Wallful of Plates

May 04, 1958

The only man in the country with 43 lines in Who's Who in America and 4,500 license plates in his garage is a distinguished Du Pont chemical engineer named Thomas H. Chilton. On the opposite page are some colorful old tags from his collection—representing 46 states, the District of Columbia and the provinces of Canada.

Chilton started his hobby by saving the plates from the family cars, as many another motorist has done. In 1930, however, he seriously began to assemble a complete set of American plates and now is only about 100 short of that goal.

Chilton has contacts all over the nation and in some foreign countries who keep him supplied with all the latest samples.

Along with the tags, Chilton has acquired much license plate lore. And an extensive field it is. For instance, some states, like New York, have special letterings which cops generally allow extralegal privileges, and these plates can be the source of much political gravy; others, like Connecticut, raise legitimate money by charging an extra fee for people who like to flaunt their initials or nicknames on their plates. And lately many states have used their plates as free advertising to lure tourists, e.g., "VACATIONLAND," "10,000 LAKES."

Tricky shapes are out now, under the recent agreement among the states and the provinces of Canada and Mexico on a standard 6-by-12-inch model—a development Chilton takes in stride. What he really wants are some of those elusive oldtimers. Anybody have a 1910 Maryland?

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