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A Website for Porcelain License Plate Collectors & Enthusiasts
West Virginia Archive
TOTAL KNOWN PORCELAIN VARIETIES: 30

I: PRE-STATES / CITY & COUNTY PLATES

West Virginia had a very colorful history of locally issued porcelain plates,
although not a single one of them is actually a pre-state.  Eight different
municipalities issued a total of at least 21 varieties of porcelains over a period of
nine years, from 1909 through 1917, all of which are exceedingly rare.  In fact,
taken altogether, there are fewer than 50 total known West Virginia city porcelains
in collectors' hands.  It's worth mentioning that there are also some non-porcelain
city issues known as well, such as 1915-16 and 1916-17 flat metal issues from
Parkersburg and small metal plates from jurisdictions such as Huntington,
Morgantown and Moundsville.  Most West Virginia city plates appear to have
been issued as singles, with the only known pair hailing from Clarksburg.

BLUEFIELD

There are two known porcelains from Bluefield, a mining town on the border with
Virginia.  The first is a 1913-14 issue and the second a 1916 plate numbered 661,
which is the highest number known on any West Virginia city plate by more than
200 over the next highest known number.  There clearly were not 661 plates
issued in the town this year, which makes the numbering of this plate a mystery.  
Both plates are also untypical in that they are longer than most West Virginia city
issues.  At nine inches in length, only the Wheeling 1915 plate matches them.












CLARKSBURG

Clarksburg issued annual dated plates for three years, from 1915 though 1917.  All
of these plates expired in July.  A total of nine plates are known from the three
years combined, including a pair of 1917 plates, the only pair of city porcelains
known from the state.














FAIRMONT

Like Clarksburg, Fairmont issued three annual issues from 1915 through 1917.  
However, each is in a style completely unlike the others, including the 1915 issue
which is unlike any other porcelain city plate known.  I am aware of a total of only
eight plates from all years combined.














MANNINGTON

The small town of Mannington appears to have jumped on the porcelain
bandwagon only in 1917, the last year that West Virginia cities issued porcelain
plates.  Expiring in June of 1917 and having the town name abbreviated
"Man'gton," there are only two known surviving examples of this plate











MORGANTOWN

One of the earlier cities to issue porcelains was Morgantown, a moderately sized
town near the Pennsylvania border, which began issuing license plates as early
as 1911 when automobile owners were licensed with small engraved metal plates.
Beginning in 1912, however, the city switched to the issuance of porcelain
license plates.  There are no other Morgantown plates known after 1912.












MOUNDSVILLE

The earliest West Virginia city to issue porcelain plates, other than Wheeling, was
the town of Moundsville.  Lying in the arm of West Virginia between Ohio and
Pennsylvania, just South of Wheeling, Moundsville issued annual dated plates
from 1910 through 1912, each of which is very scarce.  There are no known
porcelains after 1912, although there is one surviving example of a small metal
disc from Moundsville dated 1916-17.















WESTON

Another very small town from which two porcelains are known if Weston, West
Virginia, which issued small porcelain plates in at least two years - 1916 and either
1915 or 1917 - we can't be certain because the only surviving example is chipped
in the date.











WHEELING

The city from which the majority of West Virginia porcelains are known is
Wheeling, the largest and biggest industrial city in West Virginia at the time.  
Situated on the arm of the state between Ohio and Pennsylvania, no other city in
West Virginia boasted as many automobile owners as Wheeling.  The first issue
was a small undated plate, thought to date from 1909, making it the earliest West
Virginia city porcelain from the state.  The city continued the issuance of dated
annual plates through 1915, although it is notable that no 1914 plate exists, as the
city apparently re-designed its plates that year to bear the date of expiration
rather than the date of issuance, as in prior years.  Wheeling plates from 1910
through 1913 are known for their ornate lettering, as well as the designation "City
Of," a term used on only one other locally issued porcelain plate from the U.S. -
the 1911 St. Louis, Missouri plate.  There are only 22 known plates from Wheeling
over a span of 6 issues, so they remain extremely rare.  Wheeling is also notable
in that it is the city from which the only non-passenger city porcelain from West
Virginia is known - a tiny motorcycle plate with a July, 1915 expiration date.































II: STATE-ISSUED PASSENGER PLATES

Vehicles in West Virginia were first licensed
by the state in 1905, making it the earliest
non-New England state to begin the formal
issuance of license plates.  The first two
plates were small tin plates which are
extraordinarily rare.  In 1907, however, the
state then changed its philosophy, issuing
an undated porcelain plate that was initially
intended to be used for one year, from May
1, 1907 through April 30, 1908.  The numbers
started in the 400s, where the 1906 plates
left off.  These plates are considered to be
on par with the North Carolina 1913 and
Delaware 1909 issues as one of the
absolute hardest U.S. state-issued
passenger porcelains to find.  Like many other early porcelains, the undated West
Virginia plates were manufactured by the Baltimore Enamel and Novelty Company
and bear that company's distinctive hand-painted date coding system on the
reverse.  As these codes reveal, the undated porcelains were manufactured in
two lots - one in May of 1907 and the second five months later in October of 1907.  
For more on Baltimore Enamel's coding system, click
HERE.  The undated West
Virginia porcelains were manufactured on a variable sized base, depending on
the plate number.  Three digit plates measure 5 1/2" x 11 1/2", while four digit
plates are two inches longer.  

There's a bit of a mystery surrounding just
how long these plates were used.  As West
Virginia expert Cliff Weese suggests, the
conventional wisdom is that they were
renewed for a second year, until at least
April 30th of 1909.  Furthermore, the fiscal
year underwent a change at that same time,
with the 1909 year beginning now on July 1
rather than May 1, as before.  Thus, the
undated porcelains may have been further
extended another two months until June 30.  
This all sounds very logical, except that it
begs one more interesting question: if the
undated porcelains were really good from
May 1, 1907 through June 30, 1909 - more
than a year longer than initially intended -
then how could state officials in 1907 possibly have had the foresight to order
enough plates from the Baltimore Enamel & Novelty Company to satisfy the need?
 It seems as though there surely must have been one or more later orders to
request additional plates, and yet the evidence suggests otherwise, as the
highest numbered undated porcelains bear manufacturing codes no later than
October of 1907.  Needless to say, there's a bit of a mystery surrounding just what
happened in the world of West Virginia license plates in the fourteen months
between May 1, 1908 and June 30, 1909.

In 1909, West Virginia issued dated
porcelains for the first time with a strikingly
colored black and red plate.  These plates
were good for the fiscal year from July 1,
1909 through June 30, 1910.  Once again
manufactured by the Baltimore Enamel &
Novelty Company, the plates now bore that
company's oval maker's mark on the
reverse.  There were just shy of 1,000
plates issued that year.  Interestingly,
cardboard varieties of the 1909 plate are
known to exist for the high numbers.  It is
speculated that the porcelain supply ran
out at #1,000, after which the cardboard
plates filled in until the dated 1910 plate
was issued.  Beginning in 1910, West
Virginia porcelains no longer carried any
marks on the reverse, and collectors have no idea who manufactured any of the
final six issues.  Newspaper reports indicate that 1,651 of these 1910-11 plates
were issued.

Although the 1909-10 and 1910-11 plates
were manufactured on a standard 5 1/2" x
11 1/2" base, the 1911 plates once again
varied in length depending on the plate
number.  These attractive black & white
1911-12 plates carried vertical stripes
dividing the state abbreviation and year
from the plate number, a format that would
continue to be used on West Virginia plates
through 1916-17.  There appear to have
been about 1,000 more plates issued in
1911-12 as there were the prior year. 1912
brought about two major changes for West
Virginia porcelain license plates - for one,
they were now manufactured on
substantially smaller bases, and secondly, they were issued in pairs for the first
time.  No plate dated 1913 was issued, with the next plate after 1912-13 instead
dated "July 1914."  This makes sense, of course, as all West Virginia porcelains
beginning in 1909 were good from July 1 to June 30 of the following year - it's just
that the 1912-13 plates bore the year of issuance, while the 1913-14 plates bore
the year of expiration!  Like the undated porcelain and the 1911-12 plates, the
length of these first two smaller sized porcelains varied depending on the plate
number.  However, the final two years of porcelains (1914-15 and 1915-16) were
once again manufactured on a fixed-length base.










































III: STATE-ISSUED NON-PASSENGER PLATES

None issued.

IV: ODDBALLS

There is one very strange example of a West Virginia porcelain that shouldn't
exist - a dated 1914-15 plate on a 1915-16 red base.  It is a high number for a
1914-15, so perhaps the explanation is that an owner needed a replacement plate
made up sometime in mid-1915 after the porcelain manufacturer was getting ready
to produce the 1915-16 plates and only had red enamel left to produce the
replacement plate.  











FURTHER READING

Gary Brent Kincade, "West Virginia."  ALPCA Newsletter, pp. 154-155.
1913-14
Passenger
White/Black
5" x 9"
1916
Passenger
White/Orange
5" x 9"
1914-15
Passenger
White/Red
4" x 6"
1915-16
Passenger
Blue/White
4" x 6"
1916-17
Passenger
White/Black
4" x 6"
1916-17
Passenger
White/Black
3 3/4" x 6 1/2"
1914-15
Passenger
Yellow/Black
4" x 6 1/2"
1915-16
Passenger
White/Blue
4" x 6 1/2"
1916-17
Passenger
White/Red
4" x 6 1/2"
1912
Passenger
Blue/White
5" x 7"
1910
Passenger
White/Blue
5" x 7"
1911
Passenger
Black/White
5" x 7"
1912
Passenger
White/Green
5" x 7"
1915 / 1917
Passenger
Blue/White
3 1/4" x 6"
1916
Passenger
Blue/White
3 1/4" x 6"
(1909)
Passenger
Black/Yellow
4" x 6"
1910
Passenger
White/Green
5" x 8"
1911
Passenger
Black/Yellow
5" x 8"
1912
Passenger
White/Blue
5" x 8"
1913
Passenger
White/Red-Orange
5" x 8"
1914-15
Passenger
White/Blue
5" x 9"
1914-15
Motorcycle
White/Blue
2 1/2" x 4"
(1907-09)
Black/White
Variable*
Singles
Range: Approx 400 - 1,100
1909-10
Black/Red
5 1/2" x 11 1/2"
Singles
Range: 1 - Approx. 950
1910-11
White/Blue
5 1/2" x 11 1/2"
Singles
Range: 1 - Approx. 1,700
1911-12
Black/White
Variable**
Singles
Range: 1 - Approx. 2,600
1912-13
White/Green
Variable***
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 3,500
1913-14
Yellow/Black
Variable****
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 6,000
1914-15
White/Blue
4" x 10 1/2"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 10,500
1915-16
White/Red
4" x 10 1/2"
Pairs
Range: 1 - Approx. 16,500
* 3 digit undated plates measure 5 1/2" x 11 1/2"; 4 digit plates measure 5 1/2" x 13 1/2"
** 3 digit 1911-12 plates measure 5 1/2" x 10"; 4 digit plates measure 5 1/2" x 11 1/2"
*** 1-3 digit 1912-13 plates measure 4" x 9"; 4 digit plates measure 4" x 10 1/2"
**** 1 and 2 digit 1913-14 plates measure 4" x 7"; 3 digit plates measure 4" x 9"; 4 digit plates measure 4" x 10 1/2"
1914-15
Unknown
White/Red
 

For a Photo Census of
Known Wheeling
Porcelains, Click Here:

WHEELING PORCELAIN
CENSUS
(1910-1915)
West Virginia, 1911
Courtesy of Mike Duff
West Virginia, 1913-14
Courtesy of Mike Duff
West Virginia, 1912
Courtesy of Mike Duff
West Virginia, 1915-16
Courtesy of Mike Duff