A Website for Porcelain License Plate Collectors & Enthusiasts
California Metal Enameling Co.

California Metal Enameling Company Office & Factory
1400 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA
(Circa 1920)
The California Metal Enameling Company began business early in the 20th
century.  It is unclear exactly when the company's doors opened for business, but
this Los Angeles based firm was producing porcelain signs by at least 1909.  
There is even some indication that CAMEO - as the company is sometimes known
- may have even been producing some license plates by 1912 or 1913.  This
supposition comes from a CAMEO brochure dating to around 1920, which shows
drawings of some of the items the company produces.  One image depicts a
known variety of California porcelain pre-state which would have been produced
in the pre-1914 era.  

One would perhaps think that the earliest contract California Metal Enameling
would have managed to secure was that of its home state, which first began
issuing standardized porcelain license plates in 1914.  However, such was not to
be the case.  Although CAMEO apparently fought for this contract, the state
awarded it to far away Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania instead, where the
Ingram-Richardson Manufacturing Company was hired to make the California 1914
plates.  In 1914, they tried again, this time hoping to win the contract to produce
California's 1915 plates, but suffered the same fate as Ing-Rich was able to renew
its contract with the state.  

Finally, in 1915, CAMEO things took a
positive turn for The California Metal
Enameling Company.  Not only did they
finally convince the state of California to
give them a shot, but the company also
picked up a contract to provide some 2,500
pairs of porcelain plates to the County of
Honolulu in Hawaii.  The Honolulu contract
must have been good news to the
company, but the California contract was the real coup.  Rather than merely
winning the right to produce 1916 plates, California was instituting a new policy
for license plates in which pairs of 1916 base plates would be revalidated each
year with small metallic attachments through 1919, so CAMEO's new contract gave
them a monopoly over California's plates for the next four years.  Over that span,
the company would produce nearly 600,000 pairs of passenger plates, about
75,000 pairs of motorcycle plates, and tens of thousands of other non-passenger
classes.  Altogether, CAMEO's California contract led to the production of perhaps
1.5 million porcelain license plates.

When the state of California decided to
abandon porcelain in favor of embossed
steel plates beginning in 1920, CAMEO was
out of job.  So, in 1919, company officials
pursued other angles and won two new
contracts for the enameling firm.  The first
of these was a contract with the state of
Washington, who, like California before
them, was initiating a re-validation system,
whereby those who were re-registering
their 1918-19 embossed plates would
receive small enamelled tabs which would
be fitted onto the left end of the plate to
re-validate them for 1919-20.  These
re-validation tabs were made of porcelain
and were produced in passenger and non-
passenger varieties with the varying types
denoted by a letter prefix.  New registrants,
however, received brand new full porcelain license plates.  California Metal
Enameling manufactured about 15,000 pairs of these plates before the state
decided to discontinue the issuance of full porcelains in favor of embossed metal
once again.  Unlike the other classes of vehicles in which only new registrants
got the full porcelain plates in 1919-20, all motorcyclists got new porcelain plates
regardless of whether they were re-registering their cycle or registering for the
first time.  CAMEO produced about 4,000 pairs of these black & white porcelain
cycle plates.  Thus, although Washington's experimentation with porcelain was
short-lived, it did produce some 40,000 CAMEO-made porcelain license plates and
thousands more porcelain re-validation tabs.

The other contract won in 1919 was with the state of New Mexico and was more
significant from CAMEO's perspective than the Washington deal, for it was
reminiscent of the massive California deal that has just expired.  The new
contract called for the production of porcelain license plates beginning in 1920 -
issued as singles only - which would be revalidated with metal attachments for
the subsequent three years.  Actually, at the time the contract was signed, New
Mexico had intended on using porcelain license plates through 1924, but later
changed its mind and ceased using porcelain in 1923.  During the four year
lifespan of this contract, CAMEO made approximately 50,000 passenger plates,
plus perhaps a thousand non-passenger plates of all classes combined.  The
motorcycle plates are noteworthy because they were produced in the same
curved, fender shaped format as CAMEO had made famous in California before.

The California Metal Enameling Company jumped into the porcelain license plate
business late in the game, which meant it had only a few years of glory before
porcelain license plates were a thing of the past.  In fact, when the New Mexico
contract ended in 1923, there were simply no state license plate contracts to be
had, as every state in the country had now switched to metal for good.  It's
possible the company picked up a few local contracts - there are later porcelain
plates from cities such as Long Beach, Sacramento and Colton known, for
example - but the New Mexico porcelains are the last examples we know of that
CAMEO manufactured.  Although it was a relatively brief run between about 1915
and 1922, CAMEO held three state contracts and one county contract and
supplied somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,600,000 porcelains.  Perhaps
surprisingly, this Los-Angeles based enameling firm was thus the third most
prolific supplier of porcelain license plates in the country, behind only the two
industry leaders Baltimore Enamel and Ingram-Richardson.


Modesto Evening News, August 14, 1915
Ukiah Republican Press, August 20, 1915
CAMEO catalog page with
illustration of a common
California pre-state
porcelain variety.
Reverse of Honolulu 1916
Reverse of California 1919
Reverse of Washington 1920 Motorcycle