For those who want to use a period registration plate, this may be of interest.

For those who want to use a period registration plate, this may be of interest.

I often see publications such as the Antique Automobile Magazine carrying letters from those wishing to find a long lost family automobile. Yet I have not seen anyone searching for the owner and possible car of a registration license plate found at Hershey or in a shop.

What may be of interest to those collecting license plates, in this case a Pennsylvania License plate, there is series of on line publications for 1917 showing the numerical sequence of the first non-porcelain license plates produced at the Commonwealth correctional facility in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. It appears, at least till further research is done, the 1917 Commonwealth publication may be to only available list of such information for just one year 1917. I have not found any reference for the manufacture of registration plates by the correction facilities of other states, or a list by number and year of those registration plates manufactured.

Pennsylvania stopped using the porcelain registration plate at the end of 1915, and introduced the embossed metal plate in 1916. For about ten years vehicles in Pennsylvania were using a porcelain registration plate.

The 1906 porcelain plates were manufacture by the Ingram and Richards company of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Ingram and Richards produced porcelain plates up till 1911. Then in 1912 the state awarded a contract to the Brilliant Manufacturing Company. In 1915 the lowest bidder was Qualye Enamel Company of Albany New York. In 1914 Quayle defaulted on a contract to produce automobile registration plates for the state of New Jersey, this default left Pennsylvania nervous and awarded to contract again to Brilliant. Brilliant continued to produce porcelain plates through 1915, in 1916 the State changed its format to an embossed metal plate. ( ).

In 1916, the Commonwealth placed a bid for 1917 registration plates. The new plates were to be painted and embossed metal. Not porcelain. The last porcelain registration was manufactured in 1915 by the Brilliant Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia.

Those that collect or have seen early porcelain or pre-1920 metal plates may have noticed a keystone embossment with either a small-attached tag or in some cases a number stamped on the keystone embossing. The number was VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of manufactured number for the vehicle for which the registration plate was purchased.

So what changed in the manufacturing of automobile registration between 1916 and 1917? In July 1916, State Highway Commissioner Frank B. Black made an official announcement that in the Pittsburgh Gazette Times (11 July 1916): Commissioner Black stated that registration plates would be manufactured through a contract awarded to the Reformatory in Huntingdon, PA. The new contract was awarded with the understanding the cost to the State would be fifteen cents per license plate. Pennsylvania was the first state to manufacture its own registration plates for vehicles.

The “Municipal Journal” for 15 January 1917 stated that the old plate registration (issued 1916) was to be kept in use until new registration was available. The problem in manufacturing was due to the Prison Labour Commission. And the establishing of a metal stamping shop at a state correctional facility. The new license plates were to be issued by November 1916, the correction facility had been awarded a contract, with an understanding that they could produce, with inmate labour 2,500 license plates a day. At the close of business 27 December 1916 the Highway department received a dollar value of registration of $786,244.00 and no new license to deliver to purchasers.

In March 1917, the journal “The Delinquent” published by the Prison Association of New York stated that the Huntingdon Facility’s bid was $20,000.00 less than all other bids received. The Commonwealth according to a publication known as the “Delinquent” (1917) was the first state to use “convict” labour to manufacture license plates. The Huntingdon facility produced license plates by the end of 1917 had been placed on about 306,001 automobiles. (Public Road, May 1918.)

Upon finding the Commonwealth’s 1917 publication, I looked through some license plate that have been collected through the years that include two brown colour 1917 registrations from Huntingdon. Looking up the registration numbers under the heading of pneumatic tyre cars I found that two of the plate at one time were on cars in Hollidaysburg and Knobesville Pennsylvania. The plates have vehicle registration numbers in the keystone, but no indication to the care they were attached to.

A search of of 222694 shows it was registered to a gentleman by the name of J. C. Dysart, of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. He also had a plate 222693 of the same year. The other plate in the collection is 295481 that was issued to a Grant Baker, Knobesville, Pa.

So, those who are searching the history of their car, or a long lost vehicle, maybe able to associate a family vehicle with a long lost registration, at least from 1917.

George John Drobnock
Central Pennsylvania