2021 Presidential Inaugural License Plates Revealed
The design of the inauguration license plates were revealed a short time ago—rather, three designs—ahead of next week’s inauguration parade. However, the souvenir plates themselves are not expected to be shipped to those who order them until February, and no plate numbers under 1,000 will be available to the general public. The presented designs, which its manufacturer notes are still subject to change per the inaugural committee’s decisions, feature a couple of possible tag lines: “Build Back Better” and “America the Beautiful.”
It remains to be seen just which designs will be worn by official vehicles on the day of the inauguration itself, and how many designs there will be in total, once the inauguration itself kicks off and the souvenir plates are shipped. Right now the souvenir plate ordering website shows not one but three different preliminary designs, one of which is seen below and the other above.
The topic of inaugural license plates is a somewhat complex one, and despite having started out as a relatively straightforward thing decades ago for official Secret Service and police vehicles, it has become increasingly complicated over time. For example, four years ago they were almost not produced at all because the 2017 inaugural committee had not ordered them until very late. And every four years, the rules, designs, and validity tends to differ quite a bit.
The first such special plates debuted for the 1933 presidential inaugural, but ever since then they have played different roles in different times. During the early years such plates were strictly official and numbered in ascending order, with just hundreds of plates produced for each inaugural. The periods of permitted use also varied, from just a couple weeks to several months, depending on year.
But in recent decades they have become more of a souvenir when it comes to ordering and use, with the possibility of ordering custom words and numbers on the plates. The designs, number issued, and rules regarding their use varied quite a bit from administration to administration, with the Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan inaugurals seeing over tens of thousands of inaugural plates issued. What’s more, the bulk of the plates now tend to be ordered by collectors and political party members and never applied to vehicles. So a large number of inaugural plates in trade today among collectors are effectively unused, as-new plates.
ALPCA collector Andrew Pang’s website has a nice chronological history of inaugural license plates with designs for each year, and also some notes on how many plates were issued during each inaugural year. It’s a complicated history, one that became even more complex during the 2005 inauguration, having been split into official plates for government vehicles and a souvenir series for private citizens. And the plate designs diverged quite a bit as well for the 2005 inauguration year—perhaps an effect of a post-9/11 where fears of infiltration of secured areas by fake official vehicles became a worry.
In the past decade and a half, inaugural plates have actually been produced in two or three different styles, some as souvenirs and some worn by Secret Service vehicles in parades. In effect, the practice of multiple plate types reflects the different needs for actual security vehicles and for the production of souvenirs by inaugural committee. Of course, the problem for collectors is now authenticity, so given the fact that there are multiple styles from each four-year term creates its own headaches. Add to that the fact that more identical plates with the president’s initials had been produced in previous terms for the incoming president to later give away as gifts to donors, even though they had never been worn on one of the limousines in the parade.
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