A Website for Porcelain License Plate Collectors & Enthusiasts
Texas Archive


Texas is an interesting state when it comes to porcelain license plates.  By the
time the first official plates appeared in 1917, the porcelain era had nearly passed
and so there were never any official porcelain issues from the state.  However,
Texas' pre-state era - which ran from 1907 to June 30, 1917 - saw one of the most
prolific examples of the adoption of porcelain license plates ever seen.  Many
Texas pre-states are simple leather pads, almost always undated and frequently
with no state designation on them.  Some cities, such as Fort Worth, also issued
embossed metal plates in this era.  However, beginning in about 1910, a
Chicago-based firm known as the Stafford Illuminated Auto Lamp & Number
Company began issuing elaborate metal bases into which individual porcelain tiles
would be fitted.  In the world of license plate collecting, it is these kit plates for
which Texas is best known.  Hardware stores throughout the state must have
been well stocked with bases and tiles, as hundreds of plates have survived from
all across Texas.  

There are no other variety of Texas pre-state porcelains other than this "kit" style,
although the existence of a privately commissioned one is not beyond the realm
of possibility.  The kit porcelains are all white on blue, and all bases measure
either 6" x 8½" (2-digit), 6" x 11¼" (3-digit), 6" x 14" (4-digit) or 6" x 17 (5 digit).  
Different sizes of blank inserts were also manufactured so that owners could fill in
unused spaces on the plates they were creating.  There are also a few motorcycle
versions known, although these are much rarer, with only a half-dozen or so
survivors in collectors' hands.  The size of the cycle plates is 4" x 10½".

State law required very little in terms of Texas pre-states.  The only requirement,
in fact, was that a single plate with the registration number in figures not less than
six inches in height be prominently displayed on the rear of each vehicle.  Thus,
porcelain kit plates are known with numbers only. Others simply have the numbers
and a tile with the state designation "TEXAS" on them.  Other creative motorists
chose to personalize their plates by purchasing tiles proclaiming the jurisdictions
in which they lived.  Because this was optional, and because the kit plates allowed
for the placement of individual tiles in numerous different positions, there is an
extraordinarily wide variation in plate format as decided by the owner.  

Since each pre-state Texas porcelain kit
plate is as unique as its owner, there is no
logic to identifying varying layouts from a
given jurisdiction.  In other words, a three
digit plate with the city tile "GRESHAM"
could have the city tile as a prefix, as a
suffix, after the first digit, after the second
digit, or in conjunction with a state and/or
county tile in any number of additional
layouts that the use of multiple jurisdiction
tiles would entail.  The plate's size could
have also varied if a vehicle owner chose to
purchase a four digit base and use a blank
tile to fill up the extra space.  And since
jurisdiction tiles were not required by law,
they could probably even be placed upside
down if a humorous motorist so chose!  For
the purposes of this archive, these plates
are all simply "GRESHAM" porcelains.  The
intent of this state's archive, therefore, is to
identify all known varieties and types of
porcelain tiles, but not to catalog the varying
and virtually unlimited ways in which they
may have been used.

As of now, I have documented a total of 86 different tiles (including both the
standard and the much rarer extra-wide variant of the basic "TEXAS" tile).  The
precise dating of these plates is tough. The earliest versions read "Patent
Pending" on the reverse under the manufacturer's name.  Later versions are
known with patent dates of February 14, 1911 and April 13, 1915. The "Patent
Pending" plates, therefore, would all pre-date April of 1915, with some perhaps
even pre-dating February of 1911.  In some cases, collectors can get lucky in
dating their plates by finding one that has a year attached to it.  A single known
example of a Stafford-made year tile (in this case 1916) is known but it seems likely
they would have been made for other years as well.   In addition, hardware stores
stocked small embossed tin plates that had the year on them.  It is uncertain when
these were first produced, or who made them, but they are known from at least
1915 and 1916 and there are Texas pre-states around that still have them
attached.  This was just one more embellishment that owners could choose in the
fascinating world of Texas porcelain license plates

Another interesting aspect of Texas porcelains is the numbering system.  
Although the state required that all vehicles be registered, there was no
statewide registration system.  Instead, the actual issuance of numbers was left up
to individual counties.  Passed in April of 1907 and becoming law in August of that
year, House Bill #93 required all motorists to register with the county clerk of the
county in which they lived (although not all counties even had county clerks!).  For
a fee of fifty cents, registration numbers were then issued sequentially by the
clerk and registrants were required to display this number on their vehicles.  
Thus, the result was that there was a duplication in plate number in every county
issuing registrations.  This explains why there are so few Texas porcelains known
above four digits, with the vast majority having only three, even though there
were more than 100,000 cars in the state by the end of Texas' pre-state era.  
Nevertheless, some of the largest Texas counties did exceed four digits in
automobile registrations prior to 1917.  An announcement in the "San Antonio
Light" from July 30, 1916, for instance, declared that the coming week would see
Bexar County's automobile registrations pass the #10,000 mark.  Stafford
Illuminated was wise enough to prepare for this eventuality and manufactured
extra-long bases to accommodate five-digit numbers.  However, as these only
came into being late in the pre-state era, and only in a small number of
jurisdictions, they are exceptionally rare.  In fact, I am aware of but a single known
five-digit Texas pre-state porcelain, and this bears a Dallas tile - Dallas County
being one of the largest Counties in the state at the time.  An interesting note
about these extra long bases, of which two survivors are known (the other being
a four digit plate with an Amarillo tile and an extra-large Texas tile) is that they are
a massive 17 inches in length, the seventh longest porcelain license plates of any
kind known.  For a gallery of other super long porcelains, click

A point should be made about the questionable authenticity of many Texas
porcelains.  Because they are kit plates held together with four simple screws,
many have been taken apart over the years.  Frequently, this has been done for
the purpose of careful cleaning and the plates have been put back together as
found.  However, less scrupulous collectors have made their own alterations to
the original plates.  Digits can be re-arranged, added or deleted to form more
desirable numbers, damaged tiles can be replaced by undamaged ones, rusty
bases can be replaced by nicer quality examples, etc. Thus, collectors need to
keep a wary eye out for signs of authenticity - or lack thereof.  Of course, not
everything that might seem odd is a sign of tampering.  For instance, plates can
come with variations in the blue color of their various tiles and still be completely
original.  The tiles were manufactured and sold separately from one another, and
there can be significant gradations in the deepness of the blue color.  Owners had
to take whatever was stocked at their local hardware store.  Thus, it's really very
difficult to absolutely validate whether a Texas porcelain has been fooled around
with or not.  Many collectors prefer Texas porcelains that come out of the rough
and tend to reserve some degree of suspicion for those that have been around in
ALPCA circles for a long time.  Another point worth noting is that these plates
originally came with metal hangars welded onto the back and protruding from the
top, through which leather straps were intended to be attached.  On surviving
plates, these are frequently torn off, and purists place great value on those
examples that still have their hangars.

No examples of Texas porcelains other than the Stafford-Illuminated pre-states
had ever been seen - until 2010, that is, when a Dallas Dairy Permit showed up at
the ALPCA Arlington National Convention.  This plate is much later than the
pre-states, probably dating to the '40s.  Interestingly, as all of the pre-states are
owner-provided, this little Dallas permit makes it the only known city-issued
porcelain license plate from the state of Texas.


None issued.


None issued.


Rod Hemmick, "Texas - The Lone Star State: Part 1 - Passenger Series from
Pre-State to Present."
ALPCA Newsletter, 36, 2 (April, 1990), pp. 35, 37.

James S. Palmer, "Texas Trails: The History of Lone Star Plates."  
PLATES, 56, 3
(June, 2010), pp. 8, 19.

he Commerce Journal," September 11, 1914
The San Antonio Light," July 30, 1916
The San Antonio Light and Gazette," March 6, 1910
Wichita Daily Times" (Wichita Falls), September 22, 1912
Wichita Weekly Times" (Wichita Falls), March 20, 1914


Displaying one's registration numbers in figures
at least six inches in height was all that was
required by Texas state law.  

Everything else - the presence of city or county
names, the inclusion of the state name or
abbreviation, the addition of a year, the creation of
a mate for the front of a car, and even the height,
length, shape, or material of the plate itself - was
all discretionary.



The Commerce Journal,
September 11, 1914
"The best advertisement for our city,
one that covers a large territory at no
expense to the general public is the
automobile.  How many cars are
there here in Commerce?  A good
many.  How many of them have the
word Commerce on the number
plate?  Not many.  Now is the time
for you car owners to show your
appreciation for the efforts the
citizens of Commerce put forth in the
good roads campaign, to advertise
your city and our city by putting the
name of your city on the back of your
car... The next time you get in your
car take a look at the back of it and
see if you are proud or ashamed
of Commerce."

Examples of embossed
metal year attachments

Announcement of the 1907
Texas state law requiring
motorists to register
vehicles with the county

The San Antonio Gazette,
July 6, 1907
Dairy Permit
Size Unknown