A Website for Porcelain License Plate Collectors & Enthusiasts
District of Columbia Archive
TOTAL KNOWN PORCELAIN VARIETIES: 5
I: PRE-DISTRICT ISSUES
II: DISTRICT-ISSUED PASSENGER PLATES
From 1903 though the early fall of 1907, vehicle owners in the District of Columbia
were required to make up their own pre-state plates. Beginning in October of
1907, however, a new law took effect and ushered in the District's official
issuance of license plates, which was kicked off with an undated white & black
plate. Motorists paid one dollar to the Collector of Taxes of the District of
Columbia to register and receive these porcelains. In June of 1907, "The
Washington Post" had printed the new law so that automobile owners had ample
time to familiarize themselves with its requirements before the October deadline.
As the law mandated, "each machine shall be identified by an enamel metal
identification number tag which shall be conspicuously displayed upon the rear of
the vehicle, so as to be plainly visible from a distance of at least seventy-five feet
behind the vehicle." Issued as singles only, these first D.C. porcelains were used
for the next ten years. No other porcelain plate from any state or province was
used for a longer period of time. Plates issued to passenger cars appear to have
begun at #100.
Although there are subtle differences in the
plates from year to year, most collectors really
only divide D.C. porcelains into two types. The
type 1 plates have half-inch letters across the
top reading "DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA." Until the
plates hit five digits, these early D.C. porcelains
measured 6" x 10". Then in 1912, when the
#10,000 mark was reached, the plates were
elongated to 6" x 12", but retained the half-inch
lettering across the top. The Type 2 plates were
introduced at some point in 1914 and are the
same style and size as the five-digit Type 1
plates, except that they have the "DISTRICT OF
COLUMBIA" legend in lettering twice the size -
now in bold 1 inch high letters. It is unclear
exactly where the break between Type 1 and
Type 2 plates began, but experts have
narrowed it to approximately plate #19,900.
The first 2,500 D.C. plates were produced by the Washington-based Lamb &
Tilden Company in 1907 and 1908 and are the only porcelain license plates that
company is known to have ever produced. Beginning with plate #2,501, however,
Lamb & Tilden lost the contract to make the plates, and the DC. porcelains were
now being produced by the Baltimore Enamel & Novelty Company, and the first
couple thousand bore BALTO's distinctive hand-painted date coding system on
the reverse. At least two different batches of D.C. porcelains were produced by
Baltimore Enamel in the latter half of 1908. For more about Baltimore Enamel's
date code system, click HERE. BALTO continue producing the plates after 1908 as
well, but ceased using their date codes in favor of their familiar oval maker's
mark. Although the presumption is that Baltimore Enamel continued making the
D.C. plates for the duration of their existence, for whatever reason a small batch
of plates were also produced by the Beaver Falls, PA based Ingram-Richardson
Company. Only about 2,000 of these plates were made by Ing-Rich, which
historian Eric Tanner has found are isolated in the #29,000 and #30,000s and were
produced in mid-1915. Precisely why Ing-Rich would have been hired to make a
batch of plates right in the middle of an active contract held by Baltimore Enamel
is a mystery.
Another interesting chapter in the manufacture of D.C. porcelains occurred in
1917, when the Scioto Sign Company of Kenton, Ohio sued the District over
rejected plates. According to an article in "The Washington Post," in 1916 Scioto
bid to furnish 5,000 plates for 1917. The District apparently awarded Scioto the
contract and even accepted the first allotment of 1,000 plates without hesitation.
But when the sign company went ahead and manufactured the rest and attempted
to deliver them in October of 1916, District officials apparently rejected the
remaining 4,000 plates for some reason and refused to pay. Scioto took the
matter to court, demanding $650 for the rejected plates. It is unclear why these
plates were found to be unsatisfactory or whether or not any of them were ever
Based on research conducted by D.C. historian Steve Raiche, the D.C. porcelains
break down by year as follows:
III: DISTRICT-ISSUED NON-PASSENGER PLATES
There are only two varieties of porcelain non-passenger plates that were
produced in the District of Columbia - Motorcycle plates and mystery black &
white plates thought to have been Vendor's plates. Unlike most jurisdictions,
interestingly, all of D.C.'s non-passenger varieties were produced in sizes and
color schemes completely different from the passenger plates in use at the time.
D.C. expert Charlie Gauthier has determined that the first 100 or so plates were
issued to various companies for "Demonstrating Cars," but these plates -
Dealers, in essence - were not physically distinct from the passenger plates.
Further research conducted by Tanner has revealed that motorcycle plates in the
District of Columbia received numbers that were taken out in blocs from the
passenger series. In other words, no passenger plates are numbered #2501 -
#3100, because this group of 1909 numbers was allotted for cycles. We do not
know what this first series of D.C. cycles would have looked like, as no survivors
are known. The next bloc of numbers for cycles came in 1910 and constituted
plates numbered from #5,000 to #5,999. Motorcyclists receiving plates at this time
got attractive white & red fender-shaped porcelain cycle plates which were gently
curved from top to bottom and bore the District abbreviation "D.C." at the
bottom. I have only seen one surviving example of this rare porcelain variety.
We do not know precisely what the next batch of numbers allotted for
motorcycles was, but the presence of three porcelain cycle plates - #12612,
#12725 and #13609 - suggests that the #12,000s and #13,000s in 1913 may well
have been set aside for such registrations. A lone 1913 survivor in the #16,000s
also exists, but it's unclear what block might have been assigned. Interestingly,
these cycle plates were entirely redesigned from the earlier 1910 plates.
Although still white & red with "D.C" at the bottom, the new 1913 issues were
substantially taller (since they now had to feature five digits) and were curved not
only from top to bottom, but from side to side as well. It's very possible that
additional blocs of numbers were set aside for more cycle plates before the end
of D.C. porcelain era in 1917, but no other D.C. cycle plates have been found to
validate whether this is true or not.
The plates that I am identifying here as Vendor plates are really a mystery. We do
not know for sure that they were Vendor plates, but that seems to be the
prevailing theory. It is presumed that they adorned the sides of push carts and
other such vehicles. The dating of these porcelains is unclear, but they number
up near #20,000.
The Washington Post, June 19, 1907; November 13, 1907; August 1, 1909;
December 24, 1915; July 15, 1917
||White/Black, Type 1
||Range: 100 - Approx. 19,900
||White/Black, Type 2
||6" x 12"
||Range: Approx. 19,901 - 62,000
|* One to four digit plates measure 6" x 10"; Five digit plates measure 6" x 12"
||100 - 1,541
||1,542 - 2,548
||2,549 - 4,343
||4,344 - 6,272
||6,273 - 9,289
||9,290 - 12,868
||12,869 - 16,862
||16,863 - 24,803
||24,804 - 33,668
||33,669 - 45,525
||45,526 - at least 61,395
||8" x 3"
||Range: 5,000 - 5,999
||10" x 3"
||Range: Approx. 12,000 - 13,999
||Range: Approx. 1 - 18,000
|* Four digit plates measure X" x X"; Five digit plates measure 3 /2" x 10"
|Note the various subtle
differences in Type 1 DC
porcelains, particularly in
relation to bolthole size &
placement. Late Type 1
plates (like #10145)
were produced on a
|In 1917, The Scioto Sign
Company sued the District
over rejected plates
produced under contract
The Washington Post
July 15, 1917
|Around plate #19,900, the height of the
characters in the "District of Columbia" legend
was doubled to one inch.
This modification was made in 1914, probably
for legibility reasons, and marks the
changeover from the Type 1 porcelains to the
Type 2 variant.