A Website for Porcelain License Plate Collectors & Enthusiasts
TOTAL KNOWN PORCELAIN VARIETIES: 13
I: PRE-STATES / CITY & COUNTY PLATES
Cities in Colorado began registering motor vehicles as early as 1906. Over the next
seven years, many municipalities required vehicle owners to display license plates on
their cars, including Canon, Denver, Pueblo, Florence, Mancos, Colorado Springs, and
Colorado City. Many of these were crude homemade plates made of leather or other
materials, while others were more carefully crafted metal plates. Three cities – Del Norte,
Monte Vista, and Salida – are known to have issued porcelain plates, and there has long
been rumored to be a plate from Central City dating to 1907, but this plate remains
unverified. Furthermore, a porcelain plate from Rocky Ford is said to have been part of a
collection in the 1960s that was destroyed by fire. No further examples have ever been
found. By 1913, Colorado's city plate era came to an end as the state took over the
issuance of license plates, forbidding local jurisdictions from issuing plates of their own.
In cities where standardized plates were not issued, a few wealthy owners commissioned
porcelain plates to be made for their automobiles. One suspected example of this
practice is a lone surviving plate with an “A” suffix, identified as having been used in the
city of Alamosa, a town situated in Colorado's San Luis Valley along the Rio Grande River
in the Southern part of the state. The city was a thriving agricultural community when this
plate was manufactured.
The county seat of Rio Grande County, Del Norte lies on the Rio Grande River just North-
West of Alamosa. Although it's an extremely small town that had well under a thousand
residents in Colorado's pre-state era, there are nevertheless two surviving porcelain
examples from this city. These plates are undated with an attractive red & white color
scheme with very stylized numerals unlike any of the other known Colorado city-issued
Monte Vista is a scenic community in the San Luis Valley. It lies on the Rio Grande River,
right between Del Norte and Alamosa. Monte VIsta is one of the most interesting
examples of a Colorado city porcelain, because it was mysteriously issued in two different
formats and sizes. Perhaps the city switched vendors after receiving an initial order, or
the two styles may indicate different years. The Type 1 plates measure 6" x 10" and have
somewhat stylized numbers. It appears that plates up to #100 were manufactured on this
base. The Type II plates, however, are one inch shorter in height and have block
numerals. There is only one of these known, but it may be that numbers beginning at
#101 were manufactured on this second base. As are all other surviving examples of city
porcelains from Colorado, both versions of the Monte Vista plates are undated, although
the presence of one dug from a landfill in Arkansas among 1910 Fort Smith porcelains
suggests a date around that time.
A city in Chaffee County, Colorado situated on the Eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains,
Salida was one of many communities which underwent a large influx of residents when
gold and other precious metals were found in the Rockies. Although the decline was well
underway by the end of the 19th century, mining remained an important occupation in the
region for some time. The city is known to have issued an undated porcelain plate,
probably dating to sometime between 1910 and 1912. All Colorado city-issued plates are
extraordinarily scarce, but the Salida plates are by far the most common. There are
perhaps 8-10 surviving examples out there, and we know from the known plates that
numbers ranged from approximately 1 to 150.
II: STATE-ISSUED PASSENGER PLATES
On April 12, 1913, Senate Bill #49 was passed by the Colorado State Legislature. This law
required vehicles to display one state-issued license plate, to be hung from the rear of
the vehicle. Because the law did not go into effect until July 15, that means that the first-
issue 1913 plate was only used for 5 1/2 months, helping explain the rarity of these tough
plates. There are two slight variations of 1913 plates. Those with numbers up to
approximately 3,000 were manufactured with rounded corners, whereas later plates have
square corners. An article in the "Colorado Springs Gazette" on Christmas day of 1913
noted that there were approximately 13,000 cars in the state and estimated that there
would be 15,000 in 1914. Automobile owners who renewed their licenses before January
1, 1914 could keep the same number they had in 1913. There was 15 days of grace
allowed for motorists to obtain their 1914 plates, but beginning on January 16, anybody
driving a car without a plate on the rear was liable to arrest. Interestingly, two different
varieties of 1914 plates were made for some reason. Plates with numbers under 17,000
were debossed with the numerals slightly sunken. On plates #17,000 and higher, by
contrast, the plates are embossed. The variance depended on which layer of porcelain -
the characters or the background - was fired first. These higher numbered plates also
have a noticeably darker blue color. In 1915, the state issued its final porcelain with a
black & yellow plate. All three years of porcelains were manufactured on varying sized
bases, depending on the plate number. There are no known single digit porcelains, and it
is notable that while some two-digit plates come on a small sized base, others were
produced on the standard three-digit base.
III: STATE-ISSUED NON-PASSENGER PLATES
In all three porcelain years dealer plates were issued in the same general color and
format as the passenger plates, except that the plates were taller so that the words
“Colorado Dealer” could be spelled out across the bottom of the plate. In 1913, dealers
were given numbers at the end of the passenger run with no overlap, but in the next two
years, dealers numbers were blocked out from the passenger run. Dealerships were
provided with 5 plates each. Late it 1913, it was announced that 700 dealer plates
ranging in number from 14,300 to 15,000 were ordered from the manufacturer. However,
this figure must not have been enough to fulfill the actual demand for dealer plates. We
know from surviving 1914 dealers that numbers reached at least #15,119, suggesting that
a second order was placed at some point when the first allotment ran out. A number of
1914 dealers are known with badly faded blue color which has turned to a very light
brown with age. In 1915, it appears that 1,200 dealer plates were now needed - this time
beginning at #19,000.
The only other example of a porcelain non-passenger plate issued from the state of
Colorado is a 1915 Visitor issue which is notable for a number of reasons. For one, there
is no evidence that porcelain visitor plates were issued in either of the two previous
years. In addition, the plate is entirely different from the 1915 passenger and dealer
plates, made instead in a different size, color, and format. Finally, this plate is notable as
being the only example of a porcelain license plate from any state or province bearing the
designation “visitor.” Based on surviving plates, it appears that approximately 1,300 of
these plates were issued in 1915.
Tom Boyd, “Colorado Pre-States.” ALPCA Newsletter, 45, 6 (December, 1999), pp. 307-13.
George C. Sammeth, Jr., “Colorful Colorado.” ALPCA Newsletter, 39, 3 (June, 1993), pp. 70-
The Colorado Springs Gazette, May 22, 1913; December 25, 1913; January 16, 1914
||5 1/2" x 12"
||6" x 10"
||Passenger, Type I
||6" x 10"
||Passenger, Type II
||5" x 10"
||6" x 10"
||Range: 1 - Approx. 14,500
||White/Blue, Type I
||Range: 1 - 14,299; 15,201 - 16,999
||White/Blue, Type II
||5" x 12"
||Range: 17,000 - Approx. 19,000
||Range: 1 - 18,999; 20,201 - 29,000
|* Two digit plates measure 5" x 7 1/4" or 5" x 8 1/4"; Three digit plates = 5" x 8 1/4"; Four digit plates = 5" x 10 1/2";
Five digit plates = 5" x 12"
||6" x 10"
||Range: 14,501 - 15,100
||6" x 10"
||Range: 14,300 - 15,200
||6" x 10"
||Range: 19,000 - 20,200
||5" x 12"
||Range: 1 - Approx. 1,300