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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.
 
   
              
 
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. 
 
 
    
 
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.
   
 
    
 
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.
 
 
    
 
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.
 
 
        
 
1945 Trailer plates were mostly in white-on-reddish-brown colors, but a few were made in white-on-blue colors of car plates.
    
   
    
  
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 were produced in both aluminum and steel. The aluminum ones are by far the most common. These plates also show several distinct variations in the layout of “N.M. 1947" across the top.
     
   
    
 
1949 Trailer plates can be found in both the standard 1949 waffle texture, and a smooth surface. The waffle trailer is the more common of the two.  The smooth variety is said to exist for 1949 Passenger plates as well.
    
    
    
 
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 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.
  
     
    
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,   #16-10118 courtesy George Sammeth.
  
  
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.
 
 
    
 
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 "Z" were produced in two varieties, some with the Z following the zia, and others with Z 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.
 
 
    
 
1972 Passenger base plates were produced with two different bolt hole shapes:  round holes in the earliest issues, oblong in the later issues.
 
 
    
 
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
   
   
    
 
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.
   
   
    
 
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 the these new variety plates, of course, have initial expirations in 2017.
 
 
Photo Credits: 1917 #12839 and 1919 #13806 courtesy Barry Deutsch.  1946 Truck #30947 and 1953 Truck #9-1015 courtesy Michael Breeding. All others by Bill Johnston.
 

 

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