A Website for Porcelain License Plate Collectors & Enthusiasts
Pennsylvania Archive - Part 1



One of the relatively few Pennsylvania cities that issued porcelain license plates
was Bangor, which licensed teamsters with small annual porcelain plates
between about 1914 and 1923, although not all years are known.  A Borough of
Northampton County, Bangor lies 45 miles Southeast of Scranton in the Eastern
part of the state, near the border with New Jersey.  It owes its existence to the
discovery and successful commercial exploitation of slate quarries in the region.  
It was home to some 5,000 residents when the teamster licenses were issued.  
These little plates are extremely rare and are the only example of porcelain
license plates I've seen bearing the term "Teamster."


A number of Pennsylvania cities issued
porcelain city plates, but only Philadelphia
began the issuance of plates in the state’s
pre-state era.  As one of the oldest, largest,
and most historically significant cities in
the United States, this comes as no
surprise.  One of the major commercial and
cultural centers on the East Coast,
Philadelphia boasted a population of more
than 1,300,000 residents when plates were
first issued there.  The city first passed
legislation on December 26, 1902 requiring
vehicles to display license plates to be
furnished by the Bureau of Boiler
Inspection.  In fact, the dated 1903 first
Philadelphia issue is notable for being the
earliest dated porcelain license plate of
any kind known.  The registration fee was
$2.00 for the first year and $1.00 for
renewals each year thereafter.  As the
ordinance read, each vehicle "shall always
display or cause to be displayed in a prominent and conspicuous part of said
vehicle, to be determined by the said Bureau of Boiler Inspection, a sign seven
inches long and four inches wide; to be furnished by the said Bureau of Boiler
Inspection, bearing the license number of its driver."  According to the Iowa City,
IA “Daily Press,” there were 1,663 licenses granted by the city of Philadelphia in
1903, and 2,340 in 1904.

It is unclear who manufactured the 1903 plates, but we have newspaper
documentation that the 1904 issues were produced by the Ingram-Richardson
Company of Beaver Falls, PA.  Interestingly, an explosion in Ing-Rich's plant
caused a delay and the plates did not get to Philadelphia on time.  There is
evidence that the 1905 plates began at #101, and based on the fact that there are
no surviving examples of any Philadelphia porcelains under three digits, it seems
safe to presume that this method of numbering was used for the entire run.

The city continued its practice of annual porcelain city issues for four years, until
they ceased issuance at the end of 1906, one year after the state took over. This
transition was not a smooth one, however, and the issue was actually decided in
court.  The issue at hand was the new Pennsylvania state law which declared that
"not more than one state license number shall be carried upon the front and back
of the said vehicle... and a license number obtained in any other place or state
shall be removed from said vehicle while the vehicle is being used within this
commonwealth."  Based on this language in the law, the Philadelphia Automobile
Club contended that the city ordinance was unjust and applied for an injunction
to prevent the city from compelling vehicle owners to take out 1906 licenses.  
Late in 1905, the court of Common Pleas took up the case and denied the
injunction, ruling instead that the city did indeed have a right to charge a local
license fee and regulate automobiles for the safety of its citizens.  Undeterred,
the Automobile Club appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.  

This was an important early test case for automobilists who resented any taxation
on their vehicles and considered the simultaneous state and city ordinances to
be unjust double taxation.  Word of the court challenge was reported in papers as
far away as Colorado Springs.  The “Saturday News” of Frederick, MD reported on
December 30 that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would be considering the
matter and that the city of Philadelphia was restricted from issuing licenses until
the case was heard.  For nearly three months, automobiles in Philadelphia were
free to run the streets without city plates.  In arguments before the Supreme
Court on March 23rd, Pennsylvania Attorney General Hampton L. Carson argued
his case, saying "on the field of battle a general officer supersedes a colonel, and
when a superior appears the general officer is superseded.  When Congress
passed a national bankruptcy law all state bankruptcy laws were suspended.  In
the same way the state automobile law supersedes the city ordinance."  

The Court took the matter under advisement, but on May 14th, the decision
rendered by the Court of Common Pleas was sustained.  The ruling of the
Supreme Court found that the language of the new state law did not prohibit
licensing by cities within Pennsylvania.  The fact that the ordinance read "not
more than one state license number shall be carried" did not apply to city issues,
and the wording indicating that "a license number obtained in any other place"
was referring to foreign countries rather than local jurisdictions.  "We have
reached the conclusion," wrote the court, "that the injunction prayed for must be

With the final word on the matter finally spoken, vehicle owners in the city of
Philadelphia from that point forward were compelled to carry both state and city
plates.  One aspect of the 1906 plates is that they are marked on the reverse with
the signature hand-dating system of the Baltimore Enamel and Novelty Company,
which manufactured them.  All known plates are marked "125," indicating a date of
manufacture of December, 1905.  Thus, these plates were at least ordered, if not
received, by the city already when this matter went to court and sat gathering
dust while the issue played out.  Based on plate numbers, there is a precipitous
drop in the number of registrations that year compared to 1905.  Whereas
approximately 3,800 1905 plates were issued, the highest known 1906 is #2,500.  
This is likely due to the litigation-induced delay in issuing the plates and the fact
that they were only used for the last seven months of the year.  Numerous
potential registrants who would have normally received plates from January
through May would have changed their minds, wrecked their cars, moved out of
the city, or perhaps just chosen to risk arrest for the remainder of the year.  Had
the court case not reared its ugly head, the city would probably have needed to
order additional plates from Ing-Rich later in the year to supplement its initial
order.  Under the circumstances, however, it appears this was not necessary and
that the first order of 2,500 or so plates was more than sufficient.

Philadelphia porcelains are surprisingly easy to acquire.  The 1903 is the hardest,
but even here we can estimate that some 25-30 of them are known in collectors'
hands.  Perhaps 50 1904 plates are known, and maybe 75 or so 1905s.  1906 plates
are slightly rarer again - about on par with the 1904 issue - because of their
limited time of issuance.

Interestingly, the city of Philadelphia also issued a long series of porcelain
vendor plates, first beginning in 1905 and stretching all the way through 1914.  
Based on date codes on the reverse, we know that the 1906 and 1909 plates were
produced by the Baltimore Enamel and Novelty Company, but the manufacturer of
the remainder of these issues remains a mystery. This 10 year span of plates
surpasses the Bangor Teamsters Licenses as the longest run of porcelain plates
to be issued by any jurisdiction in Pennsylvania.  These plates likely went on non-
motorized vendor carts, although we don't know this for sure.  Although these
little plates are very rare, numbers are known to have reached nearly 3,000.  It is
perhaps worth noting that for the first nine years, these plates used the term
"Vender," but in the final year of issuance the spelling was changed to "Vendor."


The County Seat of Allegheny County in Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh was a
major American city in the porcelain era.  In 1901, the U.S. Steel Corporation
formed, and Pittsburgh’s prosperity and population took off.  A decade later,
between a third and a half of the nation's various types of steel were being
produced there. It was during this phenomenal growth that the city's four
porcelain plates were issued.  The ordinance was actually first passed in March of
1905, providing that "every vehicle... shall always display or cause to be displayed
in a prominent and conspicuous part on the rear of said vehicle a license plate to
be furnished by the said city treasurer bearing the license number."  However, in
spite of this ordinance, full plates had never been issued.  Instead, it appears
that small dashboard discs or something equivalent had been used.  This
changed in 1908 when the city finally began issuing porcelain license plates.

One fascinating aspect of the Pittsburgh licenses is that they were issued in two
distinct varieties each year.  As a March, 1908 article in "The Horseless Age"
reveals, the blue 1908 plates were used on vehicles with one seat, while the gray
(or "slate," according to the article) version was used for two-seated
automobiles.  Similarly, plate historian Eric Tanner has a photocopy of a brown
Pittsburgh 1909 porcelain #13 along with its matching certificate showing that the
plate was issued to a one-seated automobile for a fee of $6.00.  Thus, the light
green 1909 plates were for two-seated vehicles.

Pittsburgh plates are often thought of in the same vein as Philadelphia
porcelains.  However, they bear no resemblance in terms of rarity.  Whereas
Philadelphia plates are relatively attainable, Pittsburgh porcelains are incredibly
scarce.  I've documented eight known numbers of the brown 1909 plate, and with
eight survivors, this is the most common of the four!  The blue 1908 plates appear
to have reached the mid 100s in number, while the gray 1908 plates neared 500.  
In 1909, the pale green plates are known into the mid 600s, and the brown version
up to nearly 1,200.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's defeat of the Philadelphia
Auto Club's proposed injunction against city-issued plates in that city in 1906
opened the way for cities such as Pittsburgh to their own licenses.  It is unclear
why Pittsburgh ceased this practice after only two years.


Nestled in the Lackawanna River Valley in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Scranton
was in important Pennsylvania city in the early 20th century.  In 1900, the city’s
population surpassed the 100,000 mark, making it one of the 40 most populous
cities in the U.S.  Although the city made its mark with iron, the turn of the century
saw coal take off as the city’s main industry.  In 1907, the city issued its first and
only porcelain license plate, of which five examples survive in collectors' hands
today.  Although the numbers and letters appear black, they are actually a very
dark blue.  Just like the Pennsylvania state issues in 1907, the Scranton plates
were manufactured by the Ingram-Richardson Manufacturing Company of Beaver
Falls, PA and are precisely the same size as four digit 1907 state plates.  Not only
are the Scranton porcelains the earliest known city issues manufactured by Ing-
Rich, but they are the only known city plates made by that company until 1916.  I
am aware of a half-dozen surviving examples of these elusive porcelains with
numbers reaching into the low 100s.


Sewickley is a township in the greater Pittsburgh area, lying on the Ohio River.  A
single porcelain license plate is known from the city – a dated 1909 issue which is
smaller in size than any other Pennsylvania porcelain.
Teamsters License
4" x 6"
Teamsters License
4" x 6"
Teamsters License
4" x 6"
Teamsters License
4" x 6"
Teamsters License
4" x 6"
Teamsters License
4" x 6"
Teamsters License
4" x 6"
3" x 6"
3" x 6"
3" x 6"
3" x 6"
3" x 6"
3" x 6"
3" x 6"
3" x 6"
3" x 6"
3" x 6"
4" x 7"
4" x 7"
4" x 7"
Dark Blue/Yellow
4" x 7"
Passenger (1 seater)
4" x 6"
Passenger (2 seater)
4" x 6"
Passenger (1 seater)
4" x 6"
Passenger (2 seater)
White/Pale Green
4" x 6"

Due to the size of the Pennsylvania archive, I have split it into two parts.  
Part 2 contains information on the following:


6 1/2" x 8 1/4"
3" x 5"

The Colorado Springs Gazette, December 19, 1905
Baltimore Enamel &
Novelty Company's date of
manufacture mark
(Dec., 1905) on reverse of
Philadelphia 1906 issue.
Matching 1903 Philadelphia
Operator's License and Receipt Card
The Automobile (Chicago), March 29, 1906
Announcement of new 1905
Philadelphia porcelains
Following the Supreme
Court decision regarding
1906 plates, newspapers
alerted motorists to their
need to carry both state
and city plates.
The Horseless Age,
May 23, 1906
The Horseless Age, March 4, 1908
Motor Age
January 12, 1905