A Website for Porcelain License Plate Collectors & Enthusiasts
Maryland Archive


On April 12, 1904, Maryland’s first motor vehicle law required that “the license
number in every case must be displayed conspicuously upon the back of the
vehicle.”  Two years later, the law was amended to mandate that the pre-state
plates have white numerals on a black background.  As per the 1904 law, pre-
state Maryland plates had to be displayed on any vehicle registered in any state
or the District of Columbia if the car was to be driven in Maryland.   As J. Ray
Frank and David G. Doernberg have determined, there were fewer than 10,000
numbers issued during the state’s six year pre-state era from 1904 to 1909.  
Numerous varieties of these plates are known, including leather, sheet metal and
wood.  However, there is at least one porcelain variety – a simple white & black
plate with a stacked “MD” suffix.  


In addition to the one known pre-state porcelain profiled above, there is also a
single known municipally issued porcelain license plate from Maryland - a trailer
permit from Howard County.  Located in central Maryland between Baltimore and
Washington, D.C., Howard County has traditionally been considered part of the
Baltimore Metropolitan Area. Originally part of Anne Arundel County, Howard
County was designated the Howard District in 1839 and became the 21st of
Maryland’s 23 counties in 1851. Originally a farming community with the thriving
mill town of Ellicott City and the busy shipping port in Elkridge Landing, Howard
County is today one of the nation’s most affluent counties. As far as license plates
are concerned, Maryland was long known as a state from which there were no
known cities or counties to have issued porcelain license plates – but that
changed in 2012 when an unusual zero-prefixed trailer plate surfaced. This small
plate probably dates to the ‘20s or ‘30s.


Beginning in 1910, Maryland began issuing official state license plates with pairs
of light gauge tin plates with hand painted numbers.  Starting in 1911, however,
the state switched to porcelain and issued pairs of porcelains annually for four
years. The lowest number issued each year was 1000.  The 1911-1913 issues were
all manufactured by the Baltimore Enamel and Novelty Company.  As was the case
from the beginning, Maryland plates were required on all vehicles driven in the
state, even those owned by out of state residents. On January 3, 1911, the
Washington Post warned District residents that they had to comply with the law or
face consequences.  It announced that three or four days of grace would be
permitted to acquire the 1911 plates, but after that, motorists would be arrested if
not in compliance with the law. Within the state, for some reason, it was reported
that there was a precipitous decline in the number of licenses issued as of the
first week of January, when compared to the same time period in the previous
year, but registration soon picked up and before the year was out, some 8,500
plates had been issued.

In 1912, the 10,000 mark was surpassed.  In 1913, although the new yellow & black
plates were required on vehicles as of the first of the year, the state couldn’t
keep up with the demand and the Automobile Commissioner announced that 1912
plates could continue to be used until January 4.  By the end of 1913, nearly
15,000 pairs plates had been issued.  A couple of minor varieties exist among
these plates.  For instance, the size of the “13” year legend became larger at
some point.  

Learning from their previous years’
inability to adequately supply automobile
owners with plates by the deadline, it was
decided to begin issuing 1914 plates
earlier, with the first batch being
distributed starting on December 15th,
1913.  Of course, recipients could not
actually place these plates on their
vehicles until January 1.  Unlike the
previous porcelains, the 1914 plates bear
no maker’s mark, and it is unclear who
produced them.  There was a dramatic
increase in the number of vehicles
registered in 1914.  Notably, the earlier
1914 plates have slightly debossed
figures, whereas numbers above 16,000
are slightly embossed.  In addition the
center downward stroke of the “M” in “MD” on the 1914 plates goes half way
down on the earlier plates and all the way down on the later ones.



In a very unusual move for any state,
Maryland’s first non-passenger porcelain
came in a year where the passenger plate
was metal.  Much like the 1915 Kentucky
issue where only the motorcycle plates
were made of porcelain, the 1910 dealer
plates in Maryland were made of porcelain
as well and were manufactured by the
Baltimore Enamel and Novelty Company.  
These striking yellow porcelains are
incredibly rare, with only a few known to
have survived.  Dealer plates continued
to be issued in Maryland for the duration
of the porcelain era and beyond.  These
plates all appear to have been issued in
pairs, although 1912 and 1913 pairs have
never been seen.  Notably, in at least 1912,
two versions of the dealer plate are known - one with all numerals and the other
with an "A" prefix.  It is unclear precisely what this difference means.


Merchandise Only plates were first issued in 1910, although no such plate has
survived.  It is not beyond the realm of possibility that these 1910 plates were
porcelain like the dealers, but until one shows up, we can only speculate.  
Beginning in at least 1911, these plates were porcelain and were for use on
trucks hauling merchandise for sale.  These are the only examples of porcelain
plates from any state to bear such a designation and were made taller than the
passenger and dealer varieties in order to fit in the “Merchandise Only” legend
at bottom.  Merchandise porcelains with either all numbers or with an "M" prefix
appear to be the regular Merchandise plates.  However, some of the plates carry
an "A" designation as well - either as a suffix or prefix.  As Frank & Doernberg
speculate, these may have been issued to retailers who used automobiles
instead of trucks.  Although it is unclear where the number range for
Merchandise plates started, we can tell from the known examples (the lowest of
which is M610) that they certainly didn't start anywhere near #M1.   


Like the Merchandise Only plates, cycles are known to have first been issued in
1910, but no examples have survived.  The 1911 and 1912 plates are curved
vertically to fit to a cycle’s fender, much like other cycle plates being issued at
that time by states such as Minnesota and Virginia.  In 1913, however, the shape
was changed to be curved both vertically and horizontally, similar to the Delaware
plates of that time.  Notably, at some point late in the process of manufacturing
the 1913 plates, the format was slightly changed.  Whereas all 1913 cycles under
#2000 have a factory-drilled hole at center, the highest numbered version (#2009)
does not.  This high-numbered plate also carries a curious stamp on the back
reading "Patent Appld For."  In 1914, the shape changed yet again - this time to a
more traditional rectangle.  The variations that exist in the 1914 passenger plates
– raised and depressed features and the varying letter “M” - also appear on the
1914 cycle plates.  All Maryland cycle porcelains were issued as single plates
only.  Notably, motorcycle dealer plates were authorized in 1912, but none is
known to exist from any year.


Named after President Washington's Secretary of War, James McHenry, Fort
McHenry was built to defend the important Port of Baltimore from enemy attacks.
It was positioned on the Locust Point peninsula which juts into the opening of
Baltimore Harbor, and was constructed in the form of a five-pointed star
surrounded by a dry moat - a deep, broad trench. The fort is best known for its
role in the War of 1812, when it successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from an
attack by the British navy in Chesapeake Bay.  It was during this bombardment of
the fort that Francis Scott Key was inspired to write The Star-Spangled Banner.  
Fort McHenry served as the primary defense for the port of Baltimore until the
mid-19th century.  During the Civil War, Fort McHenry served as a military prison,
confining both Confederate soldiers as well as a large number of Maryland
political figures who were suspected of being Confederate sympathizers. During
World War I, numerous buildings were constructed on the land surrounding the
fort in order to convert the entire facility into an enormous hospital for the
treatment of troops returning from the European conflict.  The fort was made
a national park in 1925, and during World War II Fort McHenry served as a Coast
Guard base, helping to defend the port of Baltimore.

There is one surviving example of a porcelain license plate from Fort McHenry.  
Unlike many porcelians used on military bases, this is a full-sized plate and bears
the designation CQM for Chief Quartermaster.  The term Quartermaster refers to
a military unit which specializes in supplying and provisioning troops.  Although
undated, this plate is quite old and probably dates to World War I.


J. Ray Frank and David G. Doernberg, “Maryland: The Old Line State.”  ALPCA
Register, 47, 3 (June, 2001), pp. 17-23.

The Frederick Post, March 25, 1914
The News (Frederick, MD), June 11, 1904; January 4, 1911; January 2, 1913
The Washington Post, August 6, 1904; January 3, 1911
Chief Quartermaster
Size unknown
Range: 1 - Approx. 300
6" x 12
Range: 1 - Approx. 500
Blue/White (Type 1)
6" x 12"
Range: 1 - Approx. 600
Blue/White (Type 2)
6" x 12"
Range: Unknown
6" x 12"
Range: 1 - Approx. 800
6" x 12"
Range: 1 - Approx. 800
    Range: ??? - Approx. M800
Blue/White (Type 1)
7" x 12"
  Range: ??? - Approx. M1000
Blue/White (Type 2)
    Range: Unknown
Yellow/Black (Type 1)
7" x 13"
  Range: ??? - Approx. M1700
Yellow/Black (Type 2)
7" x 13"
  Range: Unknown
White/Green (Type 1)
    Range: ??? - Approx. 2000
White/Green (Type 2)
    Range: Unknown
8" x 2 1/2"
Range: ??? - Approx. 1,000
8" x 2 1/2"
Range: ??? - Approx. 1,600
8" x 3"
Range: ??? - Approx. 1,600
3" x 8"
Range: ??? - Approx. 3,800
6" x 12"
Range: 1,000 - Approx. 8,100
6" x 12"
Range: 1,000 - Approx. 11,000
Range: 1,000 - Approx. 15,000
Range: 1,000 - Approx. 21,000
* One to four digit plates measure 6" x 13"; Five digit plates measure 6" x 14"
Maryland 1911 Dealer
Maryland 1914
Courtesy of Mike Duff
3" x 5"