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Rhode Island Archive
TOTAL KNOWN PORCELAIN VARIETIES: 29

I: PRE-STATES / CITY & COUNTY PLATES

Although there are no known examples of porcelain plates in the pre-state era
from Rhode Island, the city of Providence began issuing plates quite early, and
continued the issuance of porcelains into the 1940s.  Interestingly, no other
Rhode Island municipality ever issued porcelain plates of any kind.  

PROVIDENCE

Providence porcelains break down into three categories: Hackney Carriage,
Licensed Trucking, and Motor Bus.  Interestingly, there is potentially a fourth
category in Conveyance plates.  Rhode Island specialist Bob Bennett has a
photograph of a small Providence conveyance plate on the front of a child’s toy
car.  It is a remarkable photograph, but there are no known survivors of this type
of plate.

The earliest known plates from Providence are unlike all the rest.  They are
marked with a mysterious “P.C.” designation which has never been decoded, but
which probably stands for Public Carrier.  The actual use of these plates, as
determined by newspaper evidence, is for Hackney Carriages, Livery cars, and
other vehicles for hire.  These plates were first required in the city of Providence
as of July 1, 1907, and appeared alongside the vehicle’s regular first-issue state
plate.  It is unclear how long these plates were used, but they come in two minor
variations, perhaps indicating separate years, or maybe simply a change in the
manufacturer or a retooling of the machinery between the first and second
orders.  In any event, the changes are subtle, with different numeral styles, and
both a smaller “P.C.” and the lack of a comma after the word Providence on the
later issues.  











The next dated Hackney Carriage plates do not appear until 1928-29 (although it is
highly possible that there are earlier years which have not surfaced yet).  These
later porcelains were redesigned to their distinctive square 3" x 3" shape, and
would continue to be issued in the city through at least 1941.  Hackney Carriage
porcelains are extraordinarily scarce, with only seven years known, each of which
is unique in collectors' hands.  





















In addition to the Hackney plates, there was also a long run of Licensed Trucking
porcelains issued in Providence.  Very  much like the Hackney Carriage plates,
the Licensed Trucking porcelains are also square, but are slightly larger - 4" x 4".  
These plates are known as early as 1922-23 and were issued annually for nearly
20 years into the early '40s.  Numbers on these Trucking plates surpass
#1,000 in some years and they are slightly more attainable than the other
Providence city-issued porcelains, with two or three known of each of the most
common years.









































One fascinating plate known to exist is a small round disc from the city of
Providence dated 1915-16 and reading “Licensed Motor Bus.”  This is the earliest
known dated plate from the city, the only plate with a multi-year designation, and
the sole example of a motor bus plate known for any year.  Furthermore, its round
shape is very distinctive, as it is the only example of a round porcelain license
plate of any kind – state or city issued – known from New England.  There are two
surviving examples of these scarce plates, with numbers reaching nearly #300.











II: STATE-ISSUED PASSENGER PLATES

Rhode Island is an interesting state in terms of official porcelain issues, for while
no state or province matches Rhode Island for the continuous duration of
porcelain issues – 13 1/2 years from mid-1904 through the end of 1917 – there
were essentially only three different passenger plates used during that entire
span.  The first issue plates were simple white and black plates modeled loosely
on the Massachusetts Auto Registers which began one year earlier.  Indeed, as
Richard Dragon outlines in his phenomenal book “Registered in R.I.,” the
Secretary of State traveled to Boston in April to scope out the way things were
done there and to help come up with a design for the new plates, which were to
be under his office’s jurisdiction.  These plates first hit the road on or about June
1, 1904, when all motorists were required to register with the Secretary of State’s
office as per the state’s new law.  Although newspapers reported in April that the
new plate design would read “REGISTERED IN RHODE ISLAND” across the top, the
actual finished product actually read simply “REGISTERED IN R.I.”  These plates
were manufactured by the Baltimore Enamel and Novelty Company and bear that
company’s distinctive hand-written dating code on the reverse of the earliest
1904 plates (but not on the later plates).  The first batch – probably an order of
500 pairs – was manufactured in May of 1904.  A second batch is known to have
been made the following month.  For more on Baltimore Enamel's date coding
system, click
HERE.

The Rhode Island Registers were manufactured over a period of four years, from
1904 to 1908, and during that time, there were a few alterations in the format of
the plates.  Most collectors break Registers into two types – the early issues with
a small legend at the top, and the later issues with a substantially larger legend.  
The small legend plates, made of a thin-grade steel and with narrow numerals and
a black back, were not on the road for very long and numbers only reached the
low 800s, meaning that they were changed before 1904 was over.  The remainder
of the first-issue period was characterized by the larger legend plates, which
bear no indication as to the company that manufactured them, have white backs,
block style numerals and are made of a thicker metal.  Rhode Island specialists,
however, add an additional variety by distinguishing subtle differences between
these later issues.  The primary difference is the width of the character strokes,
which underwent a change at about plate number 2,700.  

The following chart illustrates the breakdown of RI first-issue porcelains by year:




















The first issue plates continued to be issued through mid-1908, when a second
issue porcelain was introduced.  Chapter 1592 of the Rhode Island state laws
repealed the act of 1904 and was passed on May 26, 1908.  Under the new law,
motorists had to register with the State Board of Public Roads, and registrations
now had to be renewed annually.  Notably, however, this did not mean the era of
the first-issue plate was over.  In fact, so long as a motorist continued to pay his
or her registration fee each year, their original Registers could be used
indefinitely.  It was only new registrants without a prior plate assigned during the
first-issue era who received the second issue plates.  Of course, if a motorist
who had a Register preferred the new plates, he or she could purchase a
replacement set with their original registration number.  Thus, while plate
numbering on the second-issue bases picked up beginning in 1908 right where
the first-issued bases ran out (approximately #3,265, according to Eric Tanner),
there are numerous examples of second-issue plates with numbers first issued
as early as 1904.  

Due to a production delay, Dragon
estimates that the second-issue plates
first hit the streets of Rhode Island on
June 15, 1908, even though the effective
date of the new law was June 1.  
Interestingly, the manufacturer of second-
issue Rhode Island porcelains is unknown.  
None has any maker’s stamp on the
reverse. Notably, a design flaw was spotted
and corrected quickly. Plates manufactured
in 1908 used a straight line version of the
letter “I” in the state abbreviation.  This
caused some confusion because of its
similarity to the numeral “1” and many felt
the state abbreviation suffix on the plates
looked an awful lot like “81.”  Thus, on
plates manufactured from 1909 (beginning
at about #4200) through the end of the
second-issue era in 1912, the “I” now had serifs to distinguish it as a letter and
not a number.  Plates without the serifs are quite rare, as fewer than 1,000 sets
were ever manufactured.

The following chart illustrates the breakdown of RI second-issue porcelains by
year:



















In 1912, new legislation was passed which would result in the creation of Rhode
Island’s third and final porcelain issue.  This change was brought about partially
because the first and second issue plates, both of which were still simultaneously
valid and on the road, were hard to read.  However, another reason was because
Rhode Island license plates were on the verge of the 10,000 mark when five-digit
plates would have to be produced.  

The first batch of 9,999 sets appear to have
been issued in late April.  By July 25, the
three-month grace period was over, and all
vehicles had to be equipped with the new
black on white plates.  The first numbers
issued to new registrants began at #8720,
where the second issue plates ended.  
After #9999 was reached, as Dragon
illustrates, the Automobile Department
then began to issue about 2,000 lower
numbers that had been relinquished by
their previous owners during the prior
year.  This was enough to satisfy the needs
for 1912 and continued through mid-1913
when the issuance of new numbers started
up once again, this time at #10,000.  From
this point in 1913 through the end of 1917,
another 25,000 pairs of automobile plates would be issued, with the final number
just surpassing the 35,000 mark.  These plates were remarkably consistent over
the years, with two pre-set positions for the “RI” state abbreviation, depending
on the plate number.  Around plate #10,000, there was a slight re-positioning of
the bolt slots and a slight thinning of the character width and stroke in order to
make five-digit plates more legible.

The following chart illustrates the estimated breakdown of RI third-issue
porcelains by year:






















III: STATE-ISSUED NON-PASSENGER PLATES

Unlike most New England states, Rhode Island had relatively few classes of
distinct non-passenger porcelains.  In fact, its four varieties places the state
second behind only Vermont in terms of the least number of collectible porcelain
types from the region.

COMMERCIAL

A new class of non-passenger porcelain was introduced with the third-issue base
in 1912.  These plates bore an “X” prefix and were used on commercial vehicles.  
The most notable variant of the porcelain commercial plates is the two sizes of
the letter “X” that were used.  The variant types don’t appear to come at any
particular break in the numbering sequence, but the difference is notable.  
Commercial porcelains were issued sequentially beginning in 1912 at #X1 and ran
through mid-November of 1917, with plate #X5999.  At that point, the supply
initially ordered was exhausted and standard passenger plates were issued to
commercial cars and trucks for the remainder of the year.  Commercial plates
break down by year as follows:




















DEALER

Dealer plates started from the very
beginning in 1904 alongside the passenger
issues.  They were differentiated from the
normal issues by the addition of an “A”
prefix followed by a dot.  They appear on
all three variants of the first issue bases
that collectors have identified, but as with
the passenger plates, most collectors
consider there to be only two primary
variants - the small letter version and the
large letter version.  Interestingly, the
earliest plates (the small letter version)
came on variable-sized bases.  Plates with
an "A" and a single digit are smaller in
length.  Once the number hit double-digits,
the base length became standardized for
the rest of the first-issue era.  The small-letter versions also bear the distinctive
date coding system of the Baltimore Enamel & Novelty Company, just as the first
600 or so passenger porcelains did.  Plate #A9 was manufactured in May of 1904
and plate #A24 was made April of 1906.  It seems unlikely that those two numbers
would have been manufactured two years apart, suggesting that #A24 may be a re-
issue, but we do not have enough surviving examples to explore this issue in
detail.  For more on the early Baltimore Enamel date-coding system as used on
Rhode Island porcelains, click
HERE.  Dealerships requesting multiple plates got
as many as they needed, all bearing the same number.  It is interesting to note
that there were numerous style changes in the letters and numerals on these
first-issue dealers.  The "A," for example, comes in several subtle and not-so-
subtle variations.  

Second issue dealers continued in the same style – with an “A” prefix followed by
the registration number, but no longer did a dot appear in between.  Dealer
registrations on the second issue base began at #A105 and just like the
passenger plates, both variants of the letter “I” in the state abbreviation exist –
with and without serifs.  Second issue dealers are quite scarce, in part, theorizes
Dragon, because most established dealers just kept using the registers already
in their possession.  If one of these plates became lost or illegible, they were just
as likely to make one up of their own design as to request a replacement number
on the new second issue base.  Of course, some replacements were requested,
explaining the existence of second issue dealers with numbers below #A105.  

A new system was introduced for the third issue Rhode Island dealer plates.  
Instead of receiving multiple plates of the same number, dealerships were
assigned a number and then got as many plates as they needed, each with a
different, sequentially-lettered, suffix.  Thus, a dealership could receive plates
numbered 1A, 1B, 1C, and so on.  Beginning in May of 1914, Dragon reports that
the law was altered so that dealerships who requested more than 26 plates
received double-letter suffixed plates.  After plate 1Z, therefore, the 27th plate
would be 1AA.  There was no mixing of the letters, so after 52 plates were issued,
the 53rd then went to triple letters – e.g. 1ZZ followed by 1AAA.  Third-issue
dealers with two and three letter suffixes are said to have been longer than the
rest, but no examples of such plates are known to validate whether any of these
plates were ever actually manufactured.




























DRIVER PERMIT

Upon passage of the 1908 act introducing second-issue plates, an unusual non-
passenger porcelain was mandated.  Any dealer or other individual
demonstrating a vehicle was required to display one of these plates bearing his
operator license number alongside the car’s dealer plate.  In an amendment to
the motor vehicle code effective April 26, 1912, this requirement was done away
with.  Thus, these driver permit plates were only around for four years.  As
Dragon notes, the reference to these porcelains as Driver plates is something
originated by license plate collectors.  There is no statutory evidence to indicate
that the “D” stands for Driver, and it is probably more likely that it referred to
Dealer or Demonstrator – or perhaps nothing at all, as with “A” prefixed dealers
and “B” prefixed motorcycles.









MOTORCYCLE

Along with passenger and dealer plates, the 1904 law also introduced motorcycle
plates.  These plates were marked with a “B” prefix followed by a dot and then the
plate number.  As with both passenger plates and dealers, the cycle plates were
first issued with small wording across the top before changing to large lettering
sometime later, thus comprising two collectible variants.  For some reason, the
issuance of these motorcycle plates was abandoned before the first-issue era
was over.  It is unknown exactly how long these plates were issued, but they are
extraordinarily rare, with only a precious few in collectors’ hands today.  Although
motorcyclists who obtained one of these first issue cycle plates could continue to
display it on their vehicle through April of 1912, new registrants in the second
and third-issue era were required to provide plates of their own, or paint the
number directly onto their cycles.  Interestingly, for half of 1916 and all of 1917,
motorcycles with sidecars were classified differently from regular motorcycles
and received pairs of regular third-issue porcelain plates, but these are
indistinguishable from the passenger plates and thus do not comprise a distinct,
collectible type of plate


















FURTHER READING

Eric Tanner, “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: Part II – A History of
Rhode Island Plates, 1904 to 1985.”  
ALPCA Newsletter, 32, 2 (April, 1986), pp. 28-32.

Richard E. Dragon, “Registered in R.I.: Motor Vehicle License Plates and the
Registration of Motor Vehicles in Rhode Island Since 1904.”  Providence: Eastern
Seaboard Press, 1998.  Pages...
1904
1-850
1905
851-1407
1906
1408-2115
1907
2116-2970
1908
2971-3264
1908
3265-4179
1909
4180-4976
1910
4977-6478
1911
6479-7978
1912
7979-8719
1912
8720-9999
(plus some replacements below #8720)
1913
10000-11206
1914
11207-14719
1915
14720-20546
1916
20547-27201
1917
27202-35017
1912
X1-X792
1913
X793-X1323
1914
X1324-X1843
1915
X1844-X2487
1916
X2488-X4089
1917
X4090-X5999
1928-29
Hackney Carriage
White/Blue
3" x 3"
1930-31
Hackney Carriage
Black/Gray
3" x 3"
1933-34
Hackney Carriage
White/Blue
3" x 3"
1934-35
Hackney Carriage
White/Red
3" x 3"
1936-37
Hackney Carriage
White/Blue
3" x 3"
1938-39
Hackney Carriage
White/Red
3" x 3"
1940-41
Hackney Carriage
Green/White
3" x 3"
1922-23
Licensed Trucking
Black/Yellow
4" x 4"
1923-24
Licensed Trucking
White/Red
4" x 4"
1924-25
Licensed Trucking
White/Blue
4" x 4"
1925-26
Licensed Trucking
Black/Yellow
4" x 4"
1927-28
Licensed Trucking
White/Blue
4" x 4"
1928-29
Licensed Trucking
White/Red
4" x 4"
1929-30
Licensed Trucking
Red/White
4" x 4"
1930-31
Licensed Trucking
Black/Yellow
4" x 4"
1934-35
Licensed Trucking
Blue/White
4" x 4"
1935-36
Licensed Trucking
Red/White
4" x 4"
1936-37
Licensed Trucking
Black/Yellow
4" x 4"
1939-40
Licensed Trucking
Green/White
4" x 4"
1941-42
Licensed Trucking
Blue/White
4" x 4"
1915-16
Licensed Motor Bus
White/Blue
3" diameter
Undated
P.C. (Hack), Type 1
White/Red
6" x 10"
Undated
P.C. (Hack), Type 2
White/Red
6" x 10"
(1904)
White/Black (Type 1)
6" x 10"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 850
(1904-08)
White/Black (Type 2)
6" x 10"
Pairs
Range: Approx. 851-3300
(1908-09)
White/Black (Type 1)
5" x 14"
Pairs
Range: 3265 - Approx. 4200
(1909-12)
White/Black (Type 2)
5" x 14"
Pairs
Range: Approx. 4201-8750
(1912-17)
Black/White
4 1/2" x 12"
Pairs
Range: 8720 - Approx. 35,100*
* In addition to these numbers, about 2000 lower numbers were also produced on this base.
(1912-17)
Black/White (Type 1)
4 1/2" x 12"
Pairs
Range: X1 - X5999
(1912-17)
Black/White (Type 2)
4 1/2" x 12"
Pairs
Range: X1 - X5999
1908
Blue/White
6" x 8 1/2"
Pairs
Range: B1 - Approx. B450
(1908-12)
White/Black
4 1/2" x 12"
Singles?
Range - D1(?) - Approx. D1100
(1904)
White/Black, Type 1
Variable*
Multiples
Range: A1 - ???
(1904-07)
White/Black, Type 2
6" x 10"
Multiples
Range unknown
(1908-09)
White/Black, Type 1
5" x 14"
Multiples
Range: A105 - ???
(1909-12)
White/Black, Type 2
5" x 14"
Multiples
Range Unknown
(1912-17)
Black/White
4" x 12"
Multiples
Range: 1 - Approx. 200
* Plates with an "A" and one digit measure X" x X"; All others measure 6" x 10"















Rhode Island Third Issue (1914)












Rhode Second Issue
(1908, re-issue of original 1904 number)

NOTE: This is the type 1 second-issue base
with no serifs on the letter "I."
Rhode Island First-Issue Dealer (1904)