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South Carolina Archive
TOTAL KNOWN PORCELAIN VARIETIES: 37

I: PRE-STATES / CITY & COUNTY PLATES

South Carolina is a state much like
Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas,
and Missouri in that it has a rich
tradition of porcelain license plates,
even though the state itself never
issued any of its own.  South Carolina
was actually quite late in issuing
plates, not distributing its first state
issue until 1917.  Prior to that point,
owners registered their vehicles with
the county clerk’s office but were
responsible for making plates of their
own.  There are no porcelain examples
of these owner-provided plates, but
it’s an entirely different story when it
comes to local city and county issues.  
In fact, there are 37 different known
porcelain plates from 19 separate
jurisdictions throughout the state.
Only three states – Florida, North
Carolina, and Oklahoma – are known
to have had a greater number of
municipalities which issued porcelain
license plates.  

Of course, not all South Carolina city
and county plates were porcelains.  
Both owner-provided and officially
issued city plates made out of leather
or metal are known from such
jurisdictions as Anderson, Columbia,
and Greenville.  Nevertheless, South
Carolina’s pre-state era is one marked
by the prevalence of porcelain.  
Two-thirds of these plates are
undated, but are presumed to be from
the 1912-1917 era.  Like the fact that
most are undated, there are a few
other trends that run through many of
these porcelains – 80% of them are
black on white, no pairs are known to
exist, many share a common layout
with a large “S.C.” prefix as if the same
company manufactured them, most
measure 6" x 12", and there are at
least nine different varieties bearing
distinctive company logos (D.W.
Alderman, Dupre Auto Co., G.C.
Chandler, Gibbes Machinery & W.E. Vernon).  This is one of the most fascinating
mysteries about South Carolina porcelains.  The article above provides the only
insight I am aware of regarding this little-understood quirk in the licensing law
which apparently allowed dealerships under certain circumstances to have plates
made up advertising their companies.

Another very interesting aspect of South Carolina porcelains is that it is unclear
whether the vast majority of them are city or county issues.  Indeed, of the 16
jurisdictions currently known to have produced porcelains, the origin of only four
can be conclusively determined: city plates from Gaffney and Columbia and
county issues from Clarendon and Richland.  In every other case, the jurisdiction
named on the plate is both a county name as well as the name of the county seat
within that county.  Conceivably, therefore, these plates could be either city or
county issues.  Most theorize that they are county plates, but until documentary
evidence of such turns up, we can only speculate.  In only a few cases did
registration numbers on any of these plates appear to exceed the upper
hundreds.  With this in mind, it is unsurprising that South Carolina porcelains are
so rare and so little understood.


AIKEN

Aiken is a county on the Georgia border as well as the city name of the county
seat within Aiken County.  During the era of the South Carolina porcelains, the city
of Aiken had about 4,000 residents, and was a popular winter resort not far from
the Savannah River and Georgia border.  There are three known varieties of
Aiken porcelains - one in the very typical undated format with a large "S.C." prefix,
and two other dated varieties - one from 1914 and the other from 1917





















BAMBERG

Bamberg is a relatively small county in South Carolina, as well as the name of the
county seat.  The city of Bamberg was a small city of about 2,000 people during the
porcelain era.  I have heard credible evidence that a porcelain Bamberg plate
exists, although I have never seen it.









BARNWELL

Barnwell is a county on the Georgia border.  Within the county is the city of
Barnwell – the county seat – which had fewer than 2,000 people in South
Carolina's porcelain era.  There are two known varieties of Barnwell porcelains.  
One is a very simple black and white variety much like the majority of South
Carolina city plates.  The other one, however, is more interesting in that it bears
the logo of Gibbes Machinery, a major employer in South Carolina at the time
which was headquartered in the city of Columbia.  Plates with the Gibbes logo are
also known from two other South Carolina jurisdictions – Florence and Richland.














BEAUFORT

Beaufort is a city in and the county seat of Beaufort County.  The site of only the
second North American landing by Europeans back in 1514, the seaport of
Beaufort is located at the head of one of the largest natural harbors on the
Atlantic coast.  The town of Beaufort was founded in 1711, making it the second
oldest town in South Carolina behind only Charleston.  Beaufort was occupied by
Union forces during the Civil War and later became a center of emancipation
efforts for newly freed slaves.  After the war, the city relied on phosphate mining
before a devastating hurricane in 1893 and a fire in 1907 brought economic
turmoil and stagnant growth to the city for nearly half a century. It was during this
time of hardship that the known Beaufort porcelain license plate was used.  It is
unclear whether or not this plate is a city or a county issue, but it probably dates
to the 1912-1917 era, as most South Carolina porcelains do.  This unusual
porcelain was unearthed by a bottle digger in Beaufort in 2010.  It is odd by South
Carolina standards for a number of reasons.  The fact that it is red and the fact
that it carries a border are each aspects matched by only one other known South
Carolina porcelain.  Furthermore, the plate's unusually small size suggests the
possibility that it might be a motorcycle plate.











CHARLESTON

As with so many of the other known South Carolina porcelains, the sole known
Charleston plate could be either a Charleston County issue, or a plate issued by
the city of Charleston – the county seat of Charleston County and the largest city
in the state.  A major Southern port with a safe land-locked harbor, Charleston
was a city suited for major commercial activity and had just over 60,000 residents
in 1915.  Whether this plate turns out to be a city or a county issue, it is notable
that it is the only example of a porcelain license plate known from any jurisdiction
along South Carolina’s Atlantic seaboard.












CLARENDON

Since there are no cities in South Carolina named Clarendon, we know that this
dated 1916 plate is a county issue from Clarendon County, which lies south-east
of state capitol at Columbia.  Attesting to the rarity of South Carolina porcelains,
the fact that there are two known 1916 Clarendon plates makes it one of the more
common varieties!












COLUMBIA

One of two verifiable city issues from South Carolina, it makes sense that the
state capital would have issued its own plates.  Columbia is the county seat of
Richland County in the central part of the state.  Lying on the Congaree River at
the confluence of numerous railroads, Columbia had a population of somewhere
around 30,000 when plates were first issued.  Like the Cherokee/Gaffney plate,
the passenger issue from Columbia bears both the city and county name – in this
case “Columbia/Richland.”  Based on the known surviving passenger examples,
of which there are more than a dozen, we can verify that the city had at least 1,400
registrations when these plates were issued.  Only the Greenville 1917 issue has
more surviving known examples.  The Columbia plates are notable for one other
reason as well – namely that they come in both passenger and motorcycle
varieties, both dated 1916.  The passenger issues are marked on the reverse with
the stamp of the Ingram-Richardson Manufacturing Company of Beaver Falls,
Pennsylvania.  Notably, the cycle plate is the only porcelain South Carolina plate
to bear the full state name.  The only other South Carolina non-passenger
porcelain is a cycle plate from Spartanburg.  


















DARLINGTON

Darlington is a South Carolina county, as well as the name of that county’s county
seat, a warehousing and distributing center for tobacco which had a population of
just over 4,000 during the porcelain era.  There are three known varieties of
Darlington porcelains - a basic one laid out in the standard South Carolina format
and marked on the back with the seal of the Baltimore Enamel & Novelty Company,
and two other varieties, each advertising a different auto dealership.





















EDGEFIELD

Edgefield is both a county as well as the small county seat of Edgefield County.  
The city had a population of only 1,500 or so at the time in question.  There are
two surviving examples of the Edgefield porcelains.











FLORENCE

Florence County’s most important city was its county seat, also named Florence,
which was an important railroad center, as well as a cotton, corn, & tobacco
market boasting a population of some 10,000 in South Carolina’s porcelain era.  
Like so many South Carolina pre-states, it is unclear if the Florence porcelains are
city or county issues.  There are three known varieties, each of them marked with
company logos.  While two have more familiar logos that we see on other South
Carolina porcelains as well (Gibbes Machinery & D.W. Alderman), the other is
completely unique, emblazoned with the company logo of G.C. Chandler, another
dealership in Florence at the time.  It is unclear exactly who got these plates and
how they were distributed, but they are a result of a quirk in the licensing law
which enabled auto dealerships to advertise on plates under certain
circumstances (see article above for slightly more insight on this practice).





















GAFFNEY

This is an interesting plate because it bears both the name of the city of Gaffney,
as well as the county of Cherokee.  In this case, it is safe to say that the plate is a
Gaffney issue, as the county would have had no reason to include city names on
its plates.  The city of Gaffney is the county seat of Cherokee County, lying in the
Northern part of the state, very close to the North Carolina border.  It had a
population of fewer than 5,000 at the time these plates were manufactured.












GREENVILLE

As with so many other South Carolina porcelains, this issue could hail from either
Greenville County, or from the city of Greenville – the county seat.  Lying in the
North-western part of the state, the city of Greenville was a textile center with a
population of over 20,000 in 1917.  Although we do not know if they are city or
county issued plates, we do know that Greenville issued non-porcelain plates in
at least 1915.  In 1917, however, Greenville switched to porcelain, issuing a
distinctive and very attractive blue and white dated plate.  With some 15-20
known survivors, this is the single most common porcelain plate from the state.  
Based on known plates, numbers appear to range from around 1000 to 2200, with
numbers seeming to have begun with #1000.  I’ve never seen a Greenville
porcelain with fewer than four digits.












LEXINGTON

Lexington is a county in central South Carolina, as well as the name of that county’
s largest town.  In the early 18th century, settlement in the area served as a
protective buffer between powerful Indian tribes to the west and the older
settled plantations of the low country.  In 1785, Lexington County was
established.  By 1861, the town of Lexington boasted a diverse population of
lawyers, physicians, tradespeople, artisans and farmers.  But in 1865 the town was
virtually destroyed by occupying Union Army forces guarding General Sherman's
western flank.  The small farms with their varied crops and the lumber industry
stabilized the area’s economy somewhat after Reconstruction. The completion of
the Columbia to Augusta Railroad just after the Civil War and the construction of
the Lexington Textile Mill in 1890 contributed greatly to the growth of the town
itself.  One example of an undated Lexington porcelain license plate is known,
almost surely made up to comply with county licensing regulations.











NEWBERRY

Newberry  is a county Northwest of the state capital, as well as the name of the
county seat of Newberry County.  The city was known for its textile mills and had a
population of fewer than 6,000 during South Carolina's porcelain era.  Typical of
the rarity of South Carolina porcelains, there are but two surviving examples to
validate that porcelains were ever issued in Newberry.  One is the standard "SC"
prefixed large black on white variety, while the other is a smaller reverse color
version manufactured by the Baltimore Enamel & Novelty Company.



















ORANGEBURG

Orangeburg is a county in central South Carolina, as well as the name of the
county seat of Orangeburg County.  The city of Orangeburg had some 7,000
residents when plates were issued.  There are two surviving varieties of
Orangeburg porcelains.  One is laid out in the standard undated South Carolina
porcelain format with a large "S.C." prefix.  The other one, however, surfaced in
2007 and bears the name of the D.W. Alderman Company of Florence (there is a
Darlington plate bearing the logo of the same company as well).  These plates
were perhaps supplied to Orangeburg free of charge as an advertising ploy.














RICHLAND

Along with Clarendon, Richland is one of only two South Carolina porcelains that
we can say with certainty are county-issued.  Richland is situated directly in the
center of the state, and is the home county to the capital city of Columbia.  
Richland is, by far, the most prolific issuer of porcelain plates in South Carolina.  
In fact, at least seven different plates are known to have been issued.  An issue
of “Motor Age” magazine dates one of these varieties (plate #S.C.1005) to 1912 –
the earliest verifiable date for any South Carolina porcelain.  Various other
varieties appeared at undetermined points thereafter.  The only dated example is
a red 1915 porcelain – one of only two red porcelains from a state known for its
bland color schemes.  This red plate is one of the more common South Carolina
porcelains with known numbers implying a total registration that year of perhaps
1200 plates.  These 1915 porcelains are further distinguished by the fact that they
bear the maker’s mark of the Ingram-Richardson Manufacturing Company of
Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.  

Like Barnwell and Florence, one of these remaining three Richland plates is
marked with the Gibbes Machinery logo.  Two others are marked with a different
logo from the Columbia based "Du Pre Auto Co" and have "Ford - Rambler" and
"Ford - Jeffery" across the top.  The one with "Ford - Jeffery" is a striking three-
colored porcelain manufactured by the Baltimore Enamel & Novelty Company, the
only such plate known from South Carolina.  These two plates are additionally
interesting because together they give us some insight into the dates of
issuance.  Rambler was the name of a car sold beginning in 1902.  However, when
the company's founder Thomas Jeffrey died and his son took over, he re-named
the automotive branding from Rambler to Jeffery.  This change happened in 1915
and Jeffery cars were sold until production ceased in 1917.  With this information,
it seems certain that the "Ford - Rambler" plate pictured below probably dates to
about 1913 or 1914 and preceded the "Ford - Jeffery" plate which dates to
between 1915 and 1917.  As for the remaining two Richland plates, all we know is
that at least one of them (the black variety such as #S.C.446 below) was
manufactured by the Baltimore Enamel & Novelty Company.








































SALUDA

Saluda is the name of a county, as well as that county’s county seat.  As for the
city of Saluda, it lies about 50 miles due West of the state capital at Columbia, and
had a population of about 1,000 during the time porcelains were issued in South
Carolina.  There are two surviving examples of a Saluda porcelain.












SPARTANBURG

As is so typical of South Carolina, Spartanburg is both a county as well as a city –
the county seat of Spartanburg County.  During the era of the state’s porcelain
plates, the city of Spartanburg had a population of over 20,000, and was a railroad,
coal distributing and textile center located in the Northern part of the state, not
far from the North Carolina border.  By far the most interesting aspect of the
known porcelain varieties from Spartanburg is the existence of a curved cycle
plate designed to fit the fender of a motorcycle.  Dated 1916, this plate has a very
curious abbreviated city name – “S.P.T.B.G” – sensible for the most part if we
presume the periods are an artistic way of illustrating apostrophes, but
completely illogical when trying to figure out why there is punctuation between
the “S” and the “P” in the name!  I have heard from credible sources that a 1916
passenger porcelain exists as well, but I have been unable to verify this.
















SUMTER

Situated in central South Carolina, Sumter is both a county, as well as the name of
the county seat.  In 2009, the only known Sumter porcelain showed up at a yard
sale in the city of Sumter.  The plate is completely typical of South Carolina
porcelains - laid out on an undated black & white base with a large "S.C." prefix -
and bearing the mark of the Baltimore Enamel & Novelty Company on the
reverse.  Also like so many South Carolina porcelains, it is unclear whether these
plates were city or county issues.













II: STATE-ISSUED PASSENGER PLATES

None issued.

III: STATE-ISSUED NON-PASSENGER PLATES

None issued.

FURTHER READING

The Hudson Triangle (Detroit), Vol. 4, No. 19 (November 7, 1914), p. 2.

Jeff Leider, “South Carolina: The Palmetto State.”  ALPCA Newsletter, 31, 3 (June,
1985), p. 113.

Len Harris, "South Carolina: Palmetto Prestates."  PLATES, 51, 5 (October, 2005),
pp. 44-45.
Undated
Passenger
Black/White
6" x 12"
1914
Passenger
Black/White
size unknown
1917
Passenger
Black/White
size unknown
Undated
Passenger
White/Blue
6" x 12"
1916
Passenger
White/Blue
Unknown
1916
Motorcycle
Blue/White
8" x 3"
Undated
Passenger
Black/White
Unknown
(1912)
Passenger
Black/White
5 3/4" x 12"
Undated
Unknown
White/Black
5 1/2" x 10"
Undated
Unknown
Black/White
5 1/2" x 10"
Undated
Passenger (Dupre)
Black/White
Unknown
Undated
Passenger (Dupre)
Black & Red/White
6" x 12"
Undated
Passenger (Gibbes)
Black/White
6" x 12"
1915
Passenger
White/Red
6" x 12"
Undated
Passenger
Black/White
Unknown
Undated
Passenger (Alderman)
Black/White
6" x 12"
Undated
Passenger
White/Black
size unknown
Undated
Passenger
Black/White
size unknown
1917
Passenger
White/Blue
6" x 12"
Undated
Passenger
Black/White
Unknown
Undated
Passenger (Chandler)
Black/White
6" x 12"
Undated
Passenger (Alderman)
Black/White
6" x 12"
Undated
Passenger (Gibbes)
Black/White
6" x 12"
Undated
Passenger
Black/White
6" x 12"
Undated
Passenger
Black/White
6" x 12"
Undated
Passenger (W.E. Vernon)
Black/White
size unknown
Undated
Passenger (Alderman)
Black/White
6" x 12"
1916
Passengner
Black/White
6" x 12"
1916
Motorcycle
Black/White
2 3/4" x 4"
Undated
Passenger
Black/White
6" x 12"
Undated
Passenger
White/Red
 
Undated
Passenger
Black/White
Unknown
Undated
Passenger (Gibbes)
Black/White
Unknown
  Passenger
   
Undated
Passenger
Black/White
6" x 12"
Undated
Passenger
Black/White
6" x 12"
Headline shedding some light on the ability of
auto dealerships to have specially-made plates
advertising their companies.

The Hudson Triangle (Detroit),
November 7, 1914
Undated
Passenger
Black/White
size unknown