Pennsylvania passenger car license plate

Rick Kretschmer's License Plate Archives 

Pennsylvania passenger car license plate

A Pictorial History of Pennsylvania License Plates

Passenger car plates, part 1:  1906 to 1976

 

This page presents the history of Pennsylvania passenger car license plates from the first year of issue, through the last year of the U.S. Bicentennial plates. 

Latest noteworthy updates to this page
  • November 18, 2016  –  Upgraded my 1936 and 1937 plates.  Moved photos and discussion of 1958-1976 plates to this page. Replaced thumbnail photos of 1971 base plates with additional numbering formats with those of plates I've added to my collection. 
  • June 26, 2016  –  Added a photo of a 1955 three-digit passenger car plate. 
  • April 7, 2016  –  Added discussion of serial letters T, W, and X on 1971 base plates.  Other minor text updates. 

Introduction

From 1906 until 1979, Pennsylvania license plates displayed the year of issuance.  However, plates dated from 1941 until 1979 actually expired on March 31 of the following year.  Plates dated from 1941 through 1957 also showed the exact expiration date in addition to the year of issue.  Pennsylvania passenger car plates were issued in pairs from 1906 to 1943, and from 1947 to 1951.  From 1944 to 1946, and since 1952, single plates have been issued.  All Pennsylvania license plates, excluding motorcycle plates, since those with 1956 issue dates have been 6 inches high by 12 inches wide. 

My "Pictorial History" pages are intended to be a supplement to the information found in the ALPCA Archives.  I am providing additional details and additional photos not found in the archives, and clarifying information when appropriate.  When the ALPCA archives cover a subject in great detail, I do not repeat that detail here.  I sincerely hope that you find this information useful. 

If you find an error or have additional information, or can provide a plate or a photo of a plate that I'm missing, please send me an e-mail.  There's a link to my e-mail address at the bottom of every page.  Please note that all plates shown that are credited to another person are plates that I am still seeking for my own collection. 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 1906-1909

1906 1907 1908 1909
There were two versions of 1906-1909 plates; the more common versions with the state abbreviation and year at the top of the plate are shown.
1906 – Taylor photo / plate; 1907 – Low photo / plate. 

Pennsylvania state-issued license plates were first issued in 1906.  The 1906 through 1909 license plates actually indicated that the driver, not the vehicle, was licensed.  Serial numbers were all-numeric and started from 1, but even in the first year, registrations exceeded 10,000. 

By law, the serial number digits were 5 inches tall; the plates themselves were 6 1/2 inches high.  The plate width varied based on the number of digits.  These plates bore the state abbreviation Penna and the four-digit year, as did all Pennsylvania passenger car plates through 1957.  These elements were placed along the top of the plate, except for plates with one- or two-digit serials, on which they were placed to the right of the serial number. 

These plates were made of iron coated with porcelain.  The porcelain coating preserved the iron well and retained its shine, and many very nice examples may still be found.  The down side is that porcelain chips very easily, and therefore it can be relatively difficult to find an unchipped plate from this era. 

1906 –  white on blue  1908 –  black on yellow 
1907 –  white on red  1909 –  black on white 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 1910-1915

1910 1911 1912 1913 1914 1915
There were two versions of the 1911, 1914, and 1915 plates; shown are the less common 1911 version with beveled edges, and the more common 1914 and 1915 versions without the large blank space on the left side of the plate. 

close-up of 1911 keystone tab
Close-up of the keystone tab

Plates from 1910-1915 were again made using a porcelain coating over iron.  Beginning in 1910, Pennsylvania license plates were assigned to the vehicle rather than the driver.  To drive home that point, a metal tab in the shape of a keystone was rivited to the license plate; stamped on the tab were the words Not Transferable at the top and Makers Number [sic] at the bottom.  Engraved on the center of the tab was the "maker's number", or the vehicle serial number, better known today as the VIN number.  The keystone tab was attached to the left side of the plate; above it was the Penna state abbreviation, and below it was the four-digit year.  Plate height was reduced to 6 inches since the state name and year were no longer above the serial number; since then, Pennsylvania plates have more or less remained 6 inches high through the present day.  Plate widths continued to vary based on the number of digits in the all-numeric serial number. 

During some years, there were minor variations in design.  All plates from this time period were basically flat, except for some 1911 plates, which had beveled edges.  The 1911 plate shown above is one of these.  In 1914, registrations exceeded 100,000 for the first time, and so serial numbers could be up to 6 digits from that year through 1929.  There are also apparently two versions of the 1915 plate; one with and one without a period after the state abbreviation "Penna". 

1914
1914 plate probably used on a
passenger car

A fairly large number of 1914 plates in the 20000 and 30000 series, and a smaller number of 1915 plates in the 20000 series, have a large blank space to the left of the state abbreviation, keystone, and year.  These were apparently intended to be used as truck plates, which was a new plate type introduced in 1914.  It seems that especially in 1914, the state significantly overestimated the number of truck plates needed, and they apparently issued the extras to cars.  Actual truck plates would have a vertical metal band with one or more stars on it affixed to the blank space on the plate.  Lots of these 1914 plates, always in the mid- to upper-20000 series and the entire 30000 series, and a smaller number of 1915 plates in the upper-20000 series, have no metal band, but do have an attached keystone with a VIN number, indicating that they were issued to a specific vehicle. 

A small number of plates have the word "SPECIAL" stamped onto the keystone tab instead of the vehicle manufacturer's VIN number.  It's not known exactly why this was done; possibly these keystones were used for vehicles that were either homemade or cobbled together from several vehicles, and so did not have a VIN. 

1910 –  white on blue  1912 –  white on woodgrain brown  1914 –  white on black 
1911 –  black on yellow  1913 –  white on green  1915 –  white on medium blue 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 1916-1919

1916 1917 1918 1919

The 1916 to 1919 plates were similar visually to the 1910-1915 plates, but actually had several important differences.  The most obvious difference was the switch in materials from porcelain to the more familiar embossed steel.  Also, the maker's number (VIN number) was enscribed directly onto the embossed keystone, rather than onto a tab riveted to the plate.  However, the riveted-on keystones were still occassionally used, in cases where the owner transferred the plate from one vehicle to another during the registration year.  For some unknown reason, the keystone, state abbreviation, and year were moved from the left side of the plate to the right side for 1919.  Six-digit plates were 16 inches in length, while plates with fewer digits were shorter.  These steel plates have not held up as well over time as did their porcelain predecessors. 

A small number of plates have the word "SPECIAL" enscribed onto the embossed keystone, or stamped onto the keystone tab, instead of the vehicle manufacturer's VIN number.  It's not known exactly why this was done; possibly this designation was used for vehicles that were either homemade or cobbled together from several vehicles, and so did not have a VIN. 

A visitor to this page named Deni Corbett wrote to me and shared an interesting family story related to Pennsylvania's switch from porcelain to embossed license plates during the mid-1910s.  Her grandfather, John Wilbur Powell, was a printer in western Pennsylvania at the time.  Deni says that Mr. Powell invented the license plate embossing machine that the state first used to produce the 1916 plates.  Of course, most of the 1916 plates would have been manufactured in 1915.  Anyway, while making preparations for the state to use his machine, Mr. Powell found himself spending much time away from home, at such places as the state capital in Harrisburg, and the state prison in which the plate manufacturing facilty was being established.  During one of these absences in 1914, Mr. Powell missed the birth of a daughter.  This daughter, Deni's mother, was still going strong at age 92 when Deni wrote me in August 2006. 

Deni is looking for more information about her grandfather and his involvement with Pennsylvania license plates.  If anyone can supply any additional details, please contact me and I will forward the information to her. 

1916 –  black on orange  1918 –  white on black 
1917 –  white on brown  1919 –  red on black 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 1920-1929

1920 1921 1922 1923 version 1 1923 version 2 1924 1925 1926 1927 1928 1929
Both versions of the six-digit 1923 plate are shown; most were 16 inches long, but late issues were reduced to 15 inches long. 

Beginning with the 1920 issue, Pennsylvania ceased engraving the vehicle serial number onto the plate itself or onto a tab riveted to the plate.  Thus, the large keystone emblem on which the vehicle serial number was engraved was no longer needed.  The state abbreviation Penna and the four-digit year were relocated to the bottom of the plate 1920-1926, and then the top of the plate 1927-1929.  The state abbreviation and year were flanked by two small embossed keystones beginning in 1921.  Beginning in 1923, plate colors were no longer random, but alternated between dark yellow on blue-black in odd years and blue-black on dark yellow in even years.  Blue-black is an extremely dark blue that is nearly black; however, it seems that as these plates have aged, the blue-black paint has changed (faded?) so that it may now appear to be black. 

Passenger car plates continued to be all-numeric through 1923.  During 1924, passenger registrations reached one million for the first time, and the 6-digit numeric serial format was exhausted.  Rather than go to a 7-digit plate, an alpha prefix was introduced.  Only letters A through F were used for passenger car plates during these years; other letters were used for various types of non-passenger plates.  However, letter E was used for passenger plates only beginning in 1928; prior to that it was used for tractor plates.  Presumably, if the growth in vehicle registrations was steady, about one new letter per year would have been introduced.  Like the all-numeric plates, letter prefix plates could also have from one to six characters. 

During the years 1920-1929, a dash separator was used between the third and fourth digits counting from the right, for serials with six characters, and also in some years but not others for serials with four or five characters.  Alpha characters were the same size as numeric digits in 1924 and 1925; from 1926 to the present day, serial letters have been noticeably smaller than numbers.  1924 and some 1925 plates with alpha prefixes had the dash immediately following the letter and preceding the numbers; late-issue 1925 and all 1926-1929 passenger car plates with alpha prefixes had dashes in the same position as all-numeric plates.  Plate length again varied by number of serial digits.  Six-character plates continued to be 16 inches long through mid-year 1923, and then 15 inches long from late-issue 1923 plates through 1929.  This size change on the 1923 plates occurred in the upper 800-000 series.  My five-character 1925 and 1929 plates are 13 inches long, and my four-character 1927 plate is 10 inches long. 

1920 –  white on blue-black  1923 –  yellow on blue-black   (also subsequent odd years through 1935)
1921 –  black on yellow  1924 –  blue-black on yellow   (also subsequent even years through 1936)
1922 –  brown on cream 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 1930-1936

1930 1931 1932 1933 version 1 1933 version 2 1934 1935 1936
Both versions of the 1933 plate are shown; the more common version with Penna 1933 at the top, and the less common version with 1933 Penna

For 1930, Pennsylvania introduced a new passenger serial format scheme that had a maximum of five characters.  No doubt, part of their motivation for doing so was to avoid the cost of making extra-long plates capable of carrying six or even seven characters.  The serial numbers could be anywhere from one to five characters, and could be all-numeric, or contain one letter or two adjacent letters.  One- and two-character plates could be all-alphabetic.  The dash separator was no longer used.  Unlike the 1924-1929 plates, the location of the letter(s) in the serial number now varied, and the letter(s) could be in the entire range of A-Z.  However, letters I, O, Q, T, W, and X were not used on passenger car plates; some of these were used on other types of plates.  Also, note that 1930 and 1931 plates with serial format 000xx are truck plates.  This format would reappear in about the late 1940s on passenger car plates. 

Other than the serial format, these plates were similar to those of preceding years.  Either at the top or the bottom of the plate were the four-digit year and the abbreviation Penna, flanked by two small embossed keystones. The year could appear before or after the state abbreviation.  Colors continued to alternate between blue-black on dark yellow in even years, and dark yellow on blue-black in odd years.  Plates were issued in pairs.  Five-character plates meausred 12 inches long by 6 inches high, while plates with four or fewer characters were 10 inches long by 6 inches high.  In either cases, the bolt holes were 8 1/2 inches apart horizontally on center, and 4 3/4 inches apart vertically on center. 

There were two different versions of the 1933 plate, both of which are shown above.  The more common version has the state abbreviation followed by the year.  The second version had the year first, then the state abbreviation.  The serial dies were changed for 1934; this is evident by comparing the number "5" on the 1933 vs. 1934 plates shown.  The new dies were used through mid-year 1956.  The 1936 plate differed from other years in that its embossed border was not painted in the contrasting color. 

Beginning with the 1931 plates, motorists were able to request specific plate numbers for their vehicles.  These weren't quite the same same thing as today's vanity plates, as the available letter and number combinations were limited to standard passenger car plate numbers with five or fewer characters through 1964.  A person might request a plate number that consisted of his initials and birthday, for example.  There was no ready way to tell if a particular plate number was a reserverd number or a random, sequentially-issued number.  However, plate numbers with fewer than four characters and/or with two letters were especially popular as reserved numbers. 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 1937-1957

1937 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 version 1 1952 version 2 1953 1954 1955 1956 version 1 1956 version 2 1957 version 1 1957 version 2
Pennyslvania did not issue 1943 plates; instead, they validated the 1942 plates for 1943 with a renewal tab, as shown.  Both versions of the 1952 plate are shown; the latter version is narrower than the earlier one.  Look closely at the right edge of the state outline on the two plates to see the difference.  Both versions of the 1956 plate are shown; late issues had serial dies with thinner strokes and larger alpha characters.  Also shown are both versions of the 1957 plate; version 2 used narrower dies and had six-digit, all-numeric serial numbers. 

The 1937 Pennsylvania plate was a significant departure visually from previous years.  It featured an embossed border in the shape of the state map.  Serial formats continued unchanged from 1936, with a maximum of five characters.  The year and state name abbreviation were standardized in their location, now always appearing at the top of the plate, with the four-digit year followed by the abbreviation Penna.  The blue color was also lightened from the extremely dark blue-black to a shade that was still dark but more obviously blue.  The dark blue and dark yellow colors were used continuously from 1937 to 2000. 

The keystones that had flanked the year and state abbeviation in previous years were initially dropped on 1937 passenger car plates, but then inexplicably made a brief reappearance on late-issue 1937 plates.  Known 1937 plates with keystones all have serial format 0xx00, with the first letter either "M" or "N".  For 1938, the flanking keystones were again removed, and this time were gone for good. 

1955 3-digit passenger car
1955 3-digit passenger car
(Wilkinson photo / plate)

It seems that while four- and five-character plates were issued to the masses, plates with three or fewer characters became rather scarce.  I've never heard of any one- or two- character passenger car plates during these years, but am aware of a small number of three-character plates issued in the 1950s.  The anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that three-character plates could only be had by special request, and even then, I suspect that political connections were probably necessary.  Apparently, at least some four- and five-character combinations were also obtained this same way, with the same number being issued to the same motorist, year after year.  Ordinary people did not get the same plate number each year. 

Close-up of 1943 renewal tab
Close-up of the 1943 renewal tab

From 1937 to 1942, the plate colors continued to alternate between dark yellow on dark blue in odd years, and dark blue on dark yellow in even years, and plates were issued in pairs.  However, in 1943, new plates were not issued due to the metal shortage caused by World War II.  Instead, motorists were issued pairs of black on red metal tabs to validate their 1942 plates for 1943.  According to the accompanying instructions, these tabs were to be attached to the 1942 plate at the top left bolt hole; in practice, however, it seems that motorists attached the tabs at either upper bolt hole as they saw fit.  The tab featured an embossed keystone outline with the year "43" inside, and a still smaller "3-31-44" expiration date and an engraved serial number.  New plates were issued for 1944, and from then until 1958, the plate colors were dark yellow on dark blue in even years, and dark blue on dark yellow in odd years.  Single plates were issued in 1944 through 1946, pairs were issued 1947 through 1951, and singles again beginning in 1952 through the present day. 

There were minor changes to the appearance of these plates throughout the 21 years in which they were used.  The actual expiration date of the plate was added to the top border of the plate beginning with the 1941 issue.  I'm assuming that this change coincided with a shifting of the expiration date from December 31 to March 31.  The expiraition date was always the March 31 of the year following the issue year that continued to be displayed prominently on the main part of the plate.  Thus, the dated 1941 plate also indicated on the top border Exp. 3-31-42.  The shape of the eastern side of the state map outline varied, especially but not exclusively depending on the width of the plate. 

There continued to be several different plate widths used during this period.  Initially, five-character plates were 12 inches wide, while plates with four characters were only 10 inches wide.  This continued through 1944.  Between 1945 and mid-year 1952, all plates were 11 inches wide, regardless of the number of characters.  Late issue 1952 plates, and all 1953-1955 plates, were 10-1/4 inches wide, again regardless of the number of characters.  Beginning in 1956, Pennsylvania plates conformed to the then-new North American standard dimensions and bolt hole locations, and all plates were 12 inches wide. 

1956 plate using letter W
Late-issue 1956 passenger
car plate using letter "W"

In the late 1940s, serial format 000xx was first used for passenger car plates; previoulsy this format had only been used for truck plates in 1930 and 1931.  Then, in about 1951, all of the four- and five-character serial formats that were either all-numeric, had one serial letter, or had two adjacent letters were completely exhausted.  Then, five-character plates with two non-adjacent letters were introduced.  However, these split letter formats, with the first letters A, B, C, and R through Z, were already being used for dealer and truck plates, and so passenger car plates with split formats only used D through P as the first letter.  Split-letter passenger formats were first issued in format x000x, then x00x0, then finally x0x00.  The split-letter formats were then exhausted in late 1956, and very late 1956 plates were then issued in formats xx00 and xx000, using letters T and W in the second position.  Until then, those letters had been avoided on passenger car plates for reasons unknown.  For 1957, all split-letter formats, and letters T and W, were discontinued on passenger car plates.  Instead, all-numeric six-digit serial numbers were reintroduced; this format had not been used since 1929.  There was no space or separator on six-digit 1957 plates. 

Late in 1956, in the middle of the x0x00 serial format, the dies used for the serial number were changed so that the thickness of the character strokes was reduced.  During 1957, a second set of serial dies with narrower characters was introduced, allowing for a maximum of six characters rather than five.  1957 plates with four or five characters used the wide, thin-stroke dies introduced in late 1956, while six-character 1957 plates used the narrower thin-stroke dies.  From 1958 through 1970, the narrower dies were used for all plates regardless of the number of serial characters. 

The distance between the bolt holes was constant through 1955 at 8 1/2 inches horizontally and 4 3/4 inches vertically.  In the mid-1950s, states voluntarily agreed to standardize their license plate dimensions and bolt hole positions.  Pennsylvania adopted this standard beginning with their 1956 plates.  The standard calls for the plates to measure 12 inches by 6 inches, with 7 inches between the bolt holes horizontally, and 4 3/4 inches between the bolt holes vertically.  This standard size and bolt hole placement continues to be used today across most of the Western Hemisphere. 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 1958-1964

1958 passenger 1959 passenger 1960 passenger 1961 passenger 1962 passenger 1963 passenger 1964 passenger
Natural issue passenger car plates, 1958 to 1964. 

Special number serial formats
1958-64 format xx00 1958-64 format xx000 1958-64 format 000xx
  1. All-numeric, four-digit serial (not shown)
  2. Four-character serial with letter in position 1 (not shown)
  3. Four-character serial with letter in position 4 (not shown)
  4. Four-character serial with letters in positions 1 and 2
    (Lybarger photo / plate)
  5. Four-character serial with letters in positions 3 and 4
    (not shown)
  6. All-numeric, five-digit serial (not shown)
  7. Five-character serial with letter in position 1 (not shown)
  8. Five-character serial with letter in position 5 (not shown)
  9. Five-character serial with letters in positions 1 and 2
  10. Five-character serial with letters in positions 4 and 5
    (Phillip P. photo / plate)

The dated 1958 passenger plate was Pennsylvania's first multi-year base plate, other than the 1942 plate whose life was extended for one year due to metal shortages during World War II.  The plates issued in 1958 included a tab slot next to the embossed year, which was shortened to just "58".  It's obvious that the intent was to cover the year on the plate with a metal tab in subsequent years.  However, these plates were instead renewed in 1959 and subsequent years with a sticker, making Pennsylvania among the first few states to use registration stickers on license plates.  The state name abbreviation was shortened to "Pa" and centered; the shortened year "58" was positioned under the upper right bolt hole.  The correct placement of the renewal sticker was under the upper left bolt hole, although there was no sticker well or box to indicate this.  All 1958-1964 passenger car plates carried the embossed year "58" regardless of the actual year of plate manufacture or issuance.  The tab slot was removed from new issues of the base plate beginning approximately with V-prefixed plates in late 1959. 

Standard, sequentially-numbered plates all had six serial characters on this base, with either six numeric digits, or one letter and five numeric digits.  First, the six-digit, all-numeric plates were issued.  This format had been reintroduced in 1957, but for 1958, a dash separator was added between the third and fourth digits to improved legibility, so the format was 000-000.  Leading zeroes were not used.  Then, also in 1958, format x00-000 was reintroduced, having been last used on passenger car plates in 1929.  Later in the seven-year life of this base, when all combinations of letters and numbers were issued in these two formats, formats 000-00x and then 0x0-000 were subsequently introduced. 

Plate numbers with four or five serial characters, which had been standard passenger car formats through 1957, became what the state called "special" plate numbers starting in 1958, and were henceforth available only upon request.  Between 1958 and 1964, these special plate numbers were available at no extra cost, and were therefore quite popular, probably especially so among motorists who had previously had "reserved" plate numbers that they received every year, and who wanted to continue to have plates with those numbers.  However, not all previous four- and five-character plate number formats were available as special numbers.  Only plate numbers that were all-numeric or which had one or two letters at either the beginning or the end of the plate number – in other words, formats 0000, x000, 000x, xx00, 00xx, 00000, x0000, 0000x, xx000, and 000xx – were allowed.  Unlike the six-character plates, these four- and five-character plates did not have any separator device between any of the characters. 

Note that during the years 1960 to 1964, Pennsylvania issued license plates to station wagons and other wagon-like vehicles that were distinct from normal passenger car plates.  These plates were embossed with the word Suburban across the top.  "Suburban" is an archaic term for station wagon.  Suburban plates are addressed in their own section on the Pennsylvania miscellaneous personal vehicle plate history page.  Prior to 1960 and after 1964, station wagons were issued normal passenger car plates. 

1959 renewal sticker
1959 passenger car renewal sticker
  1959 new registration sticker
1959 passenger car new registration sticker

Pennsylvania employed an unusual sticker serial numbering system from 1959 to about 1974 that has confused many collectors.  Renewal stickers have a seven-digit numeric serial number, which is rather unremarkable.  However, year stickers used for newly-issued plates always had the serial number "PA0000".  These are not sample stickers placed on regular plates.  Knowing this can aid the collector in identifying a natural plate merely from a photograph, without having to physically inspect the plate to see whether other stickers are hiding under the top sticker.  (Of course, incorrect stickers that have been subsequently applied could still be a problem.) 

1958 passenger car base plate sticker colors and natural sequentially-issued serial ranges
1958 –  no sticker  Natural serials: 6 digit all-numeric; 6 characters with letter in position 1, A through approx. middle alphabet. 
1959 –  navy-blue-on-yellow sticker   Natural serials: 6 characters, letter in position 1, approx. middle alphabet to late alphabet. 
1960 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serials: 6 characters, letter in position 1, approx. end of alphabet; letter in position 6, approx. beginning of alphabet. 
1961 –  navy-blue-on-yellow sticker   Natural serials: 6 characters, letter in position 6, approx. early alphabet. 
1962 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serials: 6 characters, letter in position 6, approx. middle alphabet. 
1963 –  navy-blue-on-yellow sticker   Natural serials: 6 characters, letter in position 6, approx. late alphabet. 
1964 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serials: 6 characters, letter in position 2, approx. early alphabet. 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 1965-1970

undated 1965 passenger 1966 passenger 1967 passenger 1968 passenger 1969 passenger 1970 passenger
Natural issues, 1965 to 1970. 

Other serial formats not shown above
1965-70 all-numeric serial 1965-70 letter in position 1
  1. All-numeric serial
    (plate previously in my trade box)
  2. Letter in serial position 1

All 1958-1964 passenger car and station wagon plates were replaced during a general reissue in 1965.  Suburban plates were discontinued and station wagons again received regular passenger car plates.  The 1965 base plate was undated and was valid during its first year without stickers; it was then renewed with stickers through 1970.  It again featured the state map outline border, this time with dark blue characters on a dark yellow background.  For the first time in Pennsylvania license plate history, the state name was spelled out in full.  Correct sticker placement was again in the upper left corner, although there were no aids such as sticker wells or boxes to guide the motorist with sticker location. 

Sequentially-issued serial formats were similar to the 1958 base, except that an additional format was required.  First, all-numeric, six-digit plates were issued, followed in order by six-character serials with a letter in position 1, position 6, position 2, and, for the first time, position 3. 

Motorists who had had "special" plate numbers with four or five characters could continue to do so on the 1965 base, but these special plates now cost extra and became much less popular.  They were therefore similar to today's vanity plates, though they were still available only with certain serial formats.  Because of this, I don't consider them to be standard passenger car plates and I'm not going to address them any further on this page; instead, read about them on the Pennsylvania miscellaneous personal vehicle plate history page. 

1965 passenger car base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
1965 –  no sticker  Natural serials: all numeric; letter in position 1; letter in position 6 approx. to middle alphabet. 
1966 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serials: letter in position 6, approx. middle to late alphabet; letter in position 2, beginning alphabet. 
1967 –  black-on-red sticker   Natural serials: letter in position 2, approx. early to middle alphabet. 
1968 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serials: letter in position 2, approx. middle to late alphabet. 
1969 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serials: letter in position 3, approx. early to middle alphabet. 
1970 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serials: letter in position 3, approx. middle to late alphabet. 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 1971-1976

1971 passenger 1972 passenger 1973 passenger 1974 passenger 1975 passenger 1976 passenger
Natural issues, 1971 to 1976. 

The next Pennsylvania passenger car plate general reissue was in 1971.  Anticipating that they would be used through 1976, these plates bore the legend Bicentennial State '76 along the bottom, and featured a large embossed Liberty Bell graphic separator in the center.  (The Liberty Bell is located in Philadelphia, by the way.)  The serial number dies were made narrower in order to accommodate the Liberty Bell graphic; these dies remain in use through the present day.  The full state name appeared again at the top center, and for the first time, there were sticker wells located in the upper left and upper right corners.  On early issues, the left sticker well contained an etched "71", no doubt necessary since the only other year indicated on the plate was the embossed '76.  The state map outline border was history; this was the first passenger car plate since 1936, 35 years prior, not to have this feature. 

Other serial formats not shown above
1971-76 all-numeric serial 1971-76 letter in position 6
  1. All-numeric serial
  2. Letter in serial position 6

Serial formats were the same as on the 1965 base, except that it became necessary to also use the fourth serial position for the letter.  For the most part, the sequence of serial formats was 000*000, x00*000, 000*00x, 0x0*000, 00x*000, and finally 000*x00.  (The asterisk indicates the position of the Liberty Bell separator.) 

I said "for the most part" because on this base, letters T and W were used in the plate numbers of passenger car plates for only the second time (the first time being late issue 1956 plates), and letter X was used on passenger car plates for the first time ever.  Plates with letters T, W, and X were issued out-of-sequence, as far as I can tell, beginning sometime in 1974 and continuing into 1975 and 1976.  According to one plate historian who has studied this in more detail than I have, T, W, and X plates were first issued in sequence in 1974 in format 00x*000.  They were then issued out of sequence in previously issued formats x00*000, 000*00x, and 0x0*000 during 1974 through 1976, with the 0x0*000 format plates possibly only issued in 1976.  These out-of-sequence T, W, and X plates were issued concurrently with in-sequence plates in formats 00x*000 and 000*x00.  No T, W, or X plates were issued in format 000*x00, because the letters never got that high before the base was discontinued. 

On this base, even-year registration stickers were blue on white and were placed in the right well; odd-year stickers were red on white and went in the left well.  Beginning in 1973, most plates displayed two stickers at any given time; the plates pictured above are naturals and therefore have only one sticker. 

1974 was apparently the last year that registration stickers with serial "PA0000" were widely used.  Since 1959, these stickers were used for the first year that a plate was issued, while year stickers used for renewals had sequentially-numbered, seven-digit serial numbers.  Instead, beginning in 1975 and continuing through 2000, nearly all newly issued-plates initially had a sticker with a large "T" (for "temporary"), which was then supposed to be soon overlaid with an actual year sticker with a normal serial number for the initial registration year.  Therefore, finding natural plates during this timeframe is a little tricky, because there will almost always be the "T" sticker under the first year sticker. 

However, year stickers after 1974 (and month/year stickers begining in 1980 up to the present day) are occasionally seen with serial number "PA0000".  I'm not entirely clear under what conditions or for what purposes these stickers were or are issued, but they are not at all common.  One license plate collector who specializes in Pennsylvania plates believes that PA0000 stickers are now replacement stickers when a sticker is lost or stolen.  That's as good of a guess as any. 

Bicentennial base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
1971 –  no sticker  Natural serials: all numeric; letter in position 1; letter in position 6; letter in position 2 approx. to early alphabet (excluding letters T, W, and X in any position). 
1972 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serials: letter in position 2, approx. middle to late alphabet (excluding letters T, W, and X). 
1973 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serials: letter in position 2, approx. end of alphabet (excluding letters T, W, and X); letter in position 3, approx. early alphabet. 
1974 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serials: letter in position 3, approx. middle to late alphabet (including letters T, W, and X); letter in positions 1 or 6 (letters T, W, and X only). 
1975 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serials: letter in position 3, approx. late alphabet (including letters T, W, and X); letter in positions 1 or 6 (letters T, W, and X only). 
1976 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serials: letter in position 4, approx. early alphabet up to about letter H; letter in positions 1, 6, or 2 (letters T, W, and X only). 

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Page credits

Thanks to those who have directly contributed to the information on this page:  Deni Corbett, Dale Low, John McDevitt, Peter Cohen, Ned Flynn, Norman Taylor, Ralph Talotta, Nick Smith, Dave Wilkinson, Ed Lybarger, Phillip P., and Bill Stephens. 

Low, Taylor, Wilkinson, Lybarger, and Phillip P. photographs are presumed to be copyrighted by Dale Low, Norman Taylor, Dave Wilkinson, Ed Lybarger, and Phillip P., respectively, and are used with permission.  Likewise, the 1908 plate photgraph is presumed to be copyrighted, and is used with permission of its owner. 


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