A guide to abbreviations and terminologies, as used by license plate collectors.

Many of the abbreviations and terms listed on this page are already linked to the pictorial guide to license plate grading. If you'd like to cut to the chase, tap HERE to go to that page.


m - mint condition (photo)

ex - excellent condition (photo)

vg - very good condition (photo)

g - good condition (photo)

f - fair condition (photo)

p - poor condition (photo)

rp - repainted (photo)

nrp - needs repaint (photo)

irp - indigenous repaint (a plate repainted by original car owner to extend the life of the plate)

+ or - - "plus" or "minus" added to above grades indicate slight variations in condition. I've always accepted a grade like "vg+" to be between "vg" and "vgex". Some collectors even go as far to use terms like "vg++", etc.(photo)

vgex - very good to excellent condition (photo)

gvg - good to very good condition (photo)

fg - fairly good condition (photo)

xh - extra hole (photo)

xhs - extra holes

3xh - three extra holes

nh - nail hole (photo)

nhs - nail holes


(10) - a number in parentheses usually indicates a price in US dollars.

95/90 - ratio number for porcelain plates, i.e. 95% number porcelain to 90% background porcelain. (photo)

alligatoring - this is the deterioration of paint, resulting in a cracking of the surface, with sort of an "alligator hide" finish.  Usually found on older issues. (photo)

Amharic - lettering used on plates from Ethiopia and Eritrea.

arabics - refers to international license plates, usually from the middle east or parts of Africa, that have some or all of the plates information in Arabic.

backslapper - an error plate in which the plate is accidentally run through the roll-coater face down, resulting in the number paint being applied to the backside of the plate.

bagasse - substance used as a metal substitute to make Louisiana license plates in 1944.  Bagasse is a fibrous material consisting mainly of sugar cane fiber.

base - refers to a dated, or undated plate, that is an issue to which subsequent issues have had date stickers or tabs added. For example, a 1943 Pennsylvania plate is a 1942 base, with a 43 date tab. The 1965 Pennsylvania is an undated base - as the plate was issued new in 1965, no date was needed. Date stickers were then affixed to the '65 base in the following years.

BFGoodrich tags - similar to the DAV tags of the 42-76 period, these were issued in the late thirties, up into the early 40's, ending around the same time the DAV tags began. They're a little larger than the DMV tags, and made of embossed brass, with painted enamel colors. They're also substantially rarer than most DAV tags, and demand higher prices.

blank - a plate that never had the serial number stamped into the plate. There are also blanks with no raised border or embossing of any kind, that are generally known as "test blanks".

"Blewett" repaint - used in describing a plate that has been restored/repainted by Ohio collector Dale Blewett. Dale was known in his day as THE guy to send your plates to if you wanted a plate to look like new. As I understand it, Dale has an original license plate roller painting device, which really worked incredibly well. Dale was also adept at matching paint colors.

b.o. - best offer

bolthole - the original mounting hole(s) that license plates are usually manufactured with. Not to be confused with xh or extra hole(s).

booster - A non-official license plate, usually a front plate, issued for advertising purposes. (photo)

"Candy Tag" or "candy plate" - An overly restored plate that has a coat of clear finish that makes the plate look overly glossy and unrealistic.  re: "that plate looks like it's made of candy!".  photo

calibration error - A plate where some part of the design or layout, usually the graphic background on the sheeting used in the manufacture of the plate, is misaligned, resulting in an unusual "misplaced" format. - photo 1 - photo 2 - photo 3 - photo 4 - photo 5 - photo 6

CC - Simplified term used for Consular Corps tags.

CCC - Term often used to describe 1930s-40s vintage Civilian Conservation Corps plates.

CD - Simplified term used for Diplomatic tags. Stands for "Corps Diplomatique".

Cereal Plates - refers to small toy license plates, found in the 1950's through the 1990's in boxes of cereal in other products. Some known issues are Wheaties, Dutch Chocolate, General Mills (1959), Alpha Bits and Honeycombs.

color/color - most collectors will show colors with the first color being the number color, then the background color second. i.e., black/yellow for a yellow plate with black numbers.

crest - a small logo or picture seen on a graphic plate - usually a flag or small picture.

crooked dies - an error in which a single die, or an entire bank of numbers, was stamped into the plate crooked. - photo 1

cyrillics - refers to international license plates, usually from Asia, that have some or all of the plates information in Cyrillic (Russian style text). These type of plates are becoming scarcer, as many of the former Cyrillic issues have now adopted western texts on the plates.

DAV tags - small keychain sized plates, issued by the Disabled Vets of America from 1942 through the 1970s.

date/date - used to indicate either a multi-year plate (like early Cuban issues), or a base with a date sticker. For example: Pennsylvania 58/64 is a 1958 base plate, with a 1964 date sticker.

datestrip - an elongated validation piece, similar to a tab, but usually longer. Sometimes fits over the entire length of the bottom or top of a plate, like the California 1942, or the Indiana 1955.

debossed - the stamping of a plate resulting in the number being stamped INTO the plate, usually with the raised background being roller painted.

die variance, or variance - plate with number/letter dies differing from the standard dies used in the majority of issues. i.e., the 1956 Pennsylvania using the narrow 1957 dies. Also refers to two different die styles used on one plate. - photo 1 - photo 2

dimple - the slightly debossed rectangular area on a license plate, designated for affixing a date or month sticker. Also known as an navel.

diplo - Diplomatic issue plates, generally used by embassy staff in a foreign country.

dishpan - A plate with a deep, raised border, with more depth than the actual embossed characters or facing surface of the plate.  Examples would be some "bevel-edged" 1911 Pennsylvania, as well as the 1915 Iowa.  Called a dishpan as the plate could actually hold water if held face down.

display grade - description to designate a high quality plate, usually in the 95th percentile.  A "display grade" rating for a common issue, would probably be something in mint condition - a rare plate would designate "display grade" in possibly only "fair" condition.

dlr - dealer

embossed - the stamping of a plate resulting in the numbers being raised and roller painted.

end-of-roll error - a plate with a background color comprised of two ends of reflective sheeting, overlapped and affixed in some way.  The two sections of sheeting are usually slightly different colors, and are sometimes connected with masking tape.  Usually, the plates made with this section of the roll are discarded.  - Photo 1 - Photo 2 - Photo 3 - Photo 4 - Photo 5

enamels - another more outdated term for porcelain plates.

environmental - special types, usually premium, of license plates, commemorating or funding some sort of project of environmental need.

err - errors

essay - an experimental/trial version of a license plate, used to show innovative changes in a plate design, or to propose improvements.

fake - a plate made to deceive or be misrepresented as an authentic plate.

family islands - refers to the smallest of the Bahamas "Out Islands" (Rum Cay, Ragged, Mayaguana, etc) that have small, closely related populations, and very few motor vehicles.

fender plate - this usually refers to a motorcycle registration plate, which is either shaped to fit the fender (early California porcelains, 60's vintage European), or have dies and/or character printed on the plate to allow the plate to be read in a vertical, diagonal, or horizontal position.

fiberboard, or fibers- alternative material used in the manufacture of license plates, especially during the first and second world wars.

first issue - a plate that was from the first year of issue of a particular issuing jurisdiction. It refers to the first year the government in question produced and provided a plate to a car owner. For example - Florida first manufactured license plates and mailed them to car owners in 1918. The Florida 1918 is a "first issue".

flat - license plates that are screen painted, lithographed, or made in such a way that they are flat (not embossed or debossed).

foreigns - generally accepted as plates from countries other than US or Canada. This obviously doesn't hold much water if you live in Europe.

glass beaded - an early method of reflectorizing plate, where tiny glass beads were affixed to characters on a plate, resulting in some reflective properties. Can usually be detected by a coarse finish.

graphic or grph - license plates, usually the more current variety, with some sort of picture, logo, or artwork on the plate.

hams - Ham Operator issue plates, standard plates with the ham operators callsign as the registration number.

Ident-O-Tags - Small keychain style plates, similar to DAV tags - usually noted as pre-1942 era.

IM - Abbreviation for International Mission plates.  See also MI for Mision Internacional.

irp - indigenous repaint. A plate that has been repainted by the original motor vehicle registrant, in an effort to make a plate usable for it's intended purpose. As opposed to a standard "rp" repaint, in which a collector has repainted the plate to make it a better example in their collection. Seen very often with foreign issues, especially in poor and "third world" nations where most plates are expected to last as long as the car does.

jumpy, or jumpy die - refers to an error plate where one or more of the numbers in the plate are misaligned, and are stamped into the plate too high, or too low. - photo 1 - photo 2

lacquered - a plate that has had a coat of "clear" or "lacquer" applied in a misguided effort to preserve the finish. Invariably, these plate discolor and yellow after a few years, greatly diminishing their value.  (see also - "varnished"). (photo)

lead seal - small validation piece usually found on some Central and South American plates.  They can be found wired through small holes in a plate, which are twisted into place.  Vatican City plates also have been known to have these seals.

litho - lithographed - plates from the teens and early twenties with a flat printed finish, usually on steel.  Not actually screen-printed or stencilled, but almost a offset style of printed plate.  (photo)

map, maps or map shape - plates that were either die-cut in the shape of a state, province or country (i.e. Tennessee in the 30's and 40's) or plates with the shape of the state/province, etc somewhere on the plate. (Pennsylvania from 1937-1971).

masonite - substance used in the manufacture of some non-metal plates, most notably the 1944 Quebec.

m/c or mc - motorcycle

mcd - motorcycle dealer

MI - Abbreviation commonly used on International Mission plates - stands for Mision Internacional.

Mickey Mouse - see "booster"

missing die error - an error plate, on which a key element was omitted - part of a date, a hyphen, map shape or state name. - photo 1

"mixed marriage" - an error plate where the plate series numbering doesn't match the type of base plate or graphic used, such as a Wyoming National Guard graphic base, with a standard passenger car series number. - photo 1 - photo 2

m.o. or m/o - make offer (or money order)

MOH - Medal of Honor issue license plate.

"mom and pop" vanity - A personalized plate with a "his and hers" initials type plate number, like "ADS CDS" or "JSW MTW" - invariably, these are six letter vanities, usually split into two groups, with identical third and sixth characters. Next time you see a six letter vanity, look close!

A "natural" - refers to a plate with only one date sticker, i.e. a 1969 Pennsylvania plate which consists of the undated 1965 base, and a single 1969 date sticker. A 1969 Pa. plate with multiple stickers would not be considered a "natural".

navel - see "dimple"

necktwister - an invert-error plate. Term coined by Ohio collector Jim Fox.

"New England" grading - a term occasionally used to describe plates that are graded at a grade or more above the standard. A plate in vg to vgex condition will sometimes be described as a plate in "good condition", with New England grading.

non-pass - any "non-passenger" type of license plate, like truck, dealer, etc.

nos - new/old stock, referring to new/unused license plate, often still in the original envelopes.

obo or o.b.o. - or best offer

Old Timer - term used in some states for "Antique Car"

pair - a matched set of license plates, originally for use on the front and back of a vehicle.  Both plates would bear the same registration number.

pass - a simple term (short for "passenger") used to indicate that a license plate was the one issued specifically for use on a private car. These are usually the plates of choice for collectors doing a one-per-state, or a year run.

personalized - see "vanities"

planchet strike error - a plate in which a piece of scrap metal is accidentally stamped into the plate, usually a corner piece trimmed from another plate. - photo 1 - photo 2

porcelain - license plates, usually early issue, that are made by firing liquid porcelain or enamel over a flat steel plate.

pr - pair

pre-states or prestates - Plates that were produced BEFORE a "first issue" - For example, Pennsylvania's "first issue" plate came out in 1906. Before 1906 (from 1903 on), car owners were issued a registration number, and were responsible for having a plate made on their own. Most were metal or leather with metal numbers, some were porcelain or even wood. These are known as "prestates" or "pre-state issues".

prototype - usually a plate manufactured as an example, for testing and possible regular use in the future.

PUC - Public Utility Commission, usually seen on taxi plates.

"Raiche" Quality - Signifies a very high quality plate, usually used in reference to older or rarer plates, not usually seen in excellent or mint condition. Coined in reference to Steve Raiche, a D.C. collector who only collects (quite successfully) top condition plates.

reflective - background or numbers of a plate that are treated with glass beading, or reflective scotchlite sheeting, that brightly reflects light from the headlight of other cars. Earlier issues in the 1950's usually used glass beading, and later in the 1950's, early 1960's, scotchlite sheeting came into use, first in Minnesota in 1956.

reproduction - a "non-authentic" plate, made as a inexpensive replacement or substitute for a real plate, which has been clearly marked and represented as a "non-authentic" plate.  Plates not marked or offered as such are known as fakes.

road apple - a plate with numerous little bumps, dents, dings and scratches, usually the result of the plate spending some time lying in the road.  These usually look pretty good in a photo, but are sometimes almost completely flat or "pebble finished".

sample - plates made by the state for informational, law enforcement, or hobby use, usually with all zeros or the word SAMPLE.

SASE - self-addressed stamped envelope.

scotchlite - term currently used to describe the background on most graphics, manufactured by the 3M company, providing colorful pictorials on license plates.

set - usually refers to two plates, usually a pair of plates - front and back.

shorty - a term used to describe a plate, that due to a low serial number, is shorter in length than the usual plate. Before 1959, there were some states that manufactured plates that varied in length, in accordance with the plate number, i.e. Pennsylvania 1937, Illinois 1927.

slogan - any "saying" or "legend" used on a plate, in addition to the standard jurisdictional name. For example, "Famous Potatoes".

slots - the original elongated boltholes found on some license plates, most notably early issues like porcelains.

soybean - a few series of plates in the 1940's were made of a combination of pressed soybeans and paper, and were later replaced by all paper/press board issues.

spray-stencilled - a method of plate manufacturing seen in some far eastern and Asian countries - embossed plates are painted entirely, in whatever the background color might be. Then, matching steel stencils are lowered onto the raised characters, and a spray mechanism applies the number color. Prevalent among older USSR plates, and older Okinawa issues, the fine overspray is visible around the edges of the numbers.

sticker - small date decals used to update license plates, currently used in most states and provinces.

(T) - trade only, will sometimes accept offers, but rare enough to merit a trade only for another rare plate.

tab - small metal add-on piece, usually for updating full size plates during war years, in an effort to save metal

temp or temporary - a plate, sometimes made of paper or cardboard, that is provided to a registrant in lieu of a standard plate, usually valid for 24 hours to 30 days. Not highly collectible, but another venue some choose to invert time in.

test - test plate, usually made up by state prisons, with odd colors and design, to test machinery.

"top and bottom" - an error plate in which the graphic on the plate is vertically misaligned, resulting in the main graphic showing partially in the top section of the plate, and partially in the bottom section. See also "calibration errors".

torn bolt - a bolt holt that is torn away, resulting in missing metal. (photo)

trade - when used on a list of plates, it indicates that a plate is available for trade for another plate, rather than at a set price.

Trade - term usually used in European nations referring to Dealer plates - as in the "Motor Trade".

"triple header" - an error set of three identical plates, usually due to an accidental overrun or a replacement plate being made identical to a "lost" or damaged issue that was later recovered. - photo 1

trk - truck

trlr - trailer

u.d. or undated - simply a plate that has no indication of date, i.e. a 1957 New Jersey, 1980's vintage Colorado, or "Liberty" vintage New York plates. These plates are usually validated with a windshield sticker.

U.N. plates - license plates issued for and used by the United Nations, stationed or on special missions, in various locales around the world.  Most are either black (or blue) on white, and have a code prefix abbreviation (such as UNIMOG or UNTAG), and a low serial number.  There are a wide variety of UN plates known.

upgrader - a plate that's of a high enough quality to be considered by many to be a suitable replacement for a more typical condition plate.

Utsch (or Utsch graphic) - refers to a newer style of plate, usually flat with permanent printed graphics and actual plate number.  More US states are starting to use this type of plate, similar to what Delaware has been using for a number of years.  Refers to the name of the company (Utsch, in Germany) who developed the process.

varnish - a plate that has had a coat of "clear" or "lacquer" applied in a misguided effort to preserve the finish. Invariably, these plate discolor and yellow after a few years, greatly diminishing their value.  (see also - "varnished"). (photo)

vernished - a plate that has had a coat of "clear" or "lacquer" applied by the late actor Jim Varney... Hey Vern! (see film "Ernest Restores a License Plate").

waffle - a plate made from aluminum, with an embossed "waffle" like finish. These were experimented with in the late 1940's and early 1950's, in an effort to add strength, without adding weight.

war amps  or war amp tags - term sometimes used to describe Canadian keychain tag plates - the counterpart to the US Disabled Veteran keychain tags.

"William and Mary" or "WM" error - a plate in which a "M" in the plate number was made using an inverted "W", or vice-versa ("W" made using an inverted "M") - very noticeable in some die styles. - photo 1

YOM - Year of Manufacture, can be legally registered as current number plates on a motor vehicle in some states.

This is one of those lists that will be expanding all the time - rather than spend too much time digging up other terminologies and abbreviations, I'll wait until I hear from some of you out there - see something that should be on the list? Email me - and I'll get it added on as soon as time permits. Thanks! - Drew, PL8S DOT COM

If you still have some questions, try this page....