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Varieties

There are countless varieties to be found for given years and types of New Mexico license plates, only a few of which are pictured here.
 
 
    
 
1912 and 1913 with and without hyphen. The first-issue plates of 1912 and 1913 with 3-digit serial numbers (these were issued from September 6, 1912 through March 4, 1913) had a hyphen separator between the number and the staggered “NM” at the right. Although no 1-digit or 2-digit 1912 tags are known from either surviving examples or period photographs, it is considered likely that these carried the hyphen also. Those plates with four digits (all of which were issued in 1913) did not have a hyphen.
 
 
    
 
1916, 1917, 1919 with and without dashes. Plates from these years with 1-digit serial numbers have a pair of dashes flanking the numeral, and those from 1919 with two digits also have a dash on either side of the serial. The same is probably true for 2-digit tags from 1916 and 1917, but there are no known surviving examples which would provide verification. Three-digit and higher plates have no dashes.
 
 
              
 
In both 1917 and 1919, plates with four or fewer digits (i.e., numbered 9999 and below) were made with wide dies, while those with five digits, i.e., numbered 10000 and above, were made with narrower dies.
 
 
    
 
1918 Passenger Car plates were issued in both “thin” and “thick” varieties, the first type being numbered from 1 through about 14000, and the second type from 14001 through about 19000. The colors are noticeably different between the two varieties, also.  Curiously, there a few plates known in the 13000 series which are of the thick type, at least some of which have serial numbers which overlap into the known serial number range of thin plates.  No satisfactory explanation has been found for this puzzling anomaly.
    
 
                                     
 
Major Porcelain Varieties. New Mexico issued porcelains in three major varieties: (1) The first of these are numbered from 1 to approximately 22000, had the blue “1920” date baked into the porcelain itself, and had three small rivet holes surrounding the date. These were issued in 1920 and could be renewed in the subsequent three years with small dated seals (tabs) that covered the “1920” and were attached with rivets pushed through the three small holes. (2) Since there was no need for the “1920” after the initial year of issue, it was omitted on those issued in the later years (i.e., those numbered above about 22000) but the three rivet holes were retained for attachment of the dated seals. These constituted the second major variety. (3) In the latter part of 1923 the decision had been made to return to traditional embossed steel plates in 1924, which meant that there would be no 1924 seals issued for the porcelains. That being the case, when the last batch of porcelain plates was manufactured in 1923 (numbered from approximately 47501 to 49000) even the rivet holes were omitted, thereby creating the third major variety.
 
 
 
 
Uncommon Porcelain Varieties. Aside from the three major varieties described above, one occasionally finds individual porcelain plates that do not conform to the aforementioned three categories, or in some way are distinct from most others. Shown here, for example is plate 13499 which is well within the first 22000 plates that had the blue “1920” date, and should be so dated itself, but is not. (This could have resulted from an error during manufacture of the tags, or perhaps it was a one-off replacement manufactured at a later date for a lost or damaged plate.)  There are a few other plates from this series, with widely differing plate numbers, also known to be missing the “1920” date. 
 
 
                                    
                                     
                                  
 
1924–1955 Weight/Capacity Seals. New Mexico’s first license plates bearing designations which identified them as being for commercial vehicles came about as a result of the Laws of 1923, Chapter 96. This law introduced higher registration fees for vehicles in commercial service and required the use of these special plates beginning July 1, 1923. The same legislation stipulated that beginning with 1924 registrations, plates would also show the weight and carrying capacity of the vehicles. The latter requirement was accomplished through the attachment of small metal seals—commonly called “tabs” today. Aside from the fact that the weight and capacity figures were specific to each vehicle (and hand-stamped in every case), the seals themselves were made in several different styles over the years. The following is a summary of the major known varieties, and there may be others which have not yet been documented:
 
                          1924-1925
1926
1927-1930
1931-1944
1947
1950
1955
Round aluminum disc with embossed characters and embossed reeded rim, 2" in diameter.
Aluminum, 1½" x 1½" square with embossed characters and plain embossed rim.  Corners are square.
Flat aluminum square, 1½" x 1½", with rounded corners and stamped characters.
Flat aluminum rectangle, 2½" x 1½", with rounded corners and stamped characters.
Flat steel rectangle, 2½" x 1½", with rounded corners and stamped characters.
Flat steel rectangle, 2½" x 1½", with rounded corners and stamped characters.
Flat steel rectangle, 2½" x 1½", with square corners and stamped characters.
 
 
 
    
 
1925 Passenger Car plates came out during a period when two plates were issued to each vehicle, for use on the front and rear. In this one year only, the two plates of the pair were embossed “FRONT” and “REAR.” This was to keep people who owned two cars from registering only one car and putting one plate on each car to evade registration fees.
   
    
 
1925 Commercial Truck Seals were issued in two distinct varieties: those with the weight and capacity figures pre-embossed at the factory, and others hand-stamped at the time of issue. It is surmised that the manufacturer (Grimm Stamp & Badge Co. of St. Louis) provided a quantity of pre-embossed seals for common weight/capacity combinations, plus additional seals left blank to be hand-stamped upon issuance of the plates.
 
 
    
 
1927 Sample plates had black characters on a yellow background but this example has the colors reversed and makes use of slightly different dies in the serial number.  And unlike other sample and regular issue plates, which were yellow on both sides, the reverse side of this plate was originally grey/olive drab.  A possible explanation is that it may have been a prototype plate produced by a company bidding on the contract to supply plates for 1927.
 
 
    
 
1929 Commercial plates with 4-digit serial numbers are known to exist both with and without a hyphen.
 
 
    
 
1932 Motorcycle. These plates were made both with and without a separator between the “M” and the serial number. No doubt there was simply no room to have one on the 3-digit and higher numbers.
 
 
    
 
Double Zia and Single Zia Plates.  During the years 1932 through 1946 Passenger car and Truck plates were issued with double Zias for tags numbered 999 and lower, and with single Zias for those numbered 1000 and higher.  Certain non-passenger plates were made in double Zia format as early as 1928.  Please see the Double Zias page for many more examples of these attractive plates.
 
 
 
Two different die styles were used for the numeral "1" on 1938 Truck plates, sometimes with both styles appearing on the same plate, as in the example illustrated here.
 
 
    
 
1941 Highway Department. Two different styles of dies—tall and short—were used for Highway Department plates in 1941. It's possible that shorter dies were introduced in anticipation of adding “The Land of Enchantment” slogan as had been done on Passenger plates in this year, but no evidence has been found to either support or refute this hypothesis. In any case it was not until 1951 that the state's slogan first appeared on HD tags.  Note that the plate with the short dies also has a smaller zia symbol, with the two different sizes of zia on these plates corresponding in size to those on the two varieties of 1941 Trailer plate described below.
 
 
    
 
1941 Trailer.  Two varieties were manufactured for this year of Trailer plate, one with a large zia and the other with a small zia.  The central circle of the larger one measures roughly 1½" in diameter while the smaller one measures about 1⅛".  Anecdotal evidence suggests that the larger size was used only on double zia plates, with the smaller size appearing on single zia tags, though this has not yet been positively verified.
 
 
    
 
1942 Passenger Plates with and without hyphen. From 1927 to 1942 Passenger Car plates numbered 1000 or higher had a hyphen (or zia, in 1932) separator preceding the last three digits. In 1942, there were plates made for the first time with serial numbers 100000 and higher, which left no room for a hyphen. Consequently, these highest numbered plates in 1942 differed from all other 1000 and higher 1927-1942 tags by having no hyphen.
 
 
        
 
1945 Trailer plates were mostly in white-on-reddish-brown colors, but a few were made in white-on-blue colors of car plates.  Some (but not all) of the white-on-blue plates were made with blanks that had holes pre-punched for attachment of weight/capacity seals (tabs), as is the case for the one illustrated here. This may have been the result of using up leftover blanks that had been prepared for C-prefix Commercial plates, or it could have just been an error.
    
   
    
  
1946 Truck plates normally had a red background and yellow characters, but on this unusual late-production example the characters are white. 
   
   
         
 
1947 Motorcycle plates. Motorcycle registrations reached 1,000 for the first time during 1947, and to make room for the extra serial number digit the dies were made narrower when this happened. The “M” was reduced in width from 1½" to 1¼" wide and the numerals were reduced from 1¼" to 1".  And, for reasons not known, the “N” and the “M” of the state abbreviation were spaced farther apart at the same time.  The narrower dies continued in use through 1958, but the closer spacing of the “N” and the “M” was reinstated during the 1955 production run.  Additionally, all known 1947 motorcycle plates numbered M-999 and below are made of steel, and all of those numbered M-1000 and above are made of aluminum.  The result is that there are two very distinct varieties of Motorcycle plates for this year: Steel plates with wide dies, and aluminum plates with narrow dies.
     
   
         
 
1947 Dealer.  At least three varieties of 1947 Dealer plates are known, two of which have a county prefix, and one of which does not.
 
 
    
 
1949 Passenger.  While the vast majority of 1949 Passenger plates are of the waffle aluminum type, there are a few examples known which were made on smooth aluminum blanks.
 
 
    
 
1949 Trailer plates can also be found in both the standard 1949 waffle texture, and a smooth surface. The waffle trailer is the more common of the two.
    
 
    
 
1950 Commercial plates with 4-digit serial numbers are found with the weight/capacity seals (tabs) omitted due to lack of space for them. Instances of this omission have also been observed for other years as well. There are also cases known where the seal has been mounted such that it covers up the zia symbol when there was otherwise no space for it.
 
    
    
 
1951 Motorcycle plates were made in both steel and waffle aluminum, with the former being by far the most common.
    
   
    
 
1951 Passenger plates were manufactured with two different arrangements of mounting holes.  One style has four round bolt holes, while the other has four oblong bolt slots plus four additional round holes in the corners.
 
 
         
 
1952 Passenger Car Varieties.   Passenger plates for 1952 exist with two different bolt hole layouts.  The more common one has the holes roughly 2¾ inches inboard from the left and right edges of the plate, while the other has the holes very close to the corners.  The latter arrangement is uncommon and is seldom seen.  Also, at the far right, is an example of a 1952 Passenger plate made late in the year with the new dies that would be used throughout 1953. This variety is very uncommon as well. 
 
 
              
 
1952 and 1953 Truck plates. Both years of Truck plates were made with and without the word “TRUCK.” The ones without “TRUCK” are told from car plates by their colors only.  Note that the 1952 Truck plate without the word “TRUCK” also differs in that it was made with 1953 dies.
 
 
    
 
1955 Motorcycle plates - sometime during the 1947 license plate production year the spacing between the “N.” and the “M.” was slightly increased at the top left of Motorcycle plates. This wider spacing was used until in the latter part of the 1955 production year when the spacing was closed up to the way it had been earlier.  At about the same time the plate's border was changed from an unpainted debossed rim to a painted embossed rim, and with the colors in a somewhat darker hue.  (Anecdotal evidence suggests these changes occurred between plate numbers 4035 and 4497.)  The result is that there are two distinct varieties of both 1947 and 1955 Motorcycle plates.
 
 
    
 
1956 Boat plates.  For reasons not known, boat plates in 1956 were made in both Passenger Car colors and Truck colors.
 
 
    
Correct color 1957 truck plate
   
Another example of a plate being the wrong color is this 1957 truck plate #7-3345.  It's anyone's guess as to why, but it appears that the plate was first coated with the correct green paint, then oversprayed with a dark blue color.  There's no doubt it was manufactured this way but why is a mystery.  Note the back of the plate is only partially oversprayed.
 
    
                   
 
1957 Passenger varieties.  If one wishes to consider one-digit and two-digit county codes as separate varieties, we can count a total of five variations for 1957:  Single-digit county code; 2-digit side-by-side county code; 2-digit stacked county code for plate serials in some high 4-digit numbers as well as all serials 10000 and higher; and a late-year die change with serial number digits ¼ inch shorter than those on the earlier plates (this type includes all stacked county code plates).  On plates with the stacked county codes it was necessary to eliminate the superfluous “57” in the lower left corner and shift the slogan at the top slightly to the right.  #26-910 courtesy Jim Gummoe.
  
  
Reflective Passenger Painted Passenger Reflective Truck Painted Truck
 
1961-1964 Passenger and 1961-1963 Truck. New Mexico introduced undated plates for use in 1961. These same plates were to be reused for several more years, through the application of dated revalidation stickers in 1962 and later. The undated base plates themselves were produced in two styles—some with a Scotchlite® reflective background, and others with a plain painted background. A common misconception is that the two types were issued concurrently through all the years they were in use (1961-1964 for Passenger cars, and 1961-1963 for Trucks), but in fact, the reflective plates were issued only in 1961 and 1962, while the painted plates were issued only in 1963 and 1964. (A very small number of painted plates are known to have been issued very late in 1962.) The reason for the switch was cost, as the proprietary sheeting for the reflective tags cost 46 cents per plate, whereas it cost only 16 cents per plate to paint them. Both the reflective and painted Passenger car plates were red on white, while both of the Truck plate varieties were green on greenish white. Several other types of plates, including those used for Trailers, followed the same pattern as the Passenger car plates during this time period.
   
   
    
 
1963 Validation Stickers.  New Mexico issued two varieties of stickers for 1963, with most of them being made of paper, and a smaller number made of vinyl (plastic).  The paper stickers deteriorated rapidly, exposed as they were to the elements, whereas the vinyl stickers proved to be much more durable.  Please see the Stickers page for other variations of stickers within given years.
 
 
              
 
Hyphens in serial numbers on 1961 and 1965 base plates. In order to accommodate the large number of cars registered in Bernalillo County (county #2), it became necessary to introduce an alphabetic character in the serial number in the late 1950s for this county only. This brought about an interesting variation in the serial number format for county #2 on both the 1961 and 1965 series base plates, wherein a hyphen was used, but only on some of the tags. On those plates using the letters A through L, and with one, two, or three numeric digits, a hyphen was inserted between the letter and the numeric part of the serial number, whereas those with four digits had no hyphen. Plates with the letter M or higher had no hyphen, regardless of the number of digits.
 
                               
 
1969 and 1970 Motorcycle and Motorcycle Dealer plates are stickered plates found on both the dated 1968 base and the undated 1969 base.
 
 
    
 
1966 Motorcycle plate sizes.   From 1959 to 1966 motorcycle plates had been a relatively small size of 3¾" x 6".  During 1966 motorcycle registrations reached the 10,000 mark for the first time and there was insufficient space on the small plates for the additional digit.  The accommodate the larger numbers the state increased the size of the plates to 4" x 7" beginning with plate number M10000, and this larger size had remained unchanged to the present day.   Because this change occurred during the 1966 licensing year, 1966 motorcycle plates exist in both sizes.
 
 
    
 
By 1960 Bernalillo County registrations had become so numerous that there was insufficient space for an all-numeric serial number, thereby necessitating the introduction of an alphabetic character for serial numbers higher than 99999. The general format was 2*A12345, i.e., with the alpha character after the zia symbol. In 1971, however, plates using the letter "X" were produced in two varieties, some with the X following the zia, and others with X preceding the zia. The latter examples were probably made this way in error, and it would not be surprising to find plates with other letters (and from other years) with a similar non-standard layout.
 
              
 
1971 base Truck plates, which were used 1971-1974, were made of both steel and aluminum, with the steel variety being by far the most common.
 
 
    
 
1972 Passenger base plates were produced with two different bolt hole shapes:  round holes in the earliest issues, oblong in the later issues.
 
 
    
 
1973 Mobile Home base plates were produced with two different bolt hole shapes in the same manner as were the 1972 base Passenger plates seen immediately above. Round holes were used on the earliest issues, but within a year or so were superseded by oval holes.
 
 
    
 
During part of 1974 New Mexico suffered the embarrassment of having to issue paper license plates, then replace them later with metal plates bearing the same serial number.  For more on this fiasco, see the page on Paper Plates
     
 
    
 
1974 Dealer plates – From roughly 1939 through 1974 the first plate a dealer received for a given license year had a serial number consisting of the letter “D” followed by a zia and the dealer’s current annual license number. If more than one tag was bought by the same dealer, these were given a sequential numeric prefix. The plate above at left is a typical such example. Seen at right is a dealer plate whose dealer license number and sequential plate prefix both had three digits, for a total of seven characters counting the “D.” These seven characters having used up all the available space, it was necessary to eliminate the zia from the plate. This is the only circumstance reported where any dealer plate from 1927 to 1998 did not have a zia.
 
   
    
 
1976 Vanity plates were made in three distinct varieties, two of which are shown here.
 
    
 
1980s Official plates were made both with and without the Zia.  The latter came about when the serial numbers reached 10000, necessitating the elimination of the Zia to make room for the fifth digit.
 
 
      
 
Yellow Trailer plate varieties.  When the “yucca” Passenger plate design was released in the beginning of the 1990s, the same new Passenger base plates were initially also used for Trailer plates. Within a year or so, however, a new style of Trailer plate was introduced on which the embossed word “TRAILER” appeared. In order to provide adequate space for this embossed word the turquoise yucca and “Land of Enchantment” slogan were eliminated, and “New Mexico USA” was made smaller and moved to the bottom of the plate, creating what is sometimes called the “yellow trailer base.” Nonetheless, an unknown number of trailer plates of this era were also made on the Passenger base. Examples of both are shown here. 
 
 
      
 
Yellow Manufactured Home plate varieties.  In a manner similar to Trailer plates in the early 1990s, the embossed words “Manufactured Home” were added to plates of this type. These were also made on the special “yellow trailer base” in order to accommodate the added embossed designation (see details in “Yellow Trailer plate varieties,” above). But just as happened with Trailer plates, some Manufactured Home plates were made on Passenger base plates.  Note that the variety on the passenger plate base is also lacking the county name sticker box at the top of the plate.
 
 
    
 
In 1997, thousands of passenger car plates were made (for 1998 expirations) with the graphic sheeting that had been designed for the trailer plates, but without the embossing of the word “TRAILER.” These included plates in the 001-KFH to 999-KGC and the 001-KGN to 999-KHM series, but whether this was done in error or because the supply of passenger car style reflective sheeting had been temporarily exhausted is unknown.
   
   
    
 
Yucca plates with and without county name sticker box. The yellow yucca Passenger plates were made both with and without the county name sticker box. This apparently was a permanent change that was made in about 2001.
 
 
    
 
New Mexico began issuing its turquoise statehood centennial plates in 2010, with most of these having initial expirations in 2011.  By 2016 the “Centennial 1912-2012” slogan was no longer timely so it was removed, and the “Land of Enchantment” slogan was moved up from the bottom of the plate to replace it.  The majority of these new variety plates, of course, have initial expirations in 2017.
 
 
                        
 
The "Centennial" slogan was dropped from turquoise Vanity and Amateur Radio plates for the same reason as it was on the regular Passenger plates described immediately above.
 
 
    
 
New Mexico Government (Official) plates from the 1990s were made both with and without the county name sticker box. On official plates the sticker box was seldom used, but they are occasionally found with stickers bearing either the county name, or the word “MUNICIPALITY” or “COUNTY.”
 
 
Photo Credits: 1917 #972, 1963 #2-A2181, 1964 #2-K-212, and 1980s Official #OF10359 courtesy of Jim Gummoe.  1917 #12839 and 1919 #13806 courtesy Barry Deutsch.  1932 Motorcycle #M219, 1946 Truck #30947 and 1953 Truck #9-1015 courtesy Michael Breeding.  1942 #48-000, 1942 #101391, 1949 #7-7915, and 1952 #7-10466 courtesy Greg Gibson, 1952 #2-50010 courtesy George Sammeth, 1955 Motorcycle #M4497 by Michael Breeding, 1974 Dealer plate #109D180 courtesy Robert McArthur.  All others by Bill Johnston.
 

 

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