A Website for Porcelain License Plate Collectors & Enthusiasts
Michigan Archive


Numerous Michigan pre-states exist, most of which are metal or leather, but for
many years there has also been a pair of porcelain pre-states known in ALPCA
circles.  Michigan specialist Greg Gibson has heard of a third example, but the
whereabouts of that plate is unknown.  As for the pair, the number is #1276, which
is a number originally issued in 1905.  However, as Gibson theorizes, the plate is
probably not that old.  It's more likely that this pair was produced as a result of
the 1908 re-issue of unclaimed numbers.  


Niles is a city in southern Michigan along the St. Joseph River near South Bend,
Indiana.  The town was settled in 1827 and became prosperous as a center of the
produce industry of the St. Joseph River Valley.  Until 2019, Michigan was one of
the few U.S. states from which there were no known porcelain city or county
issues in existence.  However, this Niles plate showed up at an auction in
Southern Michigan in late January, thus becoming the first and only example of a
locally-issued porcelain from the state.  Although it is theoretically possible that
this plate hails from Niles, Illinois or Ohio, the location of the discovery suggests
that it is indeed from Michigan.


In January of 1910, the state of Michigan began issuing its first official plates with
pairs of dated porcelains.  The registration fee was $3.00.  Michigan specialists
have determined that the state's porcelains were all manufactured by the Ingram-
Richardson subsidiary in Chicago, although the only ones bearing the stamp of
that company are replacement plates issued late in 1910.  Michigan porcelains
are attractive plates complete with a border and emblazoned with the state seal -
although as Michigan expert Greg Gibson points out, the Great Seal of the State
of Michigan wasn't officially adopted until 1911.  The presence of a seal baked
into the enamel on these plates is interesting because this was the first time a
state-issued license plate bore any kind of graphic in the porcelain finish itself.  
The New Jersey and Pennsylvania plates of the same era had graphics, but they
were separately attached metal emblems.  As in many states, the length of the
plate depended on the number of digits in the registration number - one, two &
three digit numbers were manufactured on the smallest bases, four digit plates
were produced on a medium sized base, and five digit plates were the longest.  

1910 Michigan porcelains frequently suffer from low gloss and faded seals.  
Interestingly, a rare variant of these first-issue Michigans is a deep blue on white
plate (as opposed to the normal black letters and numbers).  Greg Gibson feels
that these are most likely replacement plates as the known plates fall within
various number groups.  The first shipment of 1910 plates arrived at the
Secretary of State's office in Lansing in early December and clerks busily
prepared to distribute the estimated 15,000 pairs that would be needed that year.  
By the end of March, 1910, 9,000 licenses had already been issued and
newspapers reported that new applications were coming in at the rate of 200 per
day.  Interestingly, some automobile owners attempted to use counterfeit plates,
which did not carry the state seal on them.  As the city of Marshall's "Daily
Chronicle" pointed out, "the number plates furnished by the state cost $3 a set,
and Secretary of State Martindale wonders that persons able to own an
automobile would take such a chance just to save three 'plunks.'"  By the end of
the year, there were more than 18,000 plates issued.

The state reversed the colors of its plates for 1911.  A shipment of approximately
43,000 of these plates arrived in mid-October of 1910.  The 1911 plates are
probably the most difficult to find in truly stellar condition, and often have faded
seals and poor black color.  Furthermore, the are prone to chipping, as are many
other porcelain plates made in the U.S. in 1911 (Massachusetts, Pennsylvania,
Vermont, and Virginia, for instance).  Greg Gibson theorizes that there must have
been some ingredient in the porcelain glaze commonly used that year which
caused this condition.  There were nearly 28,000 registrations in 1911 and
automobile ownership continued to skyrocket.  The month of April, 1912 alone
saw nearly half the number of registrations as were issued in all of 1910.  In fact,
clerks in the Secretary of State's office were so busy with the demand that some
owners found themselves waiting for days before they could receive their
plates.  These delays caused some impatient drivers to use fake plates on their
cars, some of which were very good imitations of the state-issued porcelains,
according to newspaper reports.  By the end of 1912, more than 39,000 pairs of
plates had been issued.

In 1913, Secretary of State Frederick C.
Martindale recognized that he could save
the state an estimated $10,000 by shipping
plates to owners for the first time via parcel
post.  Previous years had seen plates
shipped via express mail at a cost of about
30 cents per pair, whereas the new method
would cost only 10 cents.  On January 23rd,
newspapers reported that there was no
longer any good excuse for motorists not to
have 1913 plates on their vehicles and that
they needed to get them as soon as
possible, suggesting that their had been at
least an unofficial grace period up to that
point.  In May, the Benton Harbor "News-
Palladium" ran an article under the headline
"Michigan Must Have Motor Car Craze, " in
which it was revealed that the first four
months of 1913 had seen 36,000 plates issued - nearly the same number as had
been issued in all of 1912!  Anybody who applied for a registration beginning on
August 1 was entitled to pay only $1.50 - half the rate of those who applied at
some point in the first seven months of the year.  By the end of the year,
automobile registrations in Michigan had surpassed 54,000.  In 1913, for whatever
reason, plates that are three digits or less have a smaller seal than the larger
plates.  No other years were made with this variance.  1913 plates also have a
wide variance in the green color as well as the thickness of the border.  

In August of 1913, Secretary of State
Martindale placed the order for Michigan's
fifth and final annual porcelain issue - a red
& white 1914 plate.  These plates were the
same style and format as the previous four
years - with two distinctions: for the first
time Michigan porcelains carried no border
and were manufactured with grommets
added to the corner holes.  Like the
background color of the 1913 plates, the red
used for the letters and numbers on 1914
porcelains came in a wide variety of shades.  
The new plates were ready for distribution to
registered motorists on November 1, 1913.  
However, as in previous years, many
motorists were a bit lax in actually complying
with the law and adorning their vehicles
with plates.  In February of 1914, the
Marshall, Michigan city council passed a
resolution for the city marshal to place a
notice in local newspapers urging automobile owners to obtain and display their
plates.  In the end, there were some 87,000 vehicles registered in Michigan in
1914 - a fivefold increase from only five years earlier.



Manufacturer plates were issued for all five of the porcelain years in Michigan,
and encompassed dealers as well.  Although we aren't sure, the standard
registration may have entitled manufacturers and dealers to five same-numbered
pairs.  In 1910, at least, manufacturers paid $10 for their registration, and could
purchase additional plates for $2 each.  The numbers assigned to the
Manufacturer class in 1910 are a bit of a mystery.  We know that at least some
manufacturer plates were issued with numbers in the #1200 - #1400 range,
although this range was not held out specifically for this class of vehicle, as there
are numerous passenger plates known in the same sequence.  Similarly, there
are 1910 manufacturer plates known in the #5000 - #5499 range, although once
again there are passenger plates known with similar numbers as well.  After the
confusion of 1910, however, the state seemingly figured out a more logical
system for manufacturer plates - now apparently blocking out the #5000 - #5499
range specifically for their usage.  

This new system remained in place for the
duration of Michigan's porcelain era.  Note
that there are no Michigan passenger
plates from 1911-1914 with numbers in the
#5000 - #5499 range.  In spite of these
numbers being set aside for manufacturers,
however, plate numbers do not seem to
have approached the high end of the span
in any year.  Even in 1914 - the last year of
porcelains - manufacturer plates are only
documented into the mid-5200s.  Because
all Michigan manufacturer porcelains are
five characters, they are all thus the same
size as five digit passenger plates, with
their usage distinguished only by an “M”
suffix.  As a class, Michigan manufacturers
are quite rare.


Motorcycle plates are virtual miniatures of
the passenger plates, although they were
made with corner holes only and do not vary
in size depending on the number of digits in
the plate number.  They were also issued as
singles only.  There were just over 1,000
motorcycle registrations issued in 1910, but
this number would skyrocket to
approximately 7,500 by 1914 when the
porcelain era was ending.  These Michigan
motorcycle plates are the smallest state-
issued cycle plates ever issued from the U.S.
or Canada.  Note in the picture at right how
these tiny little plates were sometimes
mounted in the spokes of the wheel itself -
it's a wonder any survived such usage!  The
first two years are exceptionally rare and
Michigan porcelain cycle plates are very much in demand.  


Motorcycle manufacturer plates follow the same pattern as the regular cycle
plates, but as was the case with the regular manufacturer plates, they carry an
“M” suffix.  The only two surviving examples of these elusive plates are a single
known plate from 1910 and a single plate from 1913.  These are among the rarest
of all U.S. state-issued porcelain license plates.


Another exceedingly rare class of Michigan porcelain license plates are the
undated Public Domain Commission plates, of which only two survivors are
known.  As Greg Gibson points out, these plates are the earliest examples of
state-owned plates from Michigan.  Although undated, these plates are exactly
the same size and weight, and have the same bolt hole placement, as the
standard Michigan porcelains from 1910-1914.  Thus, these Public Domain plates
surely date to that same period.  Sometime in the late '20s, the Public Domain
Commission would evolve into the Department of Conservation.


Greg Gibson, “Michigan: The Great Plate State.”  ALPCA Register, 50, 4 (August,
2004), pp. 32-34.
Greg Gibson, "The MLPCA Presents: The Michigan Book, An Overview of
Michigan License Plates (Second Edition)."  Fenton, MI: Suburban Printing, 2005.  
pp. 16-17, 35, 39, 41, 52, 135.

The Bessemer Herald, August 3, 1912; January 11, 1913; December 19, 1914
The Daily Chronicle (Marshall, MI), March 30, 1910; July 11, 1910; January 23, 1913;
July 17, 1913; August 1, 1913; February 10, 1914
The Daily News (Marshall, MI) October 8, 1910
The Evening Statesman (Marshall, MI), April 29, 1912; May 18, 1912; June 28, 1913;
August 2, 1913; August 14, 1913; October 22, 1913; December 19, 1913
The Marshall News, December 10, 1909; October 14, 1910
The News-Palladium (Benton Harbor, MI), April 12, 1911; April 19, 1912; May 3,
1913; June 25, 1913; August 1, 1913; October 22, 1913
The Wakefield Advocate, December 12, 1914
Range: 1 - Approx. 18,500
Range: 1 - Approx. 27,500
Range: 1 - Approx. 40,000
Range: 1 - Approx. 55,000
Range: 1 - Approx. 87,000
* 1-3 digit plates measure 4 1/2" x 8 5/8"; 4 digits measure 4 1/2" x 10 1/4"; 5 digits measure 4 1/2" x 12"
2 1/2" x 6"
Range: 1 - Approx. 1,100
2 1/2" x 6"
Range: 1 - Approx. 2,000
2 1/2" x 6"
Range: 1 - Approx. 4,000
2 1/2" x 6"
Range: 1 - Approx. 6,000
2 1/2" x 6"
Range: 1 - Approx. 7,500
4 1/2" x 12"
Range: Approx. 5000M - 5499M*
4 1/2" x 12"
Range: Approx. 5000M - 5499M
4 1/2" x 12"
Range: Approx. 5000M - 5499M
4 1/2" x 12"
Range: Approx. 5000M - 5499M
4 1/2" x 12"
Range: Approx. 5000M - 5499M
* Note that there are also 1910 Manufactuer plates known with numbers in the #1,200 - #1,400 range.
2 1/2" x 6"
Range: 1M - Unknown
2 1/2" x 6"
Range: 1M - Unknown

Collectors Beware!

In the late 1960s, 5 sets of
fake Michigan pre-state
porcelains from 1905-1909
were made up.  They are
identical in size and weight
to four digit state-issued
porcelains and are very
Color Unknown
4 1/2" x 12"
Range: Unknown
Michigan 1913
Michigan 1914
Michigan 1910 Manufacturer
Michigan 1911 Manufacturer
Michigan 1914 Manufacturer
Michigan 1913 Motorcycle
Headline about the
forthcoming issuance of
Michigan's first-issue 1910

The Marshall (Michigan) News,
December 10, 1909
Headline about the
importance of license plate
revenue to the state

The Evening Statesman
(Marshall, MI),
April 29, 1912
Headline announcing a
half-price registration fee
for the last five months of

The News-Palladium
(Benton Harbor, MI),
August 1, 1913
Note the difference in size of
the Michigan state seal on
1913 porcelains that are
three digits or less
Headline alerting motorists
to the fact that it's time to
pay the registration fees for

The News-Palladium
(Benton Harbor, MI),
October 22, 1913
Auto Bus