As collections go, license plates are typically colorful, compact and fairly inexpensive to obtain.
In Kansas, collectors have a century of plates from 105 counties to choose from. Most sell for only a few dollars although some can go for several hundred.
Wichita collector Paul Inman said he started collecting about a dozen years ago when he bought a 1949 Chevy pickup and wanted a plate to match the year the truck was made. He found a license plate, but he also found a hobby.
He now has Kansas and Missouri license plates for every year a plate has been issued.
“I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool collector, I’m more helter-skelter,” Inman said.
All Kansas license plate collectors – dyed in the wool and otherwise – are celebrating an anniversary of sorts this year: It was 100 years ago that the state began issuing license plates.
Duane Johnson, president of the Kansas License Plate Collectors Association in Topeka, estimates there are about 250 active members of the group. The group meets twice a year: Lawrence in the fall; Great Bend in the spring. The next meeting is Nov. 7 in Lawrence at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.
“There is plenty of tag talk, trading, swapping and buying,” Johnson said.
In 1913, Kansas issued its first license plate: a white rectangular plate with black K-A-N letters descending like stair steps on the right.
“In the general scheme of collecting, 1913 is the most popular and most sought after,” Johnson said. “There were 39,000 sent out and of that number, only about 1 percent survived.”
The money used for registering vehicles went to maintaining Kansas county roads and highways.
“I collect the plates because of the history behind them,” said Tom Allen of Lecompton. “The plates’ histories are tied to automobile history of the United States.”
For instance, the reason all plates are now 6-by-12 inches is because motor vehicle manufacturers in the mid-1950s petitioned states to come up with a standardized plate size so the license plates could be incorporated into insets of car bumpers or on the backs of car trunks to offer a more streamlined look. At the time, some states offered license plates in sizes of 8-by-16 or 8-by-14 inches.
“Kansas is the only 6-by-12 inch state,” Allen said. “The plates were really popular from 1951 to 1955 because the shape of the state was readily modified to look like a license plate. They cut the corner of the plate out to look like the state.”