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1985-2001 Presidential Inaugural Plates
From a Series of Special Event, Limited-Use Plates

 

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1985

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1985 Inaugural plate no. 2017

1985
Pres. Ronald W. Reagan (second term)
Vice Pres. George H.W. Bush
Inauguration Day: January 20, 1985
Embossed aluminum, 6" x 12"

 

1985 Inaugural plate ordering information from a souvenir promotional brochure

 

Along with a commemorative legend, the color gold and inclusion of fifty graphic red stars were used on 1985 plates to mark the 50th U.S. presidential inauguration. The overall composition of the design is in stark contrast to earlier plates, with small printing and poor color contrast in the graphic components, and no mention of the issuing jurisdiction, making this and later inaugural plates more appealing for display on a wall as a souvenir rather than on the bumper of a moving vehicle. Plate stickers and commemorative frames also were sold by the Presidential Inaugural Committee but were distributed sparingly, making both accessories relatively rare. Introduced this year were special plates for disabled motorists that include the international access emblem, a person in a wheelchair. Less than 100 sets were likely produced.

The cost of general-issue and personalized 1985 inaugural plates was $30 and $50, respectively, and they could be used for three months. Approximately 16,000 pairs of plates are thought to have been produced, a significant reduction from the previous nauguration.




1989 Inaugural plate no. 222

1989
Pres. George H.W. Bush
Vice Pres. J. Danforth Quayle
Inauguration Day: January 21, 1989
Embossed aluminum, 6" x 12"


For 1989, presidential inaugural plates were all about fundraising and marketing. A process that one could argue began with the previous inauguration plate program vaulted forward with the 1989 issue. What just two or three issues ago had been a relatively simple program to supply special plates for the inaugural parade and what was usually a relatively small number of interested supporters became a complex effort to distribute plates with logos of well-heeled corporations, influential government agencies, and high-ranking government officials.

Aside from the wide variety of plate styles introduced, a number of important changes were instituted to the plates themselves. One characteristic that carried forward from 1985 was the relative illegibility of the design, with small printing used in place of the plain, more bold fonts and wording of pre-1985 plates. A commemorative legend relating to the first presidential inauguration, which occurred in 1789, was featured for the second consecutive issue. Whereas the 1985 inaugural plates touted the 50th inauguration, those of 1989 promoted the 200th anniversary of the rite.

1989 Inaugural Plate Numbering

One noteworthy change for 1989 was the elimination of sequentially-numbered "general-issue" plates. Since personalized plates were made available to the public with the 1973 issue, sales of non-personalized inaugural plates had plummeted. For recent inaugurations, two of every three sets of plates ordered featured an owner-chosen registration. Therefore, for 1989 all plates were custom made, a move that essentially eliminated the large leftover stock of plates that had been a problem faced by most (if not all) past inaugural committees.

True personalized plates (i.e. those comprised exclusively or mostly of letters and bearing names, initials, etc.) made available to the public were required to include at least two and no more than seven letters. Members of the general public also could request any registration number comprised of four (or more) numbers, with lower-number plates being reserved for VIPs. Single-letter plates were also reserved. As had been done in the past, 1989 plates with duplicate registration numbers and combinations were made whenever requested because the majority of inaugural plates were ordered as souvenirs and were never intended for use on a motor vehicle, hence a resultant low risk of problems arising due to more than one vehicle being registered with the same number.

A relatively small number of pairs (less than 100) were made with the international handicapped access emblem, both in numbered and personalized form.

1989 Inaugural Secret Service plate no. 1A number of otherwise standard-looking 1989 inaugural plates were made with special series of numbers. Most notably, made for members of Congress were plates with the two-letter abbreviation of the lawmaker's home state (AL for Alabama, AK for Alaska, etc.) followed by a dash, then H for House of Representatives or S for Senate and a number. For example, plate number MI-H4 would have been made for the representative from Michigan's fourth Congressional district, and VA-S1 was assigned to the senior senator from Virginia.

About 150 pairs that begin with B (for Bush) and end with Q (for Quayle) were sold at various Washington-area functions. RT-prefix plates (about 75 pairs) were used on a fleet of inaugural committee vehicles, and several sets of SS-series plates were used by the Secret Service in the inaugural parade. Small quantities of UD- and WH-series plates were made for and used by the Uniform Division of the Secret Service and the White House police, respectively.

Motorcycle Plates Introduced

1989 Inaugural motorcycle plate no. 1Another new twist to the inaugural plate program was the availability of motorcycle plates. Most of the other new plate styles and categories introduced in 1989 have not been continued, but the offering of special plates for cycles has. Almost 200 plates were produced for use in the inaugural parade, another 100 with an M prefix were made for use by the U.S. Park Police, and others with various names, initials, etc. were made as souvenirs.

State Seal, Corporate Logo, and Other Special Graphic Plates

For the first time in inaugural license plate history, in 1989 a number of special series were made with graphic images to the right of the number. For example, the Republican State Committee in each state was allowed to purchase sets of plates with their state seal. Most were numbered, but some with personalized registrations were also produced. The response to this program varied. For example, party officials in heavily Democratic Massachusetts (where Pres. Bush was born) ordered 1,000 sets with the Mass. state seal, whereas state such as Alaska, Washington, and Wisconsin ordered only five pairs. At least that quantity was reportedly made and sold with the seal of each state and Washington, D.C.

Plates with the logo of corporations that supported inaugural events and the new administration were made and distributed in limited quantities. They are: General Motors (250 pairs), Ford Motor Co. (190 pairs), Chrysler Corp. (100 pairs), Southland Corp. (100 pairs), Coca-Cola (c.20 pairs), AT&T (c. 5 pairs), and Weintraub Entertainment Group. This last organization, for which just a few sets were reportedly made with its large W logo, was headed by a personal friend of the president-elect and organized entertainers that performed at the Presidential Inaugural Gala on Jan. 19, 1989.

Two graphic 1989 inaugural plates relate to a particular heroic event during the president-elect's distinguished military career during World War II. One design features a color representation of a TBF-Avenger, the plane in which the then 20-year-old Bush was shot down on Sept. 2, 1944, while on a bombing mission against a Japanese radio center in the Bonin Islands. These plates were made in personalized form and distributed to members of the fighter group that served with the president-elect. Also made were plates with a color image of the U.S.S. Finback, the submarine that rescued Bush after he had been floating in the water, towards the Japanese, for more than three hours. Bush was the only survivor of the Avenger's three-man crew and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for completing the mission. About 30 pairs of Finback plates were provided to members of that vessel's crew, with whom Bush stayed for 30 days while they engaged enemy ships in the area.

Other special 1989 inaugural graphic plates were made, as well. About 165 sets with an image of the Congressional Medal of Honor were distributed to recipients of that commendation and include their initials. Approximately 60 sets with an image of a Secret Service badge were provided to members of that organization, and both numbered and personalized versions were reportedly made. A graphic of the White House appears in blue on the right side of about 100 pairs made for Pres. Reagan to give to his staff.

Cost and Use on Motor Vehicles

The cost to the public for 1989 inaugural plates was $50 per set made with standard dies (plates of up to six characters) and $60 per pair made with the slightly small dies used for seven-character combinations. If proper procedures were followed, a registration certificate and single validation sticker were issued for each pair of plates in order for them to be valid for use through March 31, 1989. Two versions of the stickers were produced and distributed: one has a serial number of 000000, the other 313794.

Manufacture of 1989 Inaugural Plates

Like earlier plates of this series, most 1989 inauguration plates were made where all Washington, D.C. plates were made at the time: the Lorton Correctional Complex in suburban Fairfax County, Virginia. However, due to the significant number of plates expected to be required, inaugural committee officials provided for approximately 1,800 sets to be made elsewhere. The chosen contractor was New Hampshire Prison Industries in Concord, N.H., where New Hampshire plates are made. Plates made in N.H. are distinctive from Lorton-made plates in that they feature different dies and a clear lacquer coating.

There are also a number of subtle design variants present in 1989 plates made at Lorton. Some include a trademark designation ("(TM)"), and the size and exact position of printing across the top and bottom ("1789 BICENTENNIAL 1989", etc.) varies, as does treatment afforded to corners of the graphic red and blue bands across the top and bottom of the designs. Some versions of reflective sheeting used include a security mark whereas others do not.



1993 Inaugural plate no. 27

1993
Pres. Bill Clinton (first term)
Vice Pres. Albert A. Gore, Jr.
Inauguration Day: January 20, 1993
Embossed aluminum, 6" x 12"


1993 Inaugural motorcycle plate no. 1More than 10,000 sets of special plates made for the first inauguration of President Clinton are believed to have been made, and special stickers were issued for display on those that purchasers indicated would be used. This was the first of several inaugural plates to include a slogan (as compared to the previous two issues, which included a legend referencing the anniversary of a historical event). The slogan chosen for this 1993 issue, An American Reunion, is printed in small lettering between the lower bolt holes on both full-size and motorcycle plates.



1997 Inaugural plate no. 2040

1997
Pres. Bill Clinton (second term)
Vice Pres. Albert A. Gore, Jr.
Inauguration Day: January 20, 1997
Embossed aluminum, 6" x 12"


1997 Inaugural motorcycle plate no. 1The plate design chosen for the second Clinton inaugural is similar to the first. It includes two slogans: An American Journey and Building a Bridge to the 21st Century. Well over 10,000 sets are thought to have been made including a series of low-number plates that have a gold-and-blue seal, such as appears on motorcycle plate no. 1, rather than the standard blue-on-white seal that appears on most examples. Like the previous issue, validation stickers were issued for plates that were to be used.



2001 Inaugural plate no. 337

2001
Pres. George W. Bush (first term)
Vice Pres. Richard B. Cheney
Inauguration Day: January 20, 2001
Embossed aluminum, 6" x 12"


2001 Inaugural motorcycle plate no. 1Despite the change in administrations, the design of 2001 presidential inaugural plates remained relatively consistent with the previous two issues. The slogan on this base is Celebrating America's Spirit Together. Like the past several issues, stickers were required to validate plates to be used, and more than 10,000 sets are believed to have been made.



Most of the information and images on this page were provided by Charlie Gauthier, an expert on the subject of Presidential Inaugural license plate history. Mr. Gauthier has published a number of articles on the subject and has, over a period of decades, carefully built and maintained the most complete collection of inaugural plates and ephemera. As a District of Columbia native who now resides in Northern Virginia, he has worked directly with a number of past inaugural committees on their commemorative license plate programs. DCplates.com is sincerely grateful for his willingness to share his collection and knowledge through this page. For more information about these plates or to provide more information about or images of them, please send an e-mail to Mr. Gauthier at Charlie@DCplates.com.



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This page last updated on January 1, 2017

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