Colorado License Plates: The First 100 Years

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COLORADO LICENSE PLATES TheFirst100Years 1913-2013

Th o ma sE. Bo y d , Ge o r g eC. Sa mme t h , J r . a n d J a me sT. Hu c k s

Colorado License Plates The First 100 Years 1913-2013

Thomas E. Boyd, George C. Sammeth, Jr. and James T. Hucks Denver, Colorado i

Colorado License Plates; The First 100 Years 1913-2013 Thomas E. Boyd, George C. Sammeth, Jr. and James T. Hucks

Published by Tendril Press™ and imprint of A J Business Design and Publishing Center, Inc. Aurora, CO 80014


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Contents Preface........................................................................................................................................................ vii

Introduction ................................................................................................................................................ 1

Chapter 1: In the Beginning ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 5 Chapter 2: 1913–1931, The Early Years ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 21 Chapter 3: 1932–1953, By the Numbers ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 33 Chapter 4: 1954–1958, Years of Confusion ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 43 Chapter 5: 1959–1982, Two Letters ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 53 Chapter 6: 1982–Present ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 61

Chapter 7: Miscellaneous Passenger Plates ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 67

Chapter 8: Renewal Stickers ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 75 Chapter 9: Samples.................................................................................................................................... 81 Chapter 10: Introduction to Non-Passenger Plates ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 87 Chapter 11: Dealer..................................................................................................................................... 95

Chapter 12: Motorcycle............................................................................................................................ 109

Chapter 13: Motorcycle Dealer ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 115 Chapter 14: Visitor and Guest ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 121

Chapter 15: Lost and Replacement ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 125 Chapter 16: Truck..................................................................................................................................... 129 Chapter 17: Trailer................................................................................................................................... 141 Chapter 18: Truck Dealer ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 147 Chapter 19: Tractor.................................................................................................................................. 151 Chapter 20: Antique Vehicle Plates ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 157

Chapter 21: Miscellaneous Non-Passenger ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 163 Chapter 22: Specialty Plates �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 171 Chapter 23: Military Plates ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 181

Chapter 24: Government ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 191

Chapter 25: Political................................................................................................................................. 201 Chapter 26: Enigmas................................................................................................................................ 207 Appendix :Tables...................................................................................................................................... 215 Acknowledgements.................................................................................................................................. 239 Sources and References �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 241 Index......................................................................................................................................................... 243 About the Authors .................................................................................................................................. 247 County Map ............................................................................................................................inside back cover


The hobby of license plate collecting has gained popularity over the years. The Automobile License Plate Collectors’ Association (ALPCA), founded in 1954, now boasts about 3000 active members worldwide. There are local collector’s groups as well, many of which are regional clubs by ALPCA. Colorado constitutes the Rocky Mountain Region, officially chartered in 1974 by Richard Diehl, Clark Moder, Wayne Ferguson, Harold Churches, Emil Berndt, and Ken Healey. Since then the Rocky Mountain Region has become one of ALPCA’s larger and more active clubs. Our original edition of Colorado License Plates: Facts, Figures, and Folklore, published in 1991, was intended to present a comprehensive, reference quality book on Colorado license plates. This new edition is the much-requested and long-awaited for, update to that book. In the 24 years since our first publication, we have learned a great deal more about Colorado’s license plate history. Many new and colorful plates have been issued and we have seen a number of previously unknown examples for years and types of plates turn up. With the same commitment as to our first edition, we have sought to show you every year and every type of Colorado plate issued during the first one hundred years. The bonus—this time it’s in color. Colorado license plate collectors were instrumental in coming up with new and interesting historical information and locating previously unknown plates. The search for plates has taken them to every corner of the state. The searches were not always fruitful, but invariably they provided interesting stories. As we did in our first book, we weave these experiences into the pages of history, giving Colorado’s License Plates: the First 100 Years an appeal to a broader audience–even to non-collectors. As you read through this book you will discover license plates are not a stand-alone subject but tie into the general fabric of Colorado and its automotive history. Many of the passenger plates shown on the inside front cover and in the chapters to follow are from the George Sammeth collection. George has come to know this area very well, particularly the plates of the 1950s. The vast majority of non-passenger plates are from the original Tom Boyd collection. With over thirty years of active collecting, Tom assembled what was generally regarded as the most complete and comprehensive collection of Colorado plates. The collection contained a number of unique plates as well as some best known examples of a particular year and type. Jim Hucks joined us in this effort with his prov

fessional experience in photography and photo processing, along with plates from his own collection. Virtually all plates photographed for this book are shown in the original, found condition. We have included only a few repaints, and samples when a regular issue plate was not available. For the purposes of this book, we use the term example to mean: one that is representative of all of a group or type; the authentic original plate, without retouch or alterations of any kind.

Photo of the Tom, George, & Jim together

The rich history of Colorado license plates is explored in depth through facts, figures, pictures, and anecdotes. No attempt was made to cover related items of collector interest such as B.F. Goodrich and disabled veteran key chain tags, bicycle tags, chauffeur’s badges, Goudy gum cards, Wheaties cereal plates, or other souvenir license plate items. These could easily constitute separate books of their own.


Colorado License Plates The First 100 Years 1913-2013


License plates as we know them date back to the 1800s. However, identification or licensing of vehicles in some way may go back much further—perhaps even to Roman times. Keith Marvin’s article, “Ave Caesar: Prius Currus Procurator,” published in The Upper Hudson Valley Automobilist (October 1963), references the first century B.C., at the time of Julius Caesar, the licensing or numbering of chariots. He references Cicero, a member of the Roman Senate, accusing magistrates of accepting bribes to obtain special numbers, such as getting a friend the number 10, or X as it was known at that time. What may, or may not, have continued in some form for centuries remains open for further discovery. The 1877 London photograph at the right, shows a hansom cab, primarily used as a vehicle for hire much like taxis are today. The cab clearly displays a black-on-white plate with the number 7575. Further early documentation for the practice of licensing vehicles can also be found in the literature of late Victorian England when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his third of the four crime novels about Sherlock Holmes and his assistant, Dr. John Watson. In the detective fiction, The Hound of the Baskervilles, originally serialised in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902, and published in book form in 1902 by United Kingdom publisher George Newnes, Holmes and Watson are unsuccessful in attempting to catch a public hansom cab. The horse-drawn two-passenger, hansom outran its pursuers, but Holmes was able to get close enough to spot its number, 2708, which became a major clue to uncover the mystery in the story.

Photograph of a hansom cab, From Street Life in London, 1877, by John Thompson and Adolphe Smith—PD-US

On April 25, 1901 New York, through an action of its legislature, became the first state to require vehicle registration. Early plates were owner-provided, bearing only the vehicle owner’s initials. These soon gave way to plates with numbers. 1

In 1903, Massachusetts was the first state to actually issue license plates. These were undated white numbers on cobalt blue porcelain with the legend ‘MASS. AUTOMOBILE REGISTER’. By 1918, all 48 of the contiguous United States issued plates—Colorado joined the group in 1913. Alaska and Hawaii, although territories at the time, began to issue plates in 1921 and 1922, respectively. State issued license plates changed considerably over the years. Early plates were not fancy—just the state name or abbreviation, registration number, and, more often than not, the year. Fancy lettering, reflectorization, slogans, county names, and logos or illustrations particular to a state became more common as time passed. One of the earliest applications of a logo is Arizona’s steer head on its 1917 plates. In 1928 Idaho used the first slogan, ‘IDAHO POTATOES’ with a large representation of a potato surrounding the numbers. Since the American Bicentennial the trend is toward graphic plates having computer generated scenes, slogans, or other elaborate decorations on the plates. The most recent trend since the early 2000s is toward completely flat plates without any embossing of the registration number or other features of the plates. Beginning in 1957, most types of North American plates were the standard size of 6 by 12 inches. Prior to that, varied sizes and shapes were common. Plates were normally rectangular, but oval, square, round, and triangular shapes were commonly used. For a number of years, Kansas and Tennessee die cut their plates to match the shape of the state itself. However, the distinction of ‘most unusually shaped’ license plate goes to Canada’s Northwest Territories. Since 1970 their regular plates have been cut in the shape of a bear. Beginning in 1984, the smaller motorcycle plates were also cut to this shape. State issued license plates are made from a wide variety of materials. Metal is most commonly used with steel and now aluminum leading the way. Tin, copper, and brass were used as well. Early license plates issued in many states were porcelain covered steel, but these fell out of use by the early 1920s. However, Delaware, in its general issue in 1942, issued porcelain plates. Delaware has not made a complete reissue of its plates since then, and some of these porcelain plates remain in use today. Wood, rubber, pressed soybean meal, cardboard, and plastic were used in lieu of metal or when metal supplies were limited, as was the case during World War II. In past years, new plates would be issued annually, but now virtually all plates are renewed for multiple years. Windshield stickers, metal tabs or stickers attached to the plates themselves were employed for the renewal of plate registrations. License plates have been issued for a myriad of vehicle types. Passenger car, truck, trailer, dealer, and motorcycle are among the common types issued by nearly all states for many years. Some early types, such as replacement plates and visitor or guest plates, have all but disappeared. However, many new types were introduced to take their place, particularly in more recent years. 2

Colorado License Plates The First 100 Years 1913-2013

Chapter 1

In the Beginning The history of registration for motorized vehicles in Colorado dates back to the early 1900s, when the first motor vehicle registrations were required in Denver. David W. Brunton became the first person in Denver to own an automobile in 1899. The year before, Mr. Brunton traveled to Boston to test several vehicles. He purchased a Columbia Runabout that he shipped, in pieces, to Denver. After assembly, this became the first car owned by anyone in the state. In the coming years the number of automobiles dramatically increased and the need for licensing soon arose. In those very early days Denver had the most automobiles and consequently became the first city in Colorado to license motorized vehicles. Prior to mid-1913, when the state began to issue license plates, the licensing of motorized vehicles was the responsibility of the individual cities and towns. The term, ‘pre-state’, refers to plates, either ownerprovided or government issued, that were used during this early time, before 1913. Early official records are non-existent or incomplete at best, so the number of municipalities which licensed motorized vehicles in some way during this period is not exactly known. Typically, a motorist was given a number by the city’s licensing authority. It was then the responsibility of the motorist to make a license plate within the specifications called for in the licensing ordinance. The quality of workmanship varied widely in these owner-provided plates as evident in the examples shown throughout this chapter. Most commonly, these pre-state plates were leather pads with house numbers attached as shown with plate 4714. However, there were no requirements as to how a plate was to be made. Thus, plates were constructed from various materials. In addition to leather pads, house numbers were also attached to a wooden or metal base as shown in plate 250, while some registration numbers were painted on either metal or leather. The unusual plate numbered 2801, shown right, has the individual numbers attached to a rectangular loop of heavy gauge wire. Later in the pre-state era, license plate kits became available. These kits consisted of a metal base with slots into which individual numerals or letters were placed. The desired numbers and/or letters were purchased as part of the kit. Kits with a leather pad, instead of a metal base, also became available. Shown on the next page is an ad for the metal kits as it appeared in the 1913 catalog of the Fry 5

and McGill Motor Supply Company of Denver. For under a dollar one could get everything needed to make a license plate! There was no requirement to indicate the city of issue, although it was not uncommon to add a letter or two for that purpose as on plate 45D. Still other motorists took it upon themselves to leave no doubt about the city of issue by including the city name on the plate. The first number 908 plate is an interesting example of house numbers attached to a metal base and Denver Colo. painted on the base. Plate number 5120 is a leather plate with a brass plaque with Denver Colo. attached to the bottom. As shown here with the second number 908 plate, the state abbreviation was available with the metal kits, but this could be misleading as registration at the state level was not required at this time. Without any such indication or knowledge of the history of a plate, the origin of a plate with only numbers cannot be determined. When a motorist owned more than one car, typically all the cars owned by this person would have the same number with a letter to differentiate between the cars. Plates number 32 and 32A shown below are examples of plates made for two cars owned by the same person.

Photo taken in Denver 1909. Courtesy, Motor Field magazine 6

Colorado License Plates The First 100 Years 1913-2013

Photo taken in the South Park area 1912. Courtesy of the Colorado Historical Society

Still other motorists didn’t make a plate at all, but instead, simply attached house numbers to the vehicle itself as shown in the vintage photographs on page 6. Evidently, there was a lot of leeway in how one licensed one’s car, as long as the characters conformed to the licensing ordinances in terms of size and readability.

Owner-Provided Plates Denver Although the first automobile did not come to Denver until 1899, there is a reference in the October 1910 issue of Motor Field magazine to earlier licensing. Denver City Ordinance number 39, passed on September 19, 1894, empowered the Denver Fire and Police Board to issue licenses to individual peddlers who used a cart, wagon, or other conveyance to transport their goods. Section 6 states in part: Each peddler licensed hereunder, when procuring said license, shall also procure from the city treasurer, a metallic badge prepared by the city for that purpose…which badge shall be worn in a conspicuous place upon the person of such licensee while actually engaged in business… Furthermore, section 7 addresses some additional requirements: Every peddler hereunder and using a wagon or vehicle of any kind or description in the transaction of his business shall cause the class of his license and the number of his badge, together with his name and initials to be placed in a conspicuous place on each side of such vehicle in black paint, distinct and legible, the figures at least two (2) inches in length so to remain while he continues in business under said license… Thus, prior to 1899 some vehicles were licensed in Denver. In early summer of 1902, Denver became the first city in Colorado to require registration for motor vehicles. As reported in the Rocky Mountain News on July 31, 1902, a meeting of the mayor, two aldermen, and President Hover of the (Denver Board of) Supervisors resulted in a bill dealing with autos having the following provision: Owners of any vehicle or vehicles mentioned in this act shall obtain such numbers from city treasurer, sign to be 8 X 4 inches, or thereabouts, as provided by said treasurer; they shall pay a fee of $1.00 for same and shall register with the city treasurer their names, addresses and numbers; and they shall conspicuously display said signs on the rear of their vehicles. William A. Hover did well in the wholesale pharmaceuticals business and was President and Chairman of the Board for the United States National Bank. He was involved in civic affairs as Chapter 1 In the Beginning


President of the Denver Board of Supervisors, President of the Denver Traffic Bureau, and Director of the Chamber of Commerce. With all of these accomplishments, Mr. Hover was a successful, influential man and was one of the first ‘autoists’ in Denver. Since Mr. Hover was involved in writing the law, it is not a surprise he wound up with the number 1 Denver pre-state registration. Mr. Hover’s 1906 registration certificate is shown on page 7. While ‘State of Colorado’ is printed at the top, this would lead one to believe the state government was involved in the registration of vehicles. However, this was strictly Denver, acting independently of state government. Note also, the Denver Fire and Police Board was in charge of the licensing as set forth in 1894, and the City Treasurer remained as the point of contact and receiver of the licensing fees. The time frame of early Denver registration fits nicely within the following historical tidbit. August 1994 issue of the Mountain Outline, official publication of the Rocky Mountain Region, ALPCA states Denver’s first recorded auto theft occurred on September 9, 1903, when Marcus J. Patterson’s Franklin disappeared from the curb in front of the Boston Building. The car was never recovered even though it was prominently marked with a leather license plate, number 8, on the rear. Mr. Patterson used number 8A on his next auto. There are many examples of owner-provided plates traceable to Denver, including all the plates shown on the previous pages and those shown at right. Number 5000 was issued on September 10, 1910, and numbers over 7000 are known. Generally, four-digit pre-state plates that can be traced to Colorado are very likely Denver issues. The only other city that reached 1000 was Colorado Springs, which had registered 811 vehicles by the beginning of 1910. Higher numbers such as 888 and 999 were issued in Boulder, but these were chosen out of sequence by the registrants and not issued in sequence.

Vintage photo showing registration numbers attached on the fronts of vehicles in Denver. Photo courtesy of Casey Cole. 8

Colorado License Plates The First 100 Years 1913-2013

As reported in the June 26, 1909, issue of Denver Municipal Facts, all cars in Denver were required to display their numbers on the front as well as the rear: The number must appear in white letters on black background, the letters to be at least four inches in height and so placed that they may be easily read at least 60 feet distant. In the vintage photo on page 8, taken in Denver around 1909, the numbers are clearly visible on two of the three vehicles, but not in the white on black format as mandated. Although there were over 7000 pre-state registrations in Denver, no pairs of pre-state plates are known for Denver in any collection.

Alamosa There are three pre-state plates from Alamosa. All three have an A suffix and a history that is traceable to Alamosa. Two of these were made from one of the standard metal kits: one painted and one with the characters attached. The third Alamosa plate is a white on blue porcelain plate bearing the number 14-A, and it measures 5½ by 12½ inches. It is the only one of its type known. Since the other Alamosa plates are owner-provided, apparently the vehicle owner chose to have a porcelain plate specially made.

Boulder In 1901, Charles B. Culbertson, President of the Colorado and Northwestern Railroad, was the first Boulder resident to own an automobile. It was not until February 17, 1904, that the City Council passed ordinance number 434 regulating automobile traffic in the city. Section 1 of the ordinance mandated a maximum speed of 10 mph for any vehicle, motorized or otherwise, within the city limits. The ordinance goes on to provide for the licensing of vehicles as follows: Owners of any vehicle or vehicles mentioned in this ordinance shall obtain numbers from the city clerk of the City of Boulder, said numbers to be 4 x 8 inches or thereabouts in size, as provided by the city clerk. They shall pay a fee of one dollar for the same and shall register with the clerk of the City of Boulder their names, addresses and numbers and they shall conspicuously display said numbers on the rear of their vehicles. Based on the ledger of pre-state registrations, Boulder issued numbers somewhat sequentially. A. J. Macky, left rear, driving the first automobile registered in Boulder. Photo courtesy J.B. Schooland, Boulder Then and Now, Johnson Publishing Company, Boulder CO 1967 Chapter 1 In the Beginning


However, Andrew J. Macky was the first to register and opted to have number 111 for his Columbia steam powered locomobile. Although Mr. Culbertson had the first car in Boulder, he was the eighth to register a vehicle and chose number 555. The remaining triple-digit repeating numbers were chosen by the other seven early registrants. Thereafter, the numbers were issued somewhat sequentially beginning at number 100, although motorists still chose numbers out of sequence, and blocks of numbers were skipped. Interestingly, number 1 was the 53rd registration, issued on August 13, 1907, to Oliver Foster for a motorcycle. The last sequential number was number 514, and the last pre-state registration in Boulder was number 98 issued for a motorcycle on June 21, 1913. There are two owner-provided leather plates with information that places them in Boulder, although one cannot be verified. Information with the plate number B2 indicates it was issued to R. S. Joslyn in 1904 for his Maxwell. However, there is no one by that name listed in the Boulder city directories from 1904 through 1913, and there is no listing of a number 2 anywhere in the registry of Boulder pre-state registrations. On the other hand, the provenance for plate number 378 is solid. It was part of a complete run of Colorado plates obtained from an established family in Boulder. This plate was issued to Albert. T. Henry on September 26, 1910, for a brand new 1911 model Chalmers touring car. When the collection containing this plate was obtained, there was a notation with it indicating it belonged to Mr. Henry.

Brighton One leather plate is known for Brighton. Having the number 2, it must have been an early issue that would date to 1910 at the earliest. According to its known history it was used on a motorcycle.

Canon City There is little doubt about the authenticity of the number 9 plate from Canon City. At the earliest the plate would date back to 1910, as earlier listings do not show any motor vehicles registered there before that time. This neatly painted metal plate was registered to a 1903 Cadillac owned by mining magnate Lyman Robison. It has a well-documented history as both the car and the plate are now owned by an automobile collector.

Colorado City In the pre-state era, Colorado City was a separate municipality west of Colorado Springs before it was annexed in 1917. Registration number 6 is a small piece of leather 3½ by 5 inches with the number 6C painted on it. A mate to it was made in a vertical format with the same number. The registration certificate shown on 10

Colorado License Plates The First 100 Years 1913-2013

this page documents the number was issued to a motorcycle owned by Luther McKnight and was issued on July 21, 1910, with an expiration date of April 1, 1911. The expiration date and the low registration number imply that Colorado City began its vehicle registration in April 1910. This is consistent with the fact there are no records of Colorado City registering vehicles before that time. There are, however, some earlier Colorado Springs registrations for residents of Colorado City. Additional documentation shows that number 6 was renewed for another year in 1911. As indicated in old photographs taken in Mr. McKnight’s home, both number 6 and number 76, also for a motorcycle owned by him, were made in pairs. All are hand painted leather. Within each pair, one has a horizontal format and the other a vertical format, presumably to fit on the rear fender, similar to early Colorado motorcycle plates. Since records are unavailable to date, the use of pairs may have been required in Colorado City as they were in Denver and Colorado Springs at that time, or it may have been Mr. McKnight’s personal prerogative.

Colorado Springs Colorado Springs City Ordinance number 652, passed on August 17, 1903, authorized the registration of vehicles propelled by electricity, steam, gasoline, or other sources of energy. For an annual fee of $5.00, numbers were assigned and recorded by the City Clerk. Later ordinances also specified a minimum width of two inches for the individual numbers. Number 1 was issued to Charles MacNeill, and number 2 went to Spencer Penrose. These two influential gentlemen, who had prospered in the mining business, did a coin flip to see who would get number 1. Unable to get the number 1 plate, R.R. Martin of the Police Department got the lowest number by having number 0 issued to a police motorcycle. Ordinance number 652 outlined a number of other provisions concerning automobile safety and operation. Basically, an automobile had to stop and give the right of way to anyone riding or driving a restive horse or horses or other domestic animals if the animal owner signaled the motorist to stop. The ordinance also outlined requirements for lights, horns or bells, brakes, and mufflers. Speed limits of 6 and 10 mph were specified depending upon where you were in the city. Violating any of these provisions would result in a fine of $100 to $200 for a first offense. A second offense carried a fine of $200 to $300 with as much as 90 days of possible jail time. Apparently, the automobile was not particularly welcome in these early days, given the severity of the fines. Ordinance number 689, passed on June 22, 1905, raised the speed limits to 18 and 12 mph, and the annual vehicle licensing fee was reduced to $2.00. It established a three person board consisting of the chief Chapter 1 In the Beginning


of police, a city council member, and a member from the local automobile club to determine whether or not a person was qualified to operate an automobile. Successful applicants were issued a driver’s license for 50 cents. The onerous fines for motor vehicle offenses outlined earlier in Ordinance number 652 were also significantly reduced. The licensing of motorcycles in a manner similar to that of automobiles was specifically mentioned for the first time in Ordinance number 730, passed on March 4, 1907, although they were covered in the earlier ordinances. This ordinance also mandated the vehicle license be illuminated when the vehicle was used after dark. Ordinance number 751, passed on April 14, 1908, provided for visitor permits, which are described in Chapter 14. Finally, Ordinance number 830 passed on December 21, 1910, required that the numbers be displayed both on the front and rear of vehicles. Denver is the only other city known to have had this requirement, and it wasn’t until 1920 when Colorado issued pairs. Around 1906 or 1907, Albert Marksheffel arrived in Colorado Springs from Pueblo and immediately established himself in the automobile business. By the mid 1910s he owned one of the largest automobile dealerships in the country. The group of pre-state plates shown to the right, were registered to Mr. Marksheffel and his business. Typical for the time the plates are either numbers attached to a leather pad or are made from the metal kits. The pair of number 92 leather plates is one of only two known pre-state pairs from Colorado Springs.

courtesy, Colorado Springs Gazette 12

Colorado License Plates The First 100 Years 1913-2013

The picture shown on page 12 was taken in front of the Marksheffel Motor Company around 1911 and clearly shows pre-state plates on the front of the vehicles in compliance with the local statutes. On the left is a car with what appears to be a leather plate numbered 799, likely a precursor to the metal kit plate previously shown. The middle car displays the number 187 which was registered to Lawrence D. Kent, who, around this time, is listed variously in city directories as a chauffeur, driver, and teamster. Quite likely Mr. Kent was either a customer or an employee of Mr. Marksheffel. Colorado Springs apparently had a metal worker or other craftsman who produced plates for motorists. All have the legend ‘CITY LIC’. or ‘CITY LICENSE’ and are made with the same dies, but there are two different shapes and sizes. One, a 1907 steel oval, number 73, is 4½ by 6½ inches. In the 1960s a utility crew unearthed it on the ‘north end’ of town. The number was issued to Amos C. Clark who lived in the 1300 block of North Wahsatch Avenue, which at the time it was found would indeed have been on the north end. The other three are rectangular tin plates found in a garage on the west side of town. They are about 3 by 5½ inches. Two are dated 06-7 and one is dated 1910. Considering the low number, the date, and where it was found, it is possible that the number 8 plate is a Colorado City issue. What color these plates were is unknown, as there is no paint remaining on any of them. These are the oldest known dated plates from Colorado. In Colorado, aside from Denver, Colorado Springs was the only other city to register over 1000 vehicles in the pre-state era. Plate number 1056 with house numbers attached to a piece of fiberboard was obtained along with a complete run of plates in Colorado Springs. The pair of leather plates bearing number 1167 is the other known pair from Colorado Springs, and was undoubtedly issued very late in the pre-state era. When state issued license plates began in the summer of 1913, Colorado Springs continued using both the pre-state type issues along with the new 1913 Colorado plates. Consequently, cars had plates bearing two different numbers. To eliminate confusion, some motorists reportedly requested city issues with a number to match their state issued plates. Finally, after public outcry and the circulation of a petition, the requirement for displaying city issued registrations was repealed by the city council on December 3, 1913.

Florence There’s one pre-state plate whose history places it in Florence, a town east of Canon City. The characters are neatly painted with silver paint on a leather pad. This plate probably dates back to 1910 to 1913. Chapter 1 In the Beginning


Fort Collins Plate number 143 shown here was found in Wellington, a small town north of Fort Collins. Wellington has never been very large and would not have had 143 registrations in the pre-state era. Very likely this is a Fort Collins issue, which is consistent with the information that came with the plate. This plate was found in an old tool box in the early 1990s. While no official documentation such as registration papers are present, the plate came with a handwritten note signed by a family member stating: In 1909 or 1910 Ralph and Jim Hanna, two young brothers, left the family farm in Superior, Nebraska and drove a car to Colorado to begin new lives. Ralph, my grandfather, settled in or very near Wellington and then later moved to Fort Collins with his tool box, which my father (b. 1930) remembers containing this plate since he can remember. The Colorado Motorists’ Official Guide and Handbook lists names and registration numbers for Fort Collins up to number 132. Since Fort Collins had licensed 132 cars by the time of publication in 1909, the Hannas apparently arrived later that year or in 1910, and received the number 143. There is another pre-state plate with a likely connection to Fort Collins. Plate number 378 was found there along with a nearly complete run of Colorado plates from Larimer County. Originally the plate was a leather pad with house numbers, all attached to a metal backing. The leather portion has almost been completely lost due to age and the action of the elements, but the rest of the plate is intact.

Mancos There’s one pre-state issue with a history traceable to Mancos, a small town west of Durango, in the southwest part of the state. The plate is a leather pad with metal house numbers. Very little is known about this plate except that it was found many years ago in an old building in Mancos. This plate would have been issued in 1910 or later.

Pueblo Pueblo city ordinance number 700 passed on August 24, 1905, mandated the licensing of automobiles and motorcycles operated within the corporate city limits. Presumably trucks were to be licensed as well, but they are not specifically mentioned. Visitors were exempt from this requirement unless their stay in the city lasted more than 48 hours. The cost of the license was $2.50, paid to the city clerk, who assigned the number. Section 3 of the ordinance describes how vehicles were to be licensed: Owners shall equip machines with the number of license certificate in Arabic numerals in white or light-colored metal on a dark background, not less than three inches high, one and one-half inches wide and one inch between 14

Colorado License Plates The First 100 Years 1913-2013

figures. The number shall be followed by (P) for Pueblo, numbers and letters shall be attached to a conspicuous place on the rear of machine. These owner-provided plates were later replaced by city-issued plates as described later in this chapter.

Rocky Ford It is said Rocky Ford had its own porcelain plates, but none are known in any collection as of the printing of this edition. The only reported example was part of a collection destroyed in a 1960s fire. The colors were described as white and purple, but no other details are available. The one confirmed Rocky Ford pre-state plate is the weathered, leather example shown here. A listing of Rocky Ford automobile owners in The Colorado Motorist’s Official Guide and Hand Book of 1909 contains 24 names. Numbers, ranging from 1 to 60, are listed with 22 of the names, and two names are listed without numbers. These may have been new registrants at that time who had not yet been assigned numbers. This plate was probably issued in 1910 or later.

Trinidad Two owner-provided leather plates for Trinidad are known to exist. In part, the licensing ordinance states: Owners shall equip machines with the number of license certificate in Arabic numerals…This number shall be followed by the letter ‘T’ for Trinidad. The plate numbering in Trinidad began at 100, unlike most other cities, which began assigning numbers starting with 1. Plate number 142 represents the 43rd registration for this city and was issued sometime in 1909 or earlier. It does not have the ‘T’ as specified in the ordinance but it was found many years ago by a collector in Trinidad. Plate number 232 would have been the 133rd issue. It too, was found in Trinidad and has the ‘T’ as City Number Highest a prefix and not a suffix. The Colorado Motorist’s Official Guide Registered Number 999 115 Boulder and Hand Book from 1909 lists numbers as high as 131 for Trin526 513 Co Springs idad. This plate would have been issued after that time late in 1909 or early 1910. 3006 2816 Denver Fort Collins






La Junta






Rocky Ford









The Colorado Motorists’ Official Guide and Handbook, published by the Denver Motor Club, contains a city by city listing of all the vehicle registrations for all the cities and towns in Colorado up to the latter part of 1909. According to their publication, ten cities registered motor vehicles, or at least kept track of who owned them, at that time. A listing of these cities Chapter 1 In the Beginning


along with the total number of registrations and the highest registration number up to the time of publication are shown in the table to on page 15. In addition to the figures in the table, there are lists of motor vehicle owners for three other cities, although they apparently did not require licensing as of 1909. In Ft. Morgan, there were 24 motor vehicle owners, 37 in Longmont, and 44 in Loveland. In most cases, numbers were issued strictly in a sequential fashion, while in other cities there seemed to be some latitude to allow motorists to choose the number they wanted. This was particularly true in Boulder, as mentioned earlier. There are low numbers in all the other listings, indicating the numbering began with 1, except for Trinidad, which began with 100. After 1910, several cities and towns manufactured their own plates. For Pueblo at least, and possibly Rocky Ford, these plates replaced earlier owner-provided issues. In some cases it is possible these plates may have been the only pre-state issues.

City-Issued Plates Del Norte There are two white on red porcelain issues from Del Norte, the county seat of Rio Grande County. The plates are 6 by 10 inches. They have a registration number with DEL NORTE at the bottom. In the 1990s plate number 117 turned up at a farm sale south of Del Norte.

Monte Vista In the mid 1980s while visiting in Saguache, two collectors heard an old-timer tell of a ‘small’ white on blue porcelain plate with the letters ‘MV’. Such plates were unknown to collectors at that time, but after some thought it was reasoned this could be a pre-state issue from nearby Monte Vista. Since then, seven of these plates have come to light. One of these, number 100, was found among city-issued plates in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. The others have turned up in the Monte Vista area, leaving little doubt this is where the plates were issued. It was on March 4, 1909, that Monte Vista enacted an ordinance requiring the licensing of motor vehicles. It reads in part as follows: Section 1: shall be unlawful for any person to ride a horse, or to drive, or run any automobile, motor-cycle, bicycle, wagon, buggy, or other vehicle in the town (center) of Monte Vista at a greater rate of speed than Twelve (12) miles per hour… Section 6: Every owner of an automobile used in the town of Monte Vista, except persons visiting with such machine for a period not exceeding one (1) week shall register his name and address with the Town Recorder, and shall obtain from him a number which shall be displayed from the rear of his automobile in a conspicuous place. The said 16

Colorado License Plates The First 100 Years 1913-2013

number shall be furnished at the expense of the town of Monte Vista, and be composed of figures not less than three (3) inches high, and over or near the number shall be placed the initials “M.V.” Upon such registration the Town Recorder shall collect a fee of Two ($2.00) Dollars, and shall issue to such owner a license to drive said automobile within said town, and shall also furnish such owner with a number to be displayed from his automobile as herein before provided. Upon the transfer of ownership of any such automobile, the transferee shall likewise register with the Town Recorder, the same as the original owner, and shall pay to said Recorder the sum of Two ($2.00) Dollars for such registration, and which registry shall include the name of the owner and the number and name of such automobile. There are three distinct formats for the Monte Vista plates, as shown below. Plates of the first type, numbers 17, 67, 87, and previously discussed 100, are 6 by 10 inches. Plate number 154 represents a second type. It is 5 inches high with a different style of numbers and letters. The most recent finds are plates number 208 and number 285, which are also 6 by 10 inches. However, they have their own distinctive font style. This would indicate that Monte Vista placed three separate orders of plates. Number 285 has an interesting story surrounding its discovery. It was nailed on the inside wall of an old garage to cover a knot hole, and had been painted over several times. The collector who eventually discovered it was charged with cleaning out the garage. He said he must have walked by it a quite a few times before he spotted it. He took it down and cleaned off the paint, and now we have another pretty nice piece of Colorado’s very early license plate history.

Pueblo Pueblo’s owner-provided city issues date back to 1905 and were retired when Pueblo issued its own white on blue metal plates in 1913. These are the only dated pre-state plates known for Colorado aside from the dated examples found in Colorado Springs. Four of these

Chapter 1 In the Beginning


Pueblo plates are known, and exhibit two different varieties. Three of the plates are embossed, and the fourth, number 187, is flat painted. Both styles are 4½ by 8 inches. It’s possible the painted plate is a replacement for an original plate that was lost or damaged. These plates were issued in the first half of 1913, before the state began issuing plates in July of that year. The number 3 plate was issued to prominent Pueblo citizen E. G. Middelkamp, who did well in the insurance and real estate business.

Saguache Saguache had its own plates sometime after 1910 and before state issue began in mid-1913. Although the plates look like owner provided plates with metal numbers attached to leather pads, the four known examples are identical and appear to have been manufactured commercially. These plates are unused, and have numbers from 120S to 125S. No used examples are known to exist.

Salida Soon after Monte Vista began issuing its own plates, Salida followed suit on July 19, 1909, with a licensing ordinance of its own. It was later amended on January 17, 1912. The applicable portions are quoted below. The owner of every automobile or motorcycle used in the city of Salida shall apply to the City Clerk of said city, for the registration of his vehicle and in such application shall state his name, address, where the machine is to be kept, and a brief description of such vehicle, and shall pay to such Clerk the registration fee herein provided for. Thereupon the clerk shall furnish the applicant a big number for his or her vehicle, which number shall be in plain figures, not less than three inches high and having a stroke of at least one half inch. And on the number shall be placed in plain letters the word, “Salida.” It shall be the duty of such owner to place and keep said tag number on his vehicle in a conspicuous place. The fee to be paid by the owner of each automobile for so registering his machine and for said tag number, shall be the sum of $2.00 and the fee to be paid by the owner of each motorcycle therefor, shall be $1.00. Upon any transfer of any such machine to any other person, the person to whom the same is transferred shall likewise register his said machine, and pay a like registration fee therefor. Seven pre-state plates are known for Salida. These white on red-orange porcelain plates measure 6 by 10 inches and bear the name ‘SALIDA’ at the top with a registration number underneath. It was rumored, a number of years ago, that a box of these plates may still exist. The same number of pre-state issues is known for both Salida and Monte Vista, and both cities started licensing vehicles at about the same time. However, the highest known number for Salida is 121 while there are numbers up to 285 for Monte Vista. The difference in population between Monte Vista and Sal-


Colorado License Plates The First 100 Years 1913-2013

ida in 1910 to 1913 was probably not that great, certainly not different enough to account for the difference in the number range for the plates from the two towns. In the pre-state era, as it is today, Salida was more populous than Monte Vista. Why Monte Vista apparently issued more plates, judging by the numbers on surviving examples, is not known.

Other Colorado Municipalities During the pre-state era, at least 21 cities and towns in Colorado are known to have registered motor vehicles. There could easily be others, as larger municipalities on the western slope, such as Grand Junction, Durango, Delta, and Montrose, are conspicuously absent from those presented, while surviving plates are known from smaller towns such as Florence and Mancos. Pre-state issues for towns such as Lakewood, Arvada, Golden, and Littleton in the greater metro Denver area are also not known. A long-time collector spoke of an estate sale, many years ago, that displayed a dozen or so pre-state license plates. Issues from towns east of Colorado Springs such as Ramah and Limon were said to have been among these plates, but the whereabouts of this collection is not known at the time of this publication. While records show a number of municipalities registered vehicles, pre-state plates are unknown for a number of these cities and towns. Quite possibly, new plates may be discovered in the future, but unfortunately, the chances of their survival diminish with each passing year. In addition there is a vintage post card with a picture taken in Manitou Springs, showing a car bearing a pre-state license number 3. Whether it was a locally registered car or one from somewhere else is entirely open to speculation. There is yet another report of a leather plate found in Central City but no other details are available.

Chapter 1 In the Beginning


The First 100 Years 1913-2013

A Random Tidbit of Interest

Until the mid-1970s, Colorado issued new plates almost every year. Invariably, at the end of the year, there was left-over stock in the county clerks’ offices. It was not uncommon for people to obtain this unused stock and use it for roofing or siding for buildings. There are still examples of this found, not only in Colorado, but throughout the country, particularly in rural areas. The building shown above is in Crested Butte, Colorado. It was covered with unused plates dating from the 1950s and 1960s. —Photo by Larry Scott

Colorado License Plates