TOTAL KNOWN PORCELAIN VARIETIES: 23

I: PRE-STATES / CITY & COUNTY PLATES

Prior to 1915, when the first state-issued plates were distributed, vehicle owners
in Tennessee were charged with supplying their own plates, just as in every other
state.  Plates made of wood, leather, and metal are all known, but some owners
chose to purchase porcelain plates from out of state mail order firms.  By far the
most common of these is a simple, relatively small plate bearing a number and the
designation “TENN.”  These all have white letters on a blue base.

A particularly notable variant on these
plates is a style in which the exact same
plate was produced, but with an 1 1/2 inch
elongated space at the bottom under the
numbers where the name of the owner’s
automobile appears.  Compare the photos
of the regular issue and the Studebaker
plates pictured below.  They are produced
in exactly the same format and style of
letters and numbers and are clearly from
the same manufacturer.  Interestingly,
however, there are two other examples of
plates with vehicle names on them -
"Car-Nation and "Hudson Six" - and in the
case of the "Car-Nation," the plate is completely different from the other two.  
Note in the photos below how the "TENN" is totally different, the numeral style
has changed (note the "1" specifically), and the "Car-Nation" plate has no bolt
slots.  This may well indicate that at least two different manufacturers were
offering these distinctive plates for sale.  Apparently, this was an early form of
personalization available to those who wanted to advertise the make of their
vehicle and were willing to pay the price for such an extravagance.  Alternatively,
perhaps these plates were issued by dealerships as promotional devices to
advertise and sell their automobiles.  Both versions – with the automobile name
and without – are known in pairs.


















Beyond these porcelain varieties are a few miscellaneous examples which differ
in style and color.  One variety is a large blue on white plate, the known numbers
of which fall in the 19,000 series, dating the plates to 1914.  Although the numbers
are close, there are two distinct varieties of these plates with notable differences
in the style of the numbers, such that these two plates must be considered
distinct types.  Note that #19979 pictured below is one of a pair manufactured by
the Baltimore Enamel and Novelty Company.  Similar plates also exists in white on
blue (Baltimore Enamel as well) and white on red.  



















And in addition to these full porcelain plates, there are two variations of metal kit
plates into which porcelain tiles are fitted.  One of these is a simple frame with
five number tiles and a “TENN” tile are placed.  The other is a more elaborate,
thick metal frame with a hard plastic window inside of which porcelain tiles are
glued in place
















KNOXVILLE

Knoxville, Tennessee sits on the Tennessee River and was founded in 1792.  In
the 1800s, Knoxville took advantage of its river access, railroad connections, and
geographical location to become one of the leading distributing centers in the
South.  It remained a railroad junction of major importance and a significant
industrial center early in the 20th century when cars first began driving on the
city's streets.  In 1910, Knoxville's population was just over 30,000.  No plates
were known to have been issued in Knoxville, but in the summer of 2010, a digger
unearthed an interesting undated porcelain license plate with the name
KNOXVILLE spelled out down the left side of the plate.  However, there is a strong
possibility that this is not, in fact, a city issue but is rather a state-issued number
that was personalized by a Knoxville resident.  For one, Knoxville was a large city
and this plate is the only one that has ever been seen.  Secondly, the numbering
on the plate seems too high to accurately reflect vehicle registrations in the city
at the time.  It there were truly 5,000 registrations in the city, that would compare
to a city like St. Louis at the time, where we know of 20+ surviving examples.  
Finally, there is some precedent in Tennessee for pre-state plates to be
personalized - namely the Car-Nation, Hudson-Six and Studebaker plates
discussed above.  For these reasons, I suspect this plate to be an owner-
provided pre-state complying with the state law, rather than a Knoxville city-
issued plate.










MEMPHIS

In addition to these pre-state porcelains, the city of Memphis also issued a
relatively long run of both passenger and visitor plates running through 1920,
after which the city switched to metal plates.  Beginning in 1914, Memphis issued
a series of porcelain "AUTO TAX" plates.  The first two years were round discs
measuring three inches in diameter.  In 1915, a second variety is known with a
"For Hire" designation and with a very unusual orange on green color scheme.  
Oddly enough, no further examples of "For Hire" plates are known after 1915.  










Beginning in 1916, the plates changed to their distinctive diamond shape,
measuring 3" x 5".  Not missing a chance to generate revenue, the city even
taxed the visitors that came to Memphis.  The word "VISITOR" or "VISITORS AUTO
TAX" appeared just under or above the plate number, depending on the year, and
the colors differed from the regular city issue.  At least in 1920, the shape of the
visitor plates once again reverted to the round discs that characterized the first
two years of Memphis plates. One surviving Memphis porcelain is a black on
white diamond shaped visitor plate with the date chipped off.  This plate is
presumed to be either a 1918 or a 1919.





























II: STATE-ISSUED PASSENGER PLATES

None issued.

III: STATE-ISSUED NON-PASSENGER PLATES

MOTORCYCLE

The state of Tennessee first began issuing standardized license plates in 1915.  
Whereas the passenger cars received large embossed white on blue plates, for
some reason the state appears to have chosen porcelain as the material of
choice for motorcycles.  Although this has not been conclusively established, and
many feel the one known surviving example may be some sort of oddball rather
than an official motorcycle issue, the presence of a small porcelain plate dated
1915 suggests that it may indeed be an official motorcycle issue.  It is not beyond
reason that porcelain would be chosen in a year where the passenger issues
were metal.  In fact, the very same year - 1915 - Tennessee's northern neighbor of
Kentucky did precisely the same thing, issuing a porcelain motorcycle plate even
though the car plates were embossed metal.  Whatever the case, this white and
red Tennessee plate is unique and mysterious, and is notable for having an
elaborately intertwined “TEN” at the left.










FURTHER READING

Roy A. Carson, “Tennessee: The Volunteer State.”  ALPCA Newsletter, 40, 3 (June,
1994), p. 69.

Len Harris, “Tennessee PreStates: Looking for Volunteers.”  PLATES, 51, 2 (April,
2005), pp. 36-38.

PORCELAIN PLATES.NET
A Website for Porcelain License Plate Collectors & Enthusiasts
Tennessee Archive
Undated
Passenger
White/Blue
4 1/2" x 10 1/2"
Undated
Passenger (Car-Nation)
White/Blue
???
Undated
Passenger (Hudson Six)
White/Blue
???
Undated
Passenger (Studebaker)
White/Blue
6" x 10 1/2"
(1914)
Passenger, Type 1
Blue/White
???
(1914)
Passenger, Type 2
Blue/White
6" x 12"
(1914)
Passenger
White/Blue
5 1/2" x 11"
Undated
Passenger
White/Red
???
Undated
Passenger
White/Blue
5 1/2" x 10 1/4"
Undated
Passenger
White/Blue
???
1915
White/Red
     












TN Pre-State Porcelain
1916
Passenger
Black/Yellow
3" x 5"
1916
Visitor
White/Red
3" x 5"
1917
Passenger
Black/White
3" x 5"
1917
Visitor
Yellow/Black
3" x 5"
1918
Passenger
White/Black
3" x 5"
1919
Passenger
White/Green
3" x 5"
1920
Passenger
Black/Yellow
3" x 5"
1920
Visitor
White/Green
3 1/2" diameter
Illegible
Visitor
Black/White
3" x 5"
1914
Passenger
Black/Yellow
3" diameter
1915
Passenger
Black/White
3" diameter
1915
For Hire
Orange/Green
3" diameter
Undated
Passenger
White/Blue
Size Unknown