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A Website for Porcelain License Plate Collectors & Enthusiasts
Arizona Archive
TOTAL KNOWN PORCELAIN VARIETIES: 13

I: PRE-STATES / CITY & COUNTY ISSUES

In 1912, a new Arizona state law required the registration of motor vehicles.  
Known Arizona pre-states include examples made of flat tin, leather, and kit plates
with house numbers.  Porcelain does not seem to have been a frequent choice
among automobile owners.  However, in at least one instance, and exception was
made to this trend.  There is a single pre-state porcelain plate known from Arizona
- #1608, which dates it to 1913.








In addition to the one pre-state porcelain known from Arizona, at least four cities
in the state issued porcelain license plates.  None of them appears to pre-date
the first state issue of 1914, although most are undated, so we cannot be sure of
this.  Arizona porcelain city plates are remarkably scarce, with a total of only X
known plates known from all jurisdictions combined!

BISBEE

Nestled in the mile-high Mule Mountains of Southeastern Arizona, Bisbee was
founded as a copper, gold, and silver mining town in 1880.  This Old West mining
camp proved to be one of the richest mineral sites in the world, producing nearly
three million ounces of gold and more than eight billion pounds of copper, not to
mention the silver, lead and zinc that came from these rich Mule Mountains. By
the early 1900s, the Bisbee community was the largest city between St. Louis and
San Francisco.  It had a population of 20,000 people and had become the most
cultured city in the Southwest. The city remained prosperous for decades until
the mines played out and the population began to shrink.  The city was still riding
high in 1920 when the first known porcelain license plate was issued.  Whoever
designed this first plate, however, did so without a great deal of thought, as the
difficult to read white on yellow color scheme rendered the plates indecipherable
from a distance.  In 1921, a second porcelain was issued, this time in a much more
logical white on blue color scheme. These plates are incredibly rare, with only a
few known survivors.










DOUGLAS

Douglas is in Southern Arizona on the Mexican border.  It is a small town that
began as a mining town when a copper-smelting company was founded there in
1901.  Later, cattle ranching would become the city’s primary commerce.  Douglas
is home to the historic Gadsden Hotel, which opened its doors in 1907. The stately
five-story, 160-room hotel became a home away from home for cattlemen,
ranchers, miners, and businessmen in the young Arizona territory.  The city
apparently decided to issue porcelain license plates around 1918.  An undated
blue & white version showed up in 2016 and it is believed that this is probably the
earliest known plate from the city.  In addition, there are at least three dated 1918
porcelains and although none of these plates identifies a state name, it is
believed that they are indeed from Douglas, Arizona.










PRESCOTT

The discovery of gold in 1838 first brought national attention to Prescott, and
additional discoveries on nearby Lynx Creek in the 1860s further bolstered the
town’s increasing prosperity. Prescott was known as a progressive community
and twice served as the Territorial Capital.  The city developed rapidly, but
suffered a devastating fire in 1900, when the entire downtown district was
leveled.  The community rebuilt, however, and built its prosperity on mining,
lumber and farming.  One variety of porcelain license plate is known to have been
issued in Prescott – a very large, undated plate.  Embossed metal plates dated
1917 and 1919 are known, so the porcelain surely predates those.  We can
estimate that these Prescott plates date to perhaps 1915 or 1916.  These massive
plates measure 7 1/2" x 14" and are the third largest porcelain license plates
known in terms of total square inches behind only the Muskogee, Oklahoma and
McPherson, Kansas porcelains.  There are 6 or 8 surviving examples of these
rare plates known.  Numbers reach into the low 200s.











TUCSON

Located sixty miles North of the Mexican border in Southern Arizona, Tucson is a
very old and storied city.  It is the oldest city in the state and began its existence
as a Spanish presidio or military garrison. It has been owned by both Mexico and
the United States, served as the capital of the Confederate Arizona Territory, and
became home to the University of Arizona in 1995.  By 1900, over 7,500 people
lived in the city, a number which nearly doubled a decade later.  It is uncertain
when the undated Tucson porcelains were issued, but they probably date to
about 1915, when the city’s population was around 15,000.  About a half-dozen
examples of these attractive red and white porcelains survive today with
numbers reaching into the low 300s.










II: STATE-ISSUED PASSENGER PLATES

None Issued.

III: STATE-ISSUED NON-PASSENGER PLATES

None Issued.

IV: ODDBALLS

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, porcelain license plates were manufactured for
use on vehicles patrolling the international border between Arizona and the
Mexican state of Sonora.  This type of plate had been around from as early as
1930, but all prior years were embossed metal until 1938 when a blue & white
porcelain was issued.  In 1940, a striking white & red porcelain with clipped
corners was made.  Starting that same year, it appears that in addition to the
standard plate, special versions were also manufactured for the governor's
vehicle.  These were very similar to the standard issue, but were made with
different color schemes and also carried the governor's initials.  The 1940 #1 and
1941 #2 plates pictured below have the initials "RTJ" for Governor Robert Taylor
Jones.  Interestingly, one known 1940 plate is #04 and it is unclear why the
number includes a leading zero.  All other one-digit examples of these Sonora
porcelains simply have the single numeral.  Porcelains continued to be used
through at least 1942.  It is worth noting that these plates feature the Spanish
spelling of the word "official," suggesting that they are, in fact, Mexican issues.  
However, since there appears to have been some sort of reciprocal arrangement
that made these plates legal in Arizona as well, I believe they deserve to be
considered in this archive.  By contrast, there are versions which read only
"Sonora" and do not indicate Arizona.  These are not included here as they seem
to be plates intended for use in Mexico only.
1920
Passenger
White/Yellow
4" x 6"
1921
Passenger
White/Blue
4" x 6"
Undated
Passenger
Blue/White
4 1/4" x 8"
1918
Passenger
Black/Red
4 1/4" x 8"
Undated
Passenger
White/Black
7 1/2" x 14"
Undated
Passenger
Black/White
 
Undated
Passenger
White/Red
5" x 10"
1938
Border Patrol
Blue/White
6" x 11 3/4"
1939
Border Patrol
White/Blue
6" x 10 1/4"
1940
Border Patrol (Type 1)
White/Red
6" x 10 1/4"
1940
Border Patrol (Type 2)
Blue & Red/white
6" x 10 1/4"
1941
Border Patrol (Type 1)
Black/White
6" x 10 1/4"
1941
Border Patrol (Type 2)
Blue, Red & Yellow/White
6" x 10 1/4"
1942
Border Patrol
Blue/Yellow