A Website for Porcelain License Plate Collectors & Enthusiasts
TOTAL KNOWN PORCELAIN VARIETIES: 19
I: PRE-STATES / CITY & COUNTY PLATES
Ohio was very early in the registering of automobiles, with the first registrations
dating to 1901. Until the state began the issuance of standardized license plates
beginning in 1908, various cities within the state required owners to register and
display plates. Some of these were crude homemade plates, often undated
leather pads with house numbers attached and frequently with no city
designation on them, while others were officially-made dated metal plates. Pre-
states exist from places like Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Delhi,
Masillon, and Toledo. But while the majority of Ohio pre-states were non-
porcelain, a few cities decided porcelain was the way to go. These include
passenger plates from Columbus, Lorain, and Warren, and motorcycle plates from
Dayton, Findlay, Lima and Toledo. Although the motorcycle plates were issued
after 1908, they are still pre-states because Ohio’s statewide issuance of
motorcycle license plates did not begin until 1914.
Located near the geographic center of the state, Columbus lies at the confluence
of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers. The county seat of Franklin County, Columbus
is the Ohio state capital. At the end of the nineteenth century, the city was a
growing manufacturing center, with two dozen buggy factories, for instance. It
was also an important location for the organization of labor, with both the
American Federation of Labor and the United Mine Workers of America founded
there. In 1900, the population of the city surpassed 125,000. Over the next
decade, the population jumped by nearly 60,000, with more than 180,000 residents
in 1910. The most common porcelains from Ohio’s pre-state era hail from
Columbus, where porcelain plates were first issued in 1907. The two Columbus
passenger issues - from 1907 and 1908 - are simple white & blue plates marked
with the distinctive abbreviation "COL'S." 1907 plates probably began at #1 and
seem to have run up over 600. At least one surviving example is known with the
paper stamp of the local Columbus manufacturing firm Hiss Stamp Works, which
presumably manufactured these plates. The 1908 plates may have begun as low
as 1,000 and top out around the 2300s. There are perhaps a dozen survivors of
each year known in collections today. There is no evidence that any of the
Columbus porcelains were ever issued in pairs.
Lying in Southwestern Ohio, Dayton is the county seat and largest city in
Montgomery County. The home of the Wright Brothers, Dayton is known for its
many technical innovations and inventions. The city lies on the Great Miami River
just North of Cincinnati. In 1907 and 1908, Dayton had cast aluminum plates for
passenger vehicles. By 1910, the city's population surpassed 115,000 and it was
at that time that porcelain motorcycle plates began to be issued. For many years,
the earliest known example was from 1912. However, in 2015, a 1909-10 issue
surfaced. Porcelain cycles continued from the city through at least 1913. These
plates are extremely rare, with only a handful known from all years combined.
Located along the Ohio River, East Liverpool lies about an hour west of
Pittsburgh and two hours southeast of Cleveland, bordering the states of
Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Best known for its historic presence at the
center of the American pottery industry, the city was long known as "The Pottery
Capital of the World." Incorporated in 1834, East Liverpool once produced more
than half of the nation's annual ceramics output. As for license plates, a sole
surviving example exists to document the city's issuance of porcelains - a dated
1924 Health Department permit, which likely adorned a milk truck or something of
that sort. This previously unknown plate turned up on EBAY in the Fall of 2009.
Interestingly, this plate is unique by Ohio standards for a couple of different
reasons. For one, porcelain city plates from Ohio are exceptionally early and the
latest surviving example other than this Health permit dates from 1913. The
eleven year gap between these two plates is very unusual. Secondly, all of the
other known Ohio city-issued porcelains were regular car or motorcycle plates
issued by cities to license the vehicles that used the city streets. This East
Liverpool plate is the only known plate to have survived from the state of Ohio
with such a narrow and specific licensing purpose.
Situated in Northwest Ohio, about 40 miles south of Toledo, Findlay is the county
seat of Hancock County. The town got its start in the aftermath of the War of 1812
and Findlay is known to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad during
slavery. It was a booming center of oil and natural gas production in the late 19th
century, but by the time th 20th century dawned, this boom period had ended. As
for license plates, there is just a single surviving example to document the use of
porcelains from Findlay - a 1913 oval plate thought to have been issued to a
motorcycle and strikingly similar to the Lima porcelains of the same year.
The county seat of Allen County, Lima lies North of Dayton in Northwestern Ohio.
A brief oil boom put Lima on the map. From 1886-1900, this Ohio city was the
world’s leading producer of crude oil. At least as early as 1912, we know from
newspaper documentation that the city of Lima required motorcycles to be
licensed and carry city plates. Although there is no conclusive evidence,
conventional wisdom suggests that the known Lima porcelains are examples of
these motorcycle plates.
Lorain is a port city on Lake Erie at the mouth of the Black River. In 1900, the
city's population was over 16,000, triple the population of the city only 10 years
earlier. One of the primary reasons for this growth was the arrival of railroads,
creating a direct line from Lake Erie to the Ohio River and positioning Lorain as a
major trans-shipment center for products such as coal, ore, and lumber. There is
one lone porcelain survivor to document the city's issuance of porcelain plates.
Considering that the plate number is #1049, one might expect more to have
surfaced over the years. Since none has, it is not an unreasonable presumption
that these plates began with #1000 and that this plate is in fact the 49th issued.
Interestingly, the Lorain plate is the only example of an undated porcelain city
plate from Ohio. Taped to the reverse of this plate is some research conducted
by an unknown former owner. It includes a xerox of both a newspaper article
from September of 1907 and a copy of the text of Lorain's Ordinance #1144,
passed September 16, 1907. Together, these documents spell out the particulars
of the city's new automobile law. The plates cost motorists $2.00 and visitors to
the city who were there for more than a day were required to pay the fee as well,
although they would be refunded $1.50 upon their departure and surrender of the
plate. The plates were issued as singles only and had to be displayed on the rear
of the vehicle in plain view.
Toledo is a city in Northwestern Ohio at the Eastern tip of Lake Erie. It lies just
south of Detroit. In the 19th century, Toledo received a great boost to its
prosperity with the construction of the Miami and Erie Canal, which connected
the city to eastern markets. Later in the century, Toledo became a hub for several
railroad companies and a center for industries such as furniture, carriage makers,
breweries and glass manufacturers. By 1880, Toledo was one of the largest cities
in Ohio. Toledo's prosperity continued into early 20th century right when
automobiles began making their appearance in the city. Although we are not
aware of any passenger car porcelains having ever been issued from the city,
there is one lone example of a porcelain cycle plate known from some point in the
The county seat of Trumbull County, Warren lies on the Mahoning River. Steel
mills sprang up in the city in the middle of the 1800s, and toward the end of the
century, the city was a center for flax and flaxseed oil. In 1899, the first Packard
automobiles were manufactured in Warren before the company moved to Detroit.
In 1908, the city of Warren issued what appears to be its only year of porcelain
license plate. These are very attractive plates with the state identification
marked by simply an “O.”
II: STATE-ISSUED PASSENGER PLATES
According to ALPCA archives, the issuance of plates was to begin in 1906 as per a
new state law, but litigation delayed the plates until the Ohio Supreme Court ruled
the law constitutional. Accordingly, the Automobile Division of the office of the
Secretary of State was created in June of 1908 and was responsible for the
issuance of license plates for passenger cars, dealers, and manufacturers, but
not for motorcycles or commercial vehicles.
One legendary and not yet fully understood mystery surrounding first issue Ohio
plates is the existence of the sought-after “Oval O” plates, which apparently
arose from a dispute over specifications that the state had with the company first
hired to produce the first-issue plates. An article in the “Marion Daily Star” in May
of 1908 announced that the contract to produce the first issue Ohio plates was
given to Charles Gerrish of Columbus. He was to provide plates at a cost of thirty
cents per pair for plates with three or fewer numbers, and thirty-four cents for
plates with four or more numbers. State officials wanted a round “O” to
designate the state, but the first batch of plates received had an oval “O” which
violated the state’s mandate. As a result, the first batch of plates was discarded.
However, June 11 was the first day that the new Ward Automobile Law was to go
into effect, and there was not enough time to order and receive a new batch in
time. On June 11, newspapers announced that the anticipated arrival of the
plates had not been met by the manufacturer, and that the Secretary of State was
authorizing registered automobile owners to use plates of their own design for
the next 30 days. Each registrant would be mailed a letter which would exempt
them from arrest in case they were questioned. Not surprisingly, the state
changed manufacturers and the correct versions of the Ohio 1908 plates were
finally delivered. In the 1960s, a batch of these rare “Oval O” porcelains – all
apparently under number 100 – was dug up from a Columbus landfill, thus
accounting for all of the surviving examples of this very first state-ordered, but
not state-issued, plate from Ohio.
The Ohio first issues that were actually issued were undated pairs of porcelains
that were designed to be used in both 1908 and 1909. For a long time, the lowest
known numbers from 1908 were two-digits and looked just like all the other Ohio
first-issues in terms of layout. However, in 2015, a collection was sold on EBAY
with a fascinating 1908 #4. This plate is clearly different from all other Ohio first-
issues in that the state logo is top-justified with the plate number. All other
known Ohio 1908s are center-justified in layout. We don't know how many plates
were made in this format (perhaps the first 10 or so?), but it is clearly a distinct
type, and thus constitutes a Type 1 variant.
In the first-issue era, a variety of bases of varying lengths were used depending
on the plate number. Although there were some die style variations in certain
characters on Ohio first issues - like the 2 and the 7 - all of these plates were
essentially the same and bore no designation to differentiate a passenger plate
from a dealer or manufacturer. At least in 1908, Ohio experts believe that the
plates were manufactured by the Hiss Stamp Works of Columbus, although I have
never seen any evidence to substantiate this. A Columbus 1907 city-issue
showed up on EBAY in 2010 with the paper seal of Hiss affixed to the back,
perhaps adding further circumstantial evidence to the notion that Hiss made the
first-issue state plates as well. It certainly seems reasonable that a notable local
company producing plates for the state capitol in 1907 would be a strong
contender for the state contract the following year, particularly since the officials
making these decisions were probably there in Columbus as well.
It took a while for automobile owners to conform to the new law, as was the case
in every other state at the beginning. Newspapers in August and September of
1908 were reporting that many owners had not yet registered their vehicles, and
that others were driving with only one plate on their car, in violation of the state
law. Interestingly, anybody who was required to purchase a license in the city
they lived in was exempt from the state law in 1908, so vehicle owners in most of
the large cities in Ohio did not receive the new undated porcelains. Beginning
January 1, 1909, however, this exemption was taken away, and all automobile
owners had to register for and obtain Ohio plates. By mid-1909, there were more
than 17,000 registered vehicles in use in Ohio, and by the end of the year, the
number was said to be some 23,000. In the summer of 1909, it was reported that
fakes were being manufactured out of Dayton, but they were fairly easy to detect
as they were black instead of blue, and the “H” inside the encircling “O” was
horizontal instead of vertical.
In 1910, the first dated plates were issued.
These plates are distinctive because of their
unusual mahogany woodgrain background, a
design that only one other porcelain license
plate is known to have adopted – the 1912
Pennsylvania plate. In the fall of 1909, the
state sought bids to produce the 1910 plates.
At the time, the Ohio porcelains were costing
the state fifty cents a pair, and bids for the
new plates ranged from thirty to fifty cents as
well, the highest coming from the West Lafayette Enamel Company. Upon
receiving the bids, the state turned the matter over to the Ohio State University
ceramic department which had the duty of testing samples and presenting a
report to the state before the winning bid would be selected. Although the
winning manufacturer is unknown, the plates were produced for thirty-three
cents a pair, and the Ohio press heralded the attractiveness of these new plates
with headlines such as “New Auto Tag is Beauty.” In the end, just shy of 23,000
pairs of plates were issued in 1910. It is notable to specialists that the numeral 1
in the date underwent a slight change over the course of the year, with earlier
issues having a notch in the top of the numeral, while later issues carried a
simple straight line.
In the summer of 1910, bids were solicited to
produce 25,000 pairs of Ohio’s third and final
state-issued porcelain plates. As with the
1910 plates, the manufacturers who wished to
be considered for the state contract had to
supply samples of their materials, which were
put through a battery of tests. Five
competing firms supplied samples, and as the
“Van Wert Daily Bulletin” reported of the
ensuing tests, “the automobile tags which the
state will furnish next year will stand weather,
the vapor from the exhaust pipe and even
smashups... The enameled plates were given
a boiling water test; a boiling acid test, acid vapor test and an impact test.” The
impact test is perhaps the most interesting, as it consisted of a succession of
blows from a one-kilogram hammer. The first plate broke after 25 blows, the
second after 40, the third after 50, and the fourth after 60. The most durable plate
– supplied by the Ingram-Richardson Manufacturing Company of Beaver Falls,
Pennsylvania – took 100 blows from the hammer before breaking. Ing-Rich
received the state contract and supplied the 1911 plates at a cost of thirty-one
cents a pair. For whatever reason, the maker's mark was absent from the backs
of 1911 plates on early issues. Beginning in December of 1910, these plates were
being received by the state and were ready for distribution to vehicle owners. At
least in certain portions of the state, there was no grace period and anybody
driving an automobile after the first of the year without Ohio state plates was
liable for arrest. By August, 40,000 numbers had been issued and a new order
had just been placed. Estimates from the time predicted that 45,000 plates would
be needed before 1911 was over. Late in the year, the “Lima Daily News”
reported that people were attempting to fake their 1911 plates all over the state.
III: STATE-ISSUED NON-PASSENGER PLATES
There is one surviving oddball from Ohio - a Quartermaster Corps plate that was
apparently used on military vehicles of the "Cleveland Division." I am uncertain
what branch of military, or what base, these plates were assigned to.
Chuck Sakryd, “Ohio – The Heart of it All.” ALPCA Newsletter, 31, 3 (June, 1995),
Chuck Sakryd, “Ohio – The Buckeye State: Part I – A History of Ohio Plates; Some
Non-Passenger Types.” ALPCA Newsletter, 32, 4 (August, 1986), pp. 103-05.
Chuck Sakryd, “Ohio – The Buckeye State: Part II – Non-Passenger Plates of
Various Types.” ALPCA Newsletter, 32, 5 (October, 1986), pp. 134, 140.
“Coshocton Daily Age,” September 16, 1909; December 31, 1909; December 16, 1910
“Coshocton Daily Times,” June 11, 1909; August 31, 1909
“Sandusky Register,” July 16, 1911
“The Athens Messenger,” September 10, 1908
“The Columbus Sunday Dispatch,” June 27, 1909
“The Evening Telegraph” (Elyria, OH), June 11, 1908; August 14, 1908; December 3,
“The Lima Daiy News,” September 14, 1911
“The Mansfield News,” June 3, 1910; December 19, 1910
“The Marion Daily Star,” May 23, 1908
“The Newark Daily Advocate,” September 8, 1908
“The Sandusky Star-Journal,” January 18, 1911; August 1, 1911
“The Van Wert Daily Bulletin,” June 11, 1908; June 22, 1909; July 1, 1909; August
31, 1909; June 3, 1910; June 3, 1910; August 4, 1910
||6" x 9"
||5" x 8"
||4" x 5 1/2"
||2 3/4" x 4"
||3" x 4"
||3" x 4"
||6 1/2" x 7"
||5" x 8"
||White/Blue (Oval O)
||White/Blue (Type 1)
||5 1/2" x 10 1/4"
||Range: 1 - 10?
||White/Blue (Type 2)
||Range: 10? - 23,139
|* One through three digit plates = 5 1/2" x 10 1/4"; Four digits = 5 1/2" x 12 1/2"; Five digit plates are variable,
measuring 5 1/2 by either 14 or 15 inches long.
||Range: 1-Approx. 23,000
||Range: 1-Approx. 45,000
|* One digit plates measure 5 1/2" x 7 3/4"; two digits = ???; three digits = 5 1/2" x 10"; four digits = 5 1/2" x 12;
five digits = 5 1/2" x 14.
|Note how the
time on first
had a diagonal
notch at the top,
and the width of
slightly so that
the bottom of
the 7 was wider
than the top.
|The Evening Telegraph
June 11, 1908
|Headline about the delay
receiving first-issue plates
due to the "Oval O" fiasco
|Two months after the date when Ohio's new
automobile law was originally intended to take
effect, vehicle owners across the state were
finally supplied with their new first-issue
porcelain license plates. Newspapers now
warned motorists who had been taking
advantage of the manufacturing delays that
everything was finally in order and that law
enforcement officers would be ensuring that
motorists are compliant with the law.
|The Evening Telgram (Elyria, OH)
August 14, 1908
|The Athens Messenger
September 10, 1908
|Headline warning motorists
to display plates on both the
front & back of their cars
|Note the variant forms of
the numeral 1 in the date of
the 1910 plates. Earlier
versions had a notch, while
later plates bore a simple
|The Coshocton Daily Times, June 11, 1909
|The Van Wert Daily Bulletin
August 31, 1909
|Headlines heralded the
beauty of the new
woodgrain 1910 plates
|The Coshocton Daily Age
December 16, 1910
color change for 1911
||3 1/2" x 5"