A Website for Porcelain License Plate Collectors & Enthusiasts
New Jersey Archive


New Jersey first required motorists to be registered and display plates on their
vehicles in 1903.  In 1905, the laws were slightly amended, increasing the height
requirement of the numbers from three to four inches.  Until the first state-issued
plates came out in 1908, owners had to manufacture these plates themselves.  
Common varieties were leather pads with metal numbers, aluminum kit plates,
and numbers painted directly onto leather or wood surfaces.  However, there are
two known surviving examples of porcelain pre-states as well.  These plates are
clearly both manufactured by the same company and, based on their four inch
high letters – probably date from 1905-1907.  There is no maker’s mark, but they
were clearly manufactured by some established enameling company that offered
motorists a chance to dangle an attractive plate off the back of their car should
they be willing to pay the price.


When the state of New Jersey first took
on the task of issuing standardized license
plates in 1908, they selected an unusual
type of plate - a metal base with crimped
edges into which individual numbered flat
metal tiles would be fitted.  The state seal
was pressed into the metal.  Later in the
year, the state decided to make a change,
and by October, they were ready to solicit
bids to produce an initial order of 20,000
pairs of porcelain plates with the state
seals now riveted onto them.  The contract
was awarded to the Horace E. Fine
Company of Trenton – the same company
that was well known for manufacturing
aluminum pre-state plates for residents of numerous states, and who either
made, or help make, the 1908 New Jersey plates.  It’s hard to say exactly what role
Horace E. Fine had in producing the 1909 plates.  After all, the company was
known as a metal stamp works and made such items as dog tags for the city of
Trenton.  They were not an enameling company and may have simply
manufactured the metal state emblems that were attached to the plates.  The
explanation can be found on the reverse of the Fine-produced porcelains, which
bear a stamp reading: "Horace E. Fine 'Ing-Rich' Auto Tags, Trenton, NJ."  Clearly,
Fine sub-contacted with the Beaver Falls-based enameling giant, Ingram-
Richardson to produce the actual plates.  This partnership remained intact
through 1912, and the resulting products were heavy, well-made porcelains that
are considered some of the finest issued in the country.

As for the first porcelain issue in 1909, the Fine/Ing-Rich partnership produced an
estimated 22,500 pairs of passenger plates before all was said and done.  The
1909 format was continued in 1910, with the colors changed to black on orange.  
This color scheme was selected by the State Commissioner of Motor Vehicles to
honor Princeton university, the largest college in the state.  Apparently, as
decided by the Motor Vehicle Commissioner, those registering for 1910 plates
could not keep the same number they had in 1909.  Late in 1909, when the first
1910 plates had arrived, the "New York Times" reported that those waiting for low
numbers visited the Commissioner's office to check out the new plates.  On
January 5, 1910, it was announced that 51,800 porcelains had been received at
the Secretary of State's office in Trenton and were ready for distribution to
registered owners.  This shipment weighed 50 tons!  This initial order of 25,900
sets was not quite enough, as New Jersey plates in 1910 ended up nearing the
30,000 mark.

In 1911, both Rutgers University and the Stevens Institute of Technology in
Hoboken were battling for the honor of having their colors selected for the new
plates.  However, Stevens Institute won out and their colors of cardinal and gray
were chosen for the 1911 plates.  Interestingly, newspapers at the time
speculated that Rutgers would probably get the honor the following year - but we
know that Rutgers' red & black colors were never used on any New Jersey
porcelains.  The fees in 1911 ranged from $3 to $10, depending on horsepower.  
In the summer of 1911, New Jersey officials had a little run in with New York
officials.  Angered by New York's refusal to allow New Jersey residents to take
brief driving vacations in New York without taking out a New York state license,
New Jersey retaliated by doing away with the eight-day privilege that it allowed to
New York motorists.  The later in the year, there was more friction, when in mid-
November the offices in New York authorized to issue New Jersey plates to
residents there who traveled in and out of the state ran out of 1911 plates and
officials in Trenton refused to request more from the manufacturer.  It is unclear
how these situations resolved themselves.  As it was since the pre-state era, any
vehicles being driven in and out of the state on a regular basis had to carry New
Jersey plates.  As a result, many New Jersey plates issued to residents of other
states were tossed on the floorboards or under the seats of automobiles until
needed.  1911 plates were good until midnight on January 31, 1912, after which a
new yellow and deep blue 1912 issue took over.  1911 plates are thought to have
reached about 38,000 and 1912 plates approximately 43,000.

In August of 1912, "The Trenton Evening
Times" printed a list of at least some of the
companies vying to win the contract to
produce the 1913 New Jersey plates.  Bids
ranged from $12,665 by the Quayle Enamel
Company of Albany, New York to $17,402
by the Trenton-based Horace E. Fine.  
Whereas New Jersey up to this point had
only used English charcoal iron for its
plates, all but one of the competing firms
were now offering cheaper plates made of
soft steel.  According to a 1981 article in
the ALPCA Newsletter, the contract was
awarded to the Greenduck Company of
Illinois, at a cost of 15 cents less per pair
than the state paid in 1912.  This was an
interesting choice, considering that Greenduck is not believed to have ever
produced porcelain license plates prior to this point.  This cost cutting measure
had predictable consequences, as the 1913 plates were thinner and generally
more poorly made with a greater propensity to chip, and so ended Greenduck's
brief foray into the world of porcelain license plate manufacturing.  It should be
pointed out, however, that the "Trenton Evening Times" of June 17, 1913
contradicts the findings of the collectors who wrote the 1981 article.  Instead, the
"Times" indicates that the low bidder for the 1913 plates - Quayle Enamel - was
actually awarded the contract.  Whatever company actually produced these
plates, the contract ultimately called for some 50,000 pairs.

In 1914, the contract this time went to the Quayle Enamel Company who had
competed for (and possibly even manufactured) the 1913 porcelains the previous
year.  Like Greenduck, Quayle was a relatively untested company.  The only
license plate contract the company is known to have ever held was for the
Indiana 1913 porcelains, and they only pulled that one off after great delays.  This
new deal with the state of New Jersey could have paid big dividends for Quayle if
they could just pull it off well, possibly leading to future contracts with the state.  
Disastrously, however, the initial order of 50,000 plates called for by the contract
was too much for Quayle to handle and this company defaulted on its agreement
with the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles.  Quayle had promised that
45,000 of the pairs would be delivered by January 2, 1914 and that the remainder
of the contract would be fulfilled by February 1.  By January 4, however, Quayle
had only managed to produce and deliver 30,000 pairs, well below the terms
stipulated in their contract.  As a result, New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commissioner
Lippincott cancelled the order with Quayle and placed an emergency order for
2,000 pairs with the Brilliant Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia.  Because
Quayle was insured, the state of New Jersey did not lose out financially, and the
remainder of the plates for 1914 were soon on hand for New Jersey motorists.  It
is not clear if Brilliant continued to produce plates beyond this emergency order
of 2,000 pairs, but we do know that New Jersey plates exceeded 60,000 in 1914, so
there are more than 30,000 pairs manufactured and used that year for which the
maker is unknown.  The fact that multiple manufacturers were used to produce
the 1914 porcelains is clearly evident in the wide variance of color on the plates,
from light orange to deep red.

After two years of going for cheap bids
with unsatisfactory results, the state spent
slightly more money in 1915 and purchased
its plates from the Philadelphia-based
Brilliant Manufacturing Company who had
a proven track record of manufacturing
quality Pennsylvania plates.  This year saw
a noticeable increase in registrations – in
January of 1915, over 8,000 more cars were
registered in New Jersey than during the
same month just one year earlier.  In the
end, some 85,000 pairs of porcelains were
manufactured by Brilliant.  The 1915 porcelains finally brought New Jersey’s
seven year experimentation with porcelains to an end.  In 1916, the state issued
its first ever embossed metal plate.



Manufacturer plates were intended to be
used only on cars being used for
demonstration purposes.  They were
issued in sets of five same-numbered
pairs.  The only difference between pairs
was the Manufacturers Car number.  The
default was #1 through #5.  Early on,
dealers tended to abuse the multiple
plates they had and would use them on
personal cars without paying the state for
a regular license.  Authorities quickly
caught on, though, and in 1912,
newspapers reported that such practices
were being investigated.  Interestingly,
this helps to explain the greater
prevalence of Manufacturer plates with
high car numbers in the early years of New
Jersey porcelains.  It is much harder to locate a "Mfr's Car #4" or "Mfr's Car #5"
on a late issued porcelain, because the usage of these plates was more highly
scrutinized at that point and dealerships had to prove that they really needed
extra sets of plates for demonstration purposes.


New Jersey issued its first motorcycle
plate in 1912, but unlike the rest of the
plates that year, it was not porcelain.  In
1913, however, when the contract to
produce plates was given to either the
Greenduck Company of Illinois or the
Quayle Enamel Company of Albany, the
state went ahead and ordered cycle plates
as well.  These plates carried a "C" suffix
and appear to have been issued as singles
only.  Numbers are believed to have
spanned from #1C up to approximately
#8500C.  Unfortunately, the plates were
poorly made, and after one year of brittle
porcelain motorcycle plates, the state
switched back to metal in 1914.


In addition to motorcycle plates, 1913 also saw the introduction of another class
of New Jersey porcelains - Temporary plates, prefixed with a "0."  The details are
a bit fuzzy, but it seems that due to the increased incidence of people
manufacturing fake plates for their cars after losing or damaging the plate
originally issued to them, the state authorities apparently cracked down and
identified offenders, issuing them temporary plates until correct replacement
plates could be obtained.  These plates were issued in pairs and were
manufactured for the duration of New Jersey’s porcelain era, after which they
were discontinued.  Porcelain temporary plates are exceedingly scarce and only a
small handful of the estimated 500 sets manufactured each year from 1913
through 1915 are known to have survived.


Trailer plates first appeared in 1915 when the state contract was in the hands of
the Brilliant Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia.  These "T" prefixed trailer
plates are the single rarest class of New Jersey porcelains to collect and very
little is known about them.  Collectors speculate that they were issued as singles
only and numbers appear to have ranged up to about 100.


Jonathan Leib, Philip Leib, and Paul Weinstein, “New Jersey: The Garden State.”  
ALPCA Newsletter, 27, 5 (October, 1981), p. 108.

"Colorado Springs Gazette," December 18, 1910
"New York Times," December 19, 1909; August 30, 1910
"Newport Daily News" (Newport, RI), July 25, 1911
"The Galveston Daily News," October 10, 1909
"The Hopewell Herald," December 8, 1909; January 5, 1910
"Trenton Evening Times," October 8, 1908; March 12, 1909; September 17, 1909;
August 29, 1910; November 11, 1911; January 30, 1912; July 27, 1912; August 10,
1912; May 24, 1913; June 17, 1913; February 4, 1914; December 22, 1914; February
5, 1915
Range: 1 - Approx. 20,000
Range: 1 - Approx. 25,000
Range: 1-
Range: 1- Approx. 45,000
Range: 1- Approx. 50,000
Range: 1- Approx. 65,000
Range: 1- Approx. 85,000
* Three digit plates measure 6" x 9 3/4".
Range: Estimated 1-500
Range: Estimated 1-500
Range: Estimated 1-500
* Three digit plates measure 6" x 12".
Range: Estimated 1-100
* The only one known is #T63, but if they made more than 100, it is likely the three digits were larger.
2 3/4" x 8"
Range: Estimated 100-8500
Range: 1 - Approx. 1000
Range: 1 - Approx. 1000
Range: 1 - Approx. 1000
Range: 1 - Approx. 1000
Range: 1 - Approx. 1000
Range: 1 - Approx. 1000
Range: 1 - Approx. 1000
* Two-digit plates measure X x X; Five-digit plates measure 4 1/2" x 12"
1915 New Jersey

Announcement of the 1911
New Jersey colors, chosen
in honor of the
Stevens Institute

Trenton Evening Times,
August 29, 1910

Headline announcing the
colors for 1914 New Jersey
License Plates

Trenton Evening Times,
May 24, 1913
New Jersey 1909
New Jersey 1913
New Jersey 1909 Manufacturer
1913 New Jersey Motorcycle