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Glossary

ALPCA. Automobile License Plate Collectors Association. Click here for information about this international organization of license plate collectors and enthusiasts.

Apportioned. A non-passenger registration and license plate type issued under terms of the International Registration Plan (IRP) for use on heavy trucks and buses operating interstate. All states and Washington, D.C. participate in the IRP, and fees paid for these registrations are apportioned to licensing agencies in jurisdictions in which the vehicle has been operated based upon mileage reports filed by the owner.

Base. See Baseplate.

Baseplate. Any license plate, but usually used in reference to one that is validated for more than one year. For example, new Washington, D.C. plates issued during March 1967 (the "1967 baseplate") were used until March 31, 1974. License plates used for only a single registration year are typically referred to as just a "plate," whereas multi-year plates, whether dated or not, are usually referred to as "baseplates" in order to indicate that they were revalidated for more than one year. Some baseplates are dated, such as the 1966 Washington, D.C. base (dated "3-31-67" to indicate its first expiration date), but most are not.

Cutoff Point. A specific or approximate (estimated) registration number, in a sequence of consecutively issued numbers, at which the design of a license plate is changed or a completely new plate design is introduced.

Format refers to the order of numbers and letters that comprise a registration number.

General-Issue refers to the registration number format and design of license plates issued to motorists that do not ask for a special number or plate. A majority of new registration transactions result in the issuance of general-issue plates, which presently are comprised of two letters followed by four numbers and have "Taxation Without Representation" across the bottom. Alternatives to general-issue plates are personalized ("vanity") plates, reserved-number plates, and plates with distinctive logos and slogans that promote non-profit organizations.

General Issuance. (Also general reissuance.) The process of issuing new license plates to all holders of one or more types of vehicle rgistrations. The last general reissuance to be undertaken in Washington, D.C. occurred during a two-year period beginning in October 1984.

Hologram. See Security Mark.

Natural. A license plate that has been validated with only one sticker and was issued in conjunction with a new registration. Many license plate collectors seeking plates of particular years prefer natural plates to those that were revalidated for several years. Natural plates are more difficult to find than plates that were revalidated.

Non-Passenger refers to registrations and license plates issued for use on vehicles registered in all categories other than private passenger. Commercial, trailer, and motorcycle are examples of non-passenger types.

Passenger refers to registration and license plates issued for use on privately-owned, non-commercial passenger cars and light trucks.

Prestate. Used by license plate collectors in reference to the period during which motorists were required to register their vehicles with a regulatory authority, usually a state but sometimes a city or county, but were required to supply their own markers (i.e. license plates). Sometimes they made their own, sometimes they assembled them from commercially-available kits, and occasionally they painted their assigned number directly on their vehicle. Not all states had a prestate era because some introduced uniform, state-provided plates upon enactment of the first registration-related laws. Washington, D.C. did, however, have a prestate era. Even though D.C. is a city, not a state, we've stuck with the term prestate because it is part of the vernacular of registration history.

Reflective Sheeting. A flexible, adhesive-backed plastic material developed and manufactured almost exclusively by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. ("3M"), used primarily in the production of modern license plates and highway signs. Commercially known as Scotchlite, this material reflects light and is therfore more visible at night, when struck by vehicle headlights, than is a painted surface.

Registration Year. A twelve-month period during which a vehicle registration is valid. The standard registration year in Washington, D.C. was April 1 through March 31 for many years until late 1984, when the expiration of registrations began to be staggered throughout the year based upon the date of purchase.

Reserved Number. A registration number specially assigned to and reserved year after year for a particular vehicle owner, as opposed to a general-issue number.

Scotchlite. See Reflective Sheeting.

Security Mark. An identifying mark imprinted in reflective sheeting used in the manufacture of most Washington, D.C. license plates since 1986. Most security marks are round and appear in a repeating pattern down the center of the plate. They can be seen clearly only when the plate is viewed at a 30 degree angle, and are placed in the sheeting by its manufacturer for control purposes during the production process. Security marks are often erroneously referred to by some license plate collectors as holograms.

Staggered Registration System. A system under which motor vehicle registrations expire at different times throughout the year. Washington, D.C. registrations are staggered by day based upon the date of purchase. For example, if a new registration is purchased on April 28, 2004, its first expiration date will be April 27, 2005.

Sticker. A small, plastic, adhesive-backed device used to indicate the validity of a vehicle registration by being attached to the corresponding license plate.



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This page last updated on January 1, 2017

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