Welcome to LeatherLicensePlates.com

Have a plate you’re interested in learning more about? Have any plates you like to sell or have appraised? Contact usContact_Us.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0

1908 Evanston, IL

1904, Connecticut


1904, New York


For purposes of telling the whole story about auto licensing in the first decade, we have also included in this section only brief summaries for those states which exclusively used standardized official plates between 1901 and 1910. Only cities and states that are listed in bold, however, are detailed in the individual pages which follow, since those are the jurisdictions that used owner-made pre-state licenses in the first decade. States that had automobile licensing (either statewide or by localities) after 1910 only are not included in this study:  Mississippi, New Mexico, and Wyoming. There are many excellent websites devoted to all state’s license plate histories, many of which you can find on our “links” tab.

Like all “firsts” in history – whether in sports, medicine, inventions and the like – it is difficult to say exactly when the first automobile license plates were used, or where. It is known that some European cities licensed motorcars in the 1890’s, when those machines were merely experimental.  In the USA, Boston and Philadelphia required licenses on motorcars entering certain city parks, but those were not general registration plates and are outside the scope of our inquiry.

Everyone knows that today USA license plates are made of aluminum, are 6x12 inches, and coated in plastic sheeting.  And, since about 1920, most license plates have been stamped metal. But in the first decade of the last
century it was common for auto licenses to have been made of leather, wood, plastic, canvas, cardboard, and of course, steel and aluminum – in other words just about any size, shape, material and colors the car owner desired.

Please select and click on a state below to be taken directly to that state’s specific history concerning historic license plates.


We are only looking at the years 1901-1910 to make it manageable and to concentrate our attention to the beginning years of the automobile in America, when autos were merely playthings of the rich and powerful, and Americans were just becoming fascinated with the “horseless carriage”.

Many states and cities continued with owner-made and local plates into the decade of 1911 - 1920, but those years are beyond the scope of our presentation, for now.

New York 1905, with disc

In the license plate collecting hobby, the term pre-state applies to any tag used before a state began issuing regulation standardized license plates to all motorists statewide.  Most pre-state license plates were made or ordered privately by the automobile owner for their own use, incorporating a number assigned by the particular state or city of residence. Other pre-states, however, were actually official license plates issued by individual cities and towns. Because the majority of pre-state plates were leather pads to which house numbers were affixed, this site is called Leather License Plates.com


The best place on the web to learn about some of the earliest and most obscure automobile license plates ever used in the United States of America.


1903, Connecticut




United States Mail, circa 1905-10

Topeka, Kansas, circa 1907-09

Connecticut, 1903 with registration

Iowa, dealer, circa 1905

Site created by