replica of a Maryland license plate

Rick Kretschmer's License Plate Archives 

replica of a Maryland license plate

Replicas of Maryland License Plates

Movie prop plates, toy plates, DAV keychain tags, etc.


On this page are photos and information about various items that resemble, but are actually not, real Maryland license plates. 

Latest noteworthy updates to this page
  • September 2, 2023  –  Added a toy 1960 expiration passenger car plate. 
  • April 20, 2022  –  Added a couple of verified movie prop plates from the movie Cry Baby


On this page I present various objects that resemble Maryland licenese plates, but which are not. 

I actually struggled a bit over whether I should even create a page on the topic of replica license plates.  I've wavered from wanting to finish building the page to wanting to delete it and dispose of all my replica plates.  On the one hand, I feel that replica plates should have no place on a site that purports to document the history of real license plates.  On the other hand, some types of replica plates, notably DAV keychain tags, are legitimate collectibles in their own right, and their history is closely intertwined with the history of real license plates. 

Fake license plates are an anathema to collectors and historians of license plates – they're the equivalent of conterfeit money.  ALPCA, the Automobile License Plate Collectors' Association, prohibits its members from trading or selling fake license plates.  However, plate collectors and historians and even ALPCA all recognize that known fakes should be identified and documented so as to prevent future generations from being fooled by them. 

Movie prop plates kind of fall into a gray area in the plate collecting world.  By a strict definition, they'd probably have to be considered fake plates, but they're nevertheless collected by movie buffs as well as license plate aficionados, including many ALPCA members.  And then, there are reproduction and fake movie prop plates, to make matters even more complicated. 

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. 

Mouse over any image to see a description of the plate.  Click on any image to see an enlarged version. 

DAV keychain tags

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For several decades, from the late 1940s or early 1950s until the mid 1970s, the Disabled American Veterans made miniature replicas of license plates with real plate numbers printed on them, and mailed them, unsolicited, to the motorists to whom the plate numbers were registered.  This was a fundraiser for the DAV; a request for a donation accompanied the miniature plates.  These little plates were intended for motorists to attach to their keychains; stamped on the back were instructions that if the keys were found, to drop them in any mailbox and the DAV would return them to their owner.  Of course, the DAV's mailing address was also stamped on the back. 

The inherent flaw in this concept is that if someone lost their keys, whoever found them would be easily able to find the car they went to, since the car's license plate number was on the keychain tag, and get into it or even drive it away.  This was one factor that possibly led to the demise of DAV keychain tags.  Another factor may have been the increasing use throughout the country of multi-year plates renewed with year stickers.  Since motorists kept the same license plates year after year, they possibly didn't see the value of a new DAV keychain tag each year, and stopped making annual donations. 

Toy plates resembling Maryland license plates

Toy plates are miniature replicas of license plates intended for children to attach to their bicycles.  Some toy plates were premiums in boxes of cereal or could be obtained by sending in cereal box tops, notably, the Wheaties plates of 1953 and 1954, and the Honey Comb plates of the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.  Other toy plates were personalized with children's names and were sold in toy stores and souvenir shops. 

1954 Maryland Wheaties cereal premium 1955 Maryland Wheaties cereal premium 1955 Maryland toy vanity plate 1960 Maryland Baker's Chocolate premium 1976-1980 Maryland toy vanity plate 1990s Maryland toy vanity plate
1953 Wheaties cereal premium; embossed personalized toy plates resembling a 1955 plate; 1960 Baker's Chocolate premium; embossed personalized toy plates resembling a 1976 plate; toy plate with stick-on letters resembing a first generation Maryland Treasure the Chesapeake specialty plate. 

The 1954 plate above was actually a Wheaties cereal premium from 1953.  All of the U.S. toy plates offered by Wheaties that year were dated 1953, except for those from Maryland, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C., which were all dated 1954.  This corresponded to real life, as Missouri and Wisconsin had converted to staggered expirations and indicated the expiration month and year on their plates, while Maryland and D.C. plates primarily used during 1953 expired in March 1954 and indicated a 1954 date.  Same thing with the 1955 plate MG-10-01, which was a Wheaties cereal premium from 1954. 

The yellow "NANCY" plate probably most closely resembles 1966 Maryland plates, but having never seen one of these during my childhood in Maryland in the 1960s, it might have been sold during the time of the 1955 expiration plate. 

The 1960 expiration plate shown above was a premium from Baker's Chocolate in 1959.  Most of these Baker's plates showed 1959 dates, except for the few states whose plates used in 1959 showed 1960 expiration dates. 

1954 Maryland passenger car plate 1955 Maryland passenger car plate 1960	 Maryland passenger car plate 1966 Maryland passenger car plate 1980 Maryland vanity plate undated sample Maryland Chesapeake gen 1 specialty plate
For comparasion, here are real license plates that approximately correspond to the toy plates show above. 

Other miniature replicas resembling Maryland license plates

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Small 1920 "Solid Tire" plate

A small (6" by 3") white-on-red 1920 Maryland plate with plate number 8-609 and the legend Solid Tire at the bottom is a miniature replica of a full-sized Maryland license plate issued to a solid tire vehicle.  Usually, solid tire vehicles were trucks.  It's been reported that a license plate collector in the 1960s had these replica plates made, and he gave them to acquaintences to promote his collecting interests. 

Movie prop plates resembling Maryland license plates

Often in movies, televisions shows, commercials, etc., real license plates are not used on vehicles.  Instead, plates that resemble real license plates, usually with impossible or fictitious plate numbers, are made or obtained by the prop department and displayed on vehicles.  Such plates are called "movie prop plates" by license plate collectors, regardless of whether they were used in a movie or something else.  Sometimes, movie prop plates don't even identify a specific state or other issuing jurisdiction, but usually they do. 

Movie prop plates vary tremendously in their accuracy, the materials from which they're made, and so on.  However, they're almost always sufficiently different from real license plates that even a casual plate spotter can immediately identify them as props.  Sometimes a movie prop plate will have writing on the back that identifies the movie or other production in which the plate was used. 

Some movie prop plates become so well known that replicas of the prop plate are made and sold as novelty items.  This is especially true of plates from car-centric movies and TV shows such as American Graffiti, Back to the Future, Christine, Dukes of Hazzard, The Rockford Files, and so on. 

Anyway, a suprising number of movies and TV shows were set in Maryland and used Maryland movie prop plates on vehicles.  Off the top of my head, I can think of Enemy of the State, Homicide: Life on the Street, Ladder 49, Patriot Games, Sleepless in Seattle, Tin Men, and True Lies.  And Cry Baby. 

Verified movie prop plates

movie prop 1954 Maryland passenger car plate movie prop 1954 Maryland passenger car plate
Metal movie prop plates dated 1954 from the 1990 movie Cry Baby, made from real Maryland 1981 base blanks. 

The two plates shown above were used in the 1990 movie Cry Baby, which was set in the 1950s; it starred Johnny Depp and was directed by Baltimore native John Waters.  One scene takes place inside a Maryland prison license plate manufacturing shop, and quite a few of these prop plates were shown supposedly drying after having being painted.  You can find this scene in the plate shop on YouTube.  These prop plates are intended to be 1954 Maryland passenger car plates; they're unusual for prop plates because they're made of metal.  In fact, they're made from real Maryland 1981 base blanks and were stamped using real post-1974 Maryland dies.  I assume they were actually made in the real state prison plate shop using leftover blanks. 

1954 Maryland passenger car plate
For comparasion, here is a real 1954 Maryland passenger car plate. 

Unverified prop plates

movie prop 1970 Maryland plate movie prop 1971 Maryland passenger car plate movie prop 1971 Maryland passenger car plate movie prop 1976-1980 Maryland local government plate movie prop 1987 Maryland plate
Cardboard movie prop plates dated 1970, 1971, and 1987, plus a replica of an undated 1976-1980 local government plate. 

All of the plates shown above are made of cardboard.  It appears that the 1970, 1971, and undated red-on-white plate were all made by the same place.  They're "unverified" because I have no idea what production(s) these might have appeared in, if any; I can't even tell whether any of these were actually used. 

1970 Maryland passenger car plate 1971 Maryland passenger car plate 1976-1980 Maryland local government plate 1988 Maryland truck plate
For comparasion, here are real license plates that approximately correspond to the movie prop plates shown above. 

Fake plates resembling Maryland license plates

I consider a fake plate to be one that could reasonably be confused with a real license plate.  Therefore, fake plates are full-sized and made of metal.  Fake plates generally fall into one of these broad categories: 

fake 1995 Maryland Chesapeake specialty plate
Fake 1995 Maryland Treasure the Chesapeake special interest passenger car plate. 

This fake Treasure the Chesapeake plate (above) appears to be authentic at a glance.  The colors and graphics are correct, the shape and size of the stamped plate number characters are realistic, and the plate number itself is a real plate number.  One must look more closely at the details of the plate to spot the inaccuracies.  Some of them are visible in the photo, such as the oval-shaped bolt holes, the too-small year and month stickers, and the presence of sticker wells.  Other differences are only evident in person:  The front of the fake plate is not reflective.  The "stickers" are not really stickers, but are actually printed on the plate itself.  The metal is a much thinner guage of aluminum than on real plates. 

1995 Maryland Chesapeake specialty plate
For comparasion, here is the real license plate that corresponds to the fake plate shown above. 

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