prison to confer with the state
purchasing agent to propose having
inmates begin making the plates.  For
whatever reason, however, this plan did
not materialize and California Metal
Enameling maintained its lucrative license
plate contract with the state.









1918 saw the third installment of
California's new system of issuing re-
validation tags.  This year, the design was
a California mission bell, painted green to
symbolize a brass bell tarnished with age.  
At the beginning of 1918, there were just
shy of 300,000 vehicles in use in California.
The state ordered the manufacture of one
million bell tabs at a cost of about $22,000.  
As with the previous year, D.M.V. branches
outside of Sacramento only handled
licensing new registrants.  All renewals
had to be sent to Sacramento, upon which
an owner would receive his or her green
bells in the mail.  The state gave motorists
a two month grace period to secure their
new plates, but as the headline above
indicates, once March rolled around,
anybody caught driving with their old 1917 poppies still attached, or who could
not prove that they had sent in their application for the new 1918 tags, were
subject to arrest and fine.  As reported in the
Oakland Tribune, others went so far
as to paint bells on their plates in an effort to skirt the licensing law

In 1919, the final year of California's porcelain plates, the tab used on plates was a
red star.  Interestingly, this appears out of step with the prior tabs, as it seems to
having nothing to do with the state of California.  The public had been invited to
make recommendations as to the design of the new tab, but it is unclear how the
star was decided upon.  The state awarded the manufacturing contract for these
tabs to the Kittle Manufacturing Company of Los Angeles, which was hired to
produce one million of them.  Interestingly, initial reports from mid-1918 of
potential designs for the star indicated that it was to be "a red star on either a
blue or white background."  This must have been more complicated than was
feasible, as the final product was simply painted red in its entirety.  
The
Bakersfield Californian
reported in May of 1918 that the seals would be attached
to the plates using prison labor at San Quentin, but whether this actually
happened is not certain.  In spite of a concerted effort to get motorists to register
on time, including state-wide press releases and mailing campaigns to registered
owners, fewer than half of all registrants had filed their renewals on or before
December 31, 1918, as required by law.  These tardy motorists paid for their
procrastination in the form of a penalty of 25% of their annual fee.

Although plates with matching numbers are legitimately used plates regardless of
the year or plate number, some collectors prefer “natural” plates, or new
registrations that carry the year tab for the same year that the plate number was
actually issued.  The issuance of baseplates breaks down as follows:







1920 saw the state of California switch to embossed metal plates after a six year
commitment to porcelain.  By the time this occurred, U.S. state-issued porcelain
plates were nearly a thing of the past.  At the dawn of the new decade, only two
states - Washington and New Mexico - would keep the porcelain dream alive.


















III: STATE-ISSUED NON-PASSENGER PLATES

California is remarkable for its abundance of non-passenger varieties.  In fact, no
other state issued nearly as many types.  The next closest competitor to
California would be Massachusetts, but California clearly stands out with fourteen
separate and distinct classes of non-passenger plates.

DEALER

Dealers in 1914 paid a registration fee of
$50 for five sets of plates, and $10 more
for each additional set of plates they
required.  All plates carried the same
number but had a different prefix letter
indicating the car they were to be used on.
Interestingly, dealer plates were
issued in two distinct varieties – new car
dealers were prefixed with a letter and
numbered starting from #1.  Letter prefixes
used began with A and are known to have
reached at least K, excluding the letter "I."  
Used car dealers, on the other hand,
carried a letter followed by a six digit
number beginning at 100,001 (notably,
assigning a distinct number series to used
car dealers was something done in 1914
only and was then discontinued.  When bids
to manufacture the second-issue plates were solicited in July of 1914, the
estimate was that 1,000 sets would be needed in 1915.  The plates, however,
underwent a major change in format from the previous year.  Whereas the first-
issue dealer plates were distinguishable from passenger plates solely by the
presence of a letter prefix, 1915 dealers carried a “DEALER” designation across
the top.  However, it is notable that a second variant of 1915 dealer plates exists
with no “DEALER” designation.  I am only aware of two examples of these plates -
one with "G" prefix and the other with an "F" prefix.  Perhaps these dealer plates,
which appear to have been manufactured on standard passenger bases, were
given to dealerships late in the year who realized they needed more plates and
made late requests.  One interesting side-note is that so many dealerships were
clamoring for low numbered 1915 plates that Board of Control mandated that the
numbers be assigned in lottery fashion so that no favoritism could ensue.  
Accordingly, the first 150 applications were thrown into a hat and doled out as
chance dictated.


















In May of 1915, a new state automobile law
was passed that reduced registration fees
for many classes of vehicles.  For dealers
in 1916, the fee was cut in half and
dealerships now got five sets of plates for
$25.  The plates still carried a letter prefix,
but now had the word "DEALER" stacked
vertically at the right.  As with the
previous two years, additional sets of
plates could be ordered as needed, now
for a cost of $2 a pair.  Half-way through
1919, the law changed yet again and
effective July 22 of that year, a dealer
registration cost $10 and included only a
single pair of plates.  Additional sets could
be ordered for $5 each.  According to the
"Oakland Tribune," this change (and a
similar change for motorcycle dealers) was
designed to "discourage the purchase by
dealers of unnecessary plates and
oftentimes having them laying around
where unscrupulous persons could get
them without the dealer's knowledge and
use them to avoid the payment of the fees
required of private individuals."  

Each separate set of plates needed by a
dealership bore the same plate number
but had a different letter prefix issued
sequentially from "A."  It's uncertain
whether all letters were used, or whether
"I" and "O" may have been skipped, but
large dealerships occasionally reached
multiple-letter prefixes, as can be seen in
the photos of 1919 Dealer plates #AA323
and #CCCCC208.



























EMERGENCY

In mid-1914, bids to produce 1000 pairs of
Emergency plates were solicited by the
State Department of Engineering.  The
ensuing 1915 plates, produced by the
Ingram-Richardson Company, are very
distinctive, bearing the plate number
prefixed with an "X" as well as the entire
word "EMERGENCY" across the bottom.  
They were only produced for a single year,
and this class of vehicle was probably
subsumed into the Exempt class in later
years.  Like so many other California
porcelain varieties, the 1915 Emergency
plate is the only example of a porcelain
license plate from anywhere bearing such an unusual term.










EXEMPT

Exempt plates were first issued beginning
in 1916, although no plates with matching
tabs are known until 1918.  According to
the new automobile law taking effect in
1916, exempt vehicles included cars
belonging to U.S. representatives of
foreign nations and public service
corporations.  It seems likely that they
would have also been used on police cars,
fire trucks and other similar city, state or
federally owned vehicles (see photo at
right showing an exempt plate in 1916
being used on a fire department vehicle).  
In the summer of 1919, an interesting case
arose in which a Woodland, California postal employee with an exempt mail truck
was found to be using his vehicle for personal purposes as well.  That discovery
led officials to crack down on the misuse of exempt vehicles and force drivers
who use such vehicles for personal use to take out a normal registration.  
According to the Attorney General, "any personal use of a motor car by an official
or other person holding a 'Diamond E' license vitiates the exemption from the
license tax, and makes it necessary for the motor vehicle department to collect
the fee."  Under this new ruling, about 400 drivers of exempt vehicles were sent
notices instructing them to take out 1919 licenses.  Issued in pairs, exempt
porcelains are marked on the plate as well as on the corresponding date tabs
with a very distinctive "E" in a diamond-shaped border.  Numbers are known to
have reached close to 4,000.  California exempt plates are the only examples of
exempt porcelain license plates from the U.S. or Canada.












MOTORCYCLE

First-issue motorcycle plates were ordered from the Ingram-Richardson company
in Pennsylvania.  Motorcyclists paid a two dollar fee in 1914, and were only issued
a single plate, designed to be displayed on the rear of the cycle.  More than
21,000 cycles were registered during this first year, which made the State
Engineer estimate that 25,000 plates would be needed in 1915.  This figure was
pretty accurate, as the final registration figure for 1915 according to statistics
published by the Superintendent of the California Motor Vehicle Department was
26,210.  From 1916 through 1919, motorcycle plates continued to be curved
porcelains and were not only issued in the same color format as the passengers,
but even carried the small revalidation tabs.  The 1916 motorcycle tab is identical
to the tab that went on the front of passenger automobiles and was inscribed
with the plate number.  The 1917 tab is interesting in that it is a lighter color of
yellow and has the poppy facing left, whereas it faces right on the passenger
plate (although the outline of the metal tab itself does not change shape).  In
1918, the tabs are slightly smaller than those issued to vehicles with full-sized
plates, and the 1919 tab actually carries an “MC” designation and the color is
more of an orange than a red.  An interesting comment in the "Oakland Tribune"
announced that "there has been a decrease in the number of motorcycle
registrations for 1918 of approximately 2000.  This is attributed to the fact that
most of the motorcycle operators were inducted into the army."  By 1919,
motorcycle registrations apparently reached into the 70,000s.  Please note that
the ranges offered in the chart below are still quite speculative and we are not
certain where the numbers began and ended in each of the tab years.

For a long time, there was collector confusion as to how to interpret the
numbering system on California 1916-1919 motorcycle plates, which can have a
mixture of numbers and as many as three letters (although the tabs carry the full,
decoded registration number).  Gene Hauman and Scott Broady have made
efforts to decode this system and clarify it for plate collectors, but it is interesting
to note that the code itself was revealed from the very beginning.  Indeed, early
in 1916 the California State Printing Office published the first of many lists to
come, indicating all of the registered motorcycles and who owned them.  In a
simple and short prefatory comment, the code was very concisely explained.  
Nevertheless, Broady's chart in the June 2006 "Plates" Magazine is illuminating
and has been duplicated for the benefit of those wanting to decode the numbers
on their plates:



























MOTORCYCLE DEALER

In 1914, motorcycle dealer plates were manufactured in exactly the same format
as the regular motorcycles, except that they are prefixed with a solid diamond.   
Numbers are known into the 800s, which seems oddly high, especially
considering that 1915 cycle dealers don't even go a third that high.  As a guess,
since there were no letters used on 1914 cycle dealers (and thus duplicate plates
would be identical), perhaps dealerships were issued sequentially numbered
plates to satisfy their needs.  In 1915, the system changed, with the solid diamond
now bearing a letter inside of it.   Large dealerships in 1915 could own cycle
plates numbered A24, B24, C24, etc.  The same system continued on the 1916-
1919 base, with the full registration - both letter and numbers - appearing on the
tab.  Beginning in 1916, motorcycle dealerships received five same-numbered
plates with prefixes from "A" through "D" and could order additional plates as
needed for a cost of .75 cents a piece.  Effective in July of 1919, the law changed
again, and motorcycle dealers now received only a single plate for their $5
registration fee, and could order more for $1 each.  According to the "Oakland
Tribune," this was to "discourage the purchase by dealers of an unnecessary
number of plates."  1916-1919 Motorcycle Dealer plates with matching tabs are
nearly impossible to find.  I am aware of but a single example in collectors' hands
(the 1917 pictured below).  I have seen 1916 Cycle Dealers, but I believe the tabs
they carry to be counterfeit.

















MOTORCYCLE EXEMPT

In 1918, a number of exempt categories were added, marked by the outline of a
diamond with an “E” inside.  In addition to regular state exempt plates, exempt
motorcycle plates were also introduced.  There is at least one surviving example
of an exempt cycle plate known, although it no longer has the tag to tell us which
year it is from.  In addition, there is a very peculiar plate known.  It is a 1919
Motorcycle Exempt plate - #586 - which has undergone what appears to have
been an official disfigurement for some reason.  The upper half of the diamond
with the "E" inside has been carefully scraped away leaving only the bottom half,
which looks like an "L" sitting inside of a "V."  This would appear to simply be a
case of unfortunate damage, were it not for the fact that the tab reads "LV586."  
The stamping in the tab looks legitimate and the plate is almost mint otherwise.  
Whatever it is, it may well have never been mounted on a motorcycle.














PUBLIC SERVICE

In spite of the fact that public service vehicles are known to have been included
in the new Exempt category beginning in 1916, we have statutory evidence that
“PS” plates were issued to vehicles used by designated public service
organizations beginning in 1915.  Apparently, then, there was some distinction
made beginning in 1916 as to which type of plate a given organization received.  
The earliest known PS plate in collectors' hands dates to 1918, but in 2011 a loose
1916 PS tab #2095 showed up on EBAY, becoming the earliest evidence I've seen
of this elusive class of plates.  By 1919, numbers are known to have neared
3,000.  Even though it has no tag, I have included a 1919 plate in the census of
known plates (see below) because it clearly had a 1919 star tab attached at one
time.












PUBLIC SERVICE DEALER

This is an odd plate that is completely unique in collectors' hands.  There is no
tag to denote its year of issue, but it bears a seemingly high number of #2204.










QUARTERMASTER CORPS

Quartermaster Corps plates used by Presidio in San Francisco were introduced in
1918.  Only a small handful are known today, all of which have numbers lower than
200.  None of the surviving examples still has tags, but one clearly used to have a
1918 bell tag attached.  Thus, I have recorded 1918 as a known year.  Please note:
this 1918 plate is in such poor condition, that I have pictured a different QMC
plate below for a better photographic representation of what these plates look
like.










QUARTERMASTER CORPS MOTORCYCLE

First discovered in 2006, there is one surviving example of a QMC Cycle plate.  
There is no tab, but it dates from between 1918 and 1919.














QUARTERMASTER CORPS TRAILER

Like the passenger and motorcycle QMC plates, Quartermaster Corps Trailer
plates used by Presidio were also introduced in 1918.  There are only two
surviving examples - #11 and #24 - both with 1919 tabs.









TRAILER

1918 saw the introduction of a few new classes of plates, including commercial
trailers marked with the word “trailer.”  The cost for these plates was $2 and they
were issued as singles only.  Only a handful of these plates are still in existence
today, although numbers reach as high as #1575.  Exempt trailer plates were also
apparently issued, but there are no known surviving examples of these plates.











U.S.

In 1915, a new government plate was added with a “US” prefix.  I have heard of
two of these plates still existing in collectors' hands today.  These 1915 plates are
very distinctive, as they carry periods after the "U" and "S" - something no other
porcelain license plate from California ever did, including the later US versions.  
This class of plate continued on the 1916-1919 base, although no matching 1916 is
documented to my knowledge.  It is unclear exactly how this class of plate differs
from the Exempt class, but perhaps U.S. plates went on Federal vehicles and
Exempt plates were used by state vehicles.  Surviving examples show that
numbers surpassed 2,000 by the end of 1919.























U.S. MOTORCYCLE

There are two known U.S. cycle plates, one with a matching 1919 tab.  















IV: ODDBALL PORCELAINS

Another odd plate hails from the collection of porcelain expert Gene Hauman.  
Once again, this plate is on what appears very much like the 1916-1919 plates.  
However, this strange plate is white on red instead of blue on white!  The only
theory going is that this may be some sort of official plate.  The evidence to
suggest such a conclusion is from the Motor Vehicle Department's "California
Automobile Registration" book (Volume 3) for 1917.  In this book, plate number
120685 is registered to a National owned by "Off Blanche B, San Juan
Capistrano."  The format of Blanche's name is what is odd here.  Names are
written beginning with the last name and followed by the first.  While it is
conceivable that her last name was indeed "Off," this seems unlikely.  It is
possible that in this case "Off" stands for "Official," and that Blanche was a V.I.P.
who was issued a special plate for some reason.  The plate does appear to have
been mounted and used, but seems never to have carried a tab.










SAMPLE

One oddball category from California is sample plates.  There are two different
known varieties, both of which read "SAMPLE" in a diagonal fashion.  One is
clearly the 1916-1919 blue & white base with the sample number #135790.  The
other plate, however, is a bit different.  It, too, is on a base appearing very much
like the 1916-1919 plates, but instead of blue characters, it has red ones.  It
carries an un-numbered 1918 tab and has the plate number #1920.  Perhaps it was
used as an advertising sample to gain the 1920 contract to provide the state with
plates.  If this is the case, the effort was for naught, as embossed metal was
chosen as the material of choice that year.











U.S. ARMY - 40th DIVISION

There are also a few known examples of a California porcelain military base
topper.  First organized at Camp Kearney near San Diego, California in September
of 1917, the 40th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army was originally composed of
National Guard organizations of the states of Arizona, California, Colorado,
Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.  Active in both World Wars, as well as the
Korean war and later conflicts, the "fighting 40th" was nicknamed the
"Sunshine Division" due to its distinctive sunburst insignia, which
represented the Division's Southern California home.  A few porcelain
toppers have survived emblazoned with the Division's sunburst insignia.
These were likely used on vehicles being operated on military bases in
California and probably date to the '40s or '50s.









FURTHER READING

PRIMARY SOURCES

Arcadia Journal, December 15, 1917

Bakersfield Californian, December 30, 1913; February 27, 1915; July 21, 1915;
January 18, 1916; April 12, 1918; May 13, 1918; November 22, 1918;

Big Piney Examiner (Big Piney, WY), June 25, 1914

Los Angeles Times, December 30, 1913; January 4, 1914; February 25, 1914;
February 27, 1914; May 29, 1914; July 3, 1914; December 20, 1914; December 25,
1914; January 1, 1915; January 3, 1915; January 7, 1915; June 6, 1915; December
18, 1915; December 31, 1915; January 2, 1916; December 10, 1916; March 25, 1917,
January 3, 1918; March 2, 1918; June 13, 1918

Modesto Evening News, December 17, 1915; January 7, 1916; February 1, 1919

Mountain Democrat (Placerville, CA), October 11, 1913

Oakland Tribune, December 26, 1913; January 6, 1914; July 25, 1914; November 29,
1914; December 24, 1914; May 23, 1915; June 18, 1915; December 26, 1915,
January 2, 1916; December 16, 1917; December 15, 1918; January 5, 1919; May 4,
1919; June 8, 1919

Oxnard Courrier, January 9, 1914; March 13, 1914; January 7, 1916; July 20, 1917

The Hub (New York), Vol. 59, No. 8 (November, 1917), p. 20.

Ukiah Republican Press, August 20, 1915

Van Nuys News and Van Nuys Call, August 20, 1915; November 12, 1915

Woodland Daily Democrat, August 25, 1913; December 8, 1915; January 3, 1916;
June 5, 1919

SECONDARY SOURCES

Jeff Minard, “California: License Plates of the Golden State.”  ALPCA Register, 46,
1 (February, 2000), pp. 7-11.

Jeff Minard, “California: Non-Passenger License Plates of the Golden State.”  
ALPCA Register, 46, 2 (April, 2000), pp. 7-11, 42-44.

Jeff Minard, "We're All Ears!: California's Automobile Club Pre-States." PLATES, 52,
3 (June, 2006), pp. 24-28

Scott Broady, "Nearly a Century of California Motorcycles."  PLATES, 52, 3 (June,
2006), pp. 29-32

Due to the size of the California archive, I have split it into two parts.  
Part 1 contains information on the following:

I: PRE-STATES / CITY & COUNTY PLATES

CLICK HERE FOR PART 1 OF THE CALIFORNIA ARCHIVE
1916
1-234317
1917
234318-357299
1918
357300-485000
1919
485001-at least 599705
1914
White/Red
5 1/2" x 16"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 125,000
1915
Black/Yellow
5 1/2" x 16"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 165,000
1916
Blue/White (lead bear)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - 234,317
1917
Blue/White (yellow poppy)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - 357,299
1918
Blue/White (green bell)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - 485,000
1919
Blue/White (red star)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 600,000

PLEASE CLICK HERE FOR A CHART DECODING THE
CALIFORNIA MOTORCYCLE NUMBERING SYSTEM FROM
1914-1919
California 1914
Courtesy of the L.A. Public LIbrary
California 1915
California 1916
California 1918
Courtesy of the L.A. Public LIbrary
California 1917
1914
White/Red (New car)
5 1/2" x 16""
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 2500
1914
White/Red (Used car)
5 1/2" x 16"
Pairs
Range: 100001 - Approx. 100300
1915
Black/Yellow (Type 1)
5 1/2" x 16"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 1000
1915
Black/Yellow (Type 2)
5 1/2" x 16"
Pairs
Range: Unknown
1916
White/Red (lead bear)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 2,500
1917
White/Red (yellow poppy)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 3,000
1918
Black/Yellow (green bell)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 3,500
1919
Black/Yellow (red star)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 4,000
California 1916 Dealer
1914
White/Red
10" x 3 1/2"
Singles
Range: 1 - Approx. 900
1915
Black/Yellow
10" x 3 1/2"
Singles
Range: 1 - Approx. 250
1917
Blue/White (yellow poppy)
10" x 3 1/2"
Singles
Range: Unknown
California 1919
The Oakland Tribune, December 26, 1913
The Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1915
In this article and
accompanying cartoon,
it is announced that
inscribing one's name
on the rear bear is
optional.




The Los Angeles Times,
January 2, 1916
1915
Black/Yellow
5 1/2" x 16"
Pairs
Range: Estimated X1 - X600
1918
Blue/White (green bell)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 2,500
1919
Blue/White (red star)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 4,000
1919
Blue/White (orange star)
10" x 3 1/2"
Singles
Range: Unknown
1914
White/Red
10" x 3 1/2"
Singles
Range: 1 - Approx 25,000
1915
Black/Yellow
10" x 3 1/2"
Singles
Range: 1 - Approx 27,500
1916
Blue/White (lead bear)
10" x 3 1/2"
Singles
Range: 1 - Approx 30,000
1917
Blue/White (yellow poppy)
10" x 3 1/2"
Singles
Range: 1 - Approx 40,000
1918
Blue/White (green bell)
10" x 3 1/2"
Singles
Range: 1 - Approx 60,000
1919
Blue/White (orange star)
10" x 3 1/2"
Singles
Range: 1 - Approx 75,000
1918
Blue/White (green bell)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 2,700
1919
Blue/White (red star)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 3,000
Unknown
Blue/White (tag missing)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: Unknown
1918
Blue/White (green bell)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 150
Unknown
Blue/White (tag missing)
10" x 3 1/2"
Singles
Range: Unknown
1919
Blue/White (red star)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs?
Range: Unknown
1918
Blue/White (green bell)
4 1/2" x 13"
Singles?
Range: 1 - ???
1919
Blue/White (red star)
4 1/2" x 13"
Singles?
Range: Unknown - Approx 1,600
1915
Black/Yellow
5 1/2" x 16"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 500
1917
Blue/White (yellow poppy)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx 1,300
1918
Blue/White (green bell)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx 1,500
1919
Blue/White (red star)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx 2,050
1919
Blue/White (red star)
4 1/2" x 13"
Pairs?
Range: Unknown
Unknown
Sample
Blue/White (tag missing)
4 1/2" x 13"
1918
Sample
White/Red (green bell)
4 1/2" x 13"
Unknown
Unknown
Blue/Yellow
3" x 12"
Unknown
Unknown
White/Red (tag missing)
4 1/2" x 13"
Headline of article warning
motorists not to put their
new 1915 plates on until the
first of the year.
The Los Angeles Times,
December 25, 1914
Click on the thumbnail
above to see this cartoon
regarding the mad scramble
to obtain 1915 plates

The Los Angeles Times,
January 3, 1915
Two women smile as they
check out California's newest
license plates for 1916

The Los Angeles Times,
December 31, 1915
Announcement of the tab
change in 1918
The Arcadia Journal,
December 15, 1917
Note how the bolt hole
placement was altered at
some point in 1916.
California 1917 Dealer
California 1916 Exempt
California 1914 New Car Dealer
Courtesy of Mike Duff
In early 1916, advertisements like
these offered professional engraving
services to those who wanted to
have their names inscribed on the
rear bear tab of their new license
plates.  Note the ad at left from the
Moise-Klinker Company, a well-known
maker of brass California pre-states.
The Woodland Daily
Democrat,
January 6, 1916
FACTOID
The Woodland Daily
Democrat,
January 8, 1916
California 1915 Emergency
Headline announcing that
low numbered 1915 dealer
plates would be assigned
by a lottery system
The Oakland Tribune,
November 29, 1914
Headline about the
proposed plan to have
inmates at San Quentin
begin making California
license plates
The Oxnard Courier,
July 20, 1917
Headline warning drivers of
exempt vehicles not to use
them for personal use
The Woodland Daily Democrat,
June 5, 1919
This tab is the earliest
evidence known of 1916
PS plates.
California 1919 Dealer
Close-up of a
1919 photo
showing
plate #A1

Photo courtesy of
Martin Konopacki
Photography
Although collectors didn't
realize dealer plates
surpassed double-digit letter
prefixes, this 2011 EBAY
offering suggests that by
1919 the largest dealerships
sometimes hit quintuple
prefixes!

Exactly how the numbering
sequence worked has yet to
be determined.
The Bakersfield Californian, April 12, 1918
Although this plate was
clearly produced on the
same porcelain base as the
rest of the California QMC
plates, it is unclear if this
particular plate was used in
the state of California.  
Unlike the others, it bears no
state identification or year
tab.

For more on this CQM
porcelain, see the
Government archive
HERE