This license plate is from the first batch of inauguration plates ever made. The 1933 plate, for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration, is one of the rarest available. Only 500 were issued. Lower numbers were for higher-ranking officials.

Forty years ago, when Arlington resident Andrew Pang was 6, his friend Howard Wall brought him a souvenir from Louisiana, a robin’s-egg-blue 1976 dealer license plate. Pang, who was already interested in travel and geography, decided to buck the stamp-collecting trend and focus on license plates. “By the time I was 9 years old, I had one from every state.” The accountant and married father of two is still collecting, as well as selling and trading online. His treasures wallpaper the garage and fill a room in the basement.


The commemorative 58th Presidential Inaugural license plate. (Presidential Inaugural Committee)

Pang is one of perhaps 25 collectors in the world who has a numbered plate from every inauguration for which they were issued. Though later sold as souvenirs, the plates were originally intended for vehicles in the inaugural parade. (After initially declining to issue plates, the Trump inaugural committee changed its mind and is offering a commemorative plate; as of publication, it was unclear whether the committee also would issue numbered plates for the parade.) Pang’s favorite plate, from the first year they were issued, is a No. 7 plate from Franklin Roosevelt’s 1933 inauguration. Only 500 sets were made, and only about 70 plates are known to have survived. The plate’s low number indicates that it belonged to “someone very, very high up in the government,” Pang says. At more than $5,000 in 2013, the price was high as well. Inaugural plates can give “When they go low, we go high” a whole different meaning.


A plate for Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937. Fewer than 1,000 plates were made for this batch. From 1937 through 2001, they could be used on civilians’ vehicles, but only for a limited time (between two weeks and three months).

A plate from Roosevelt’s third inauguration in 1941. No plates were made in 1945 for his fourth because of World War II.

This plate was produced for President Harry S. Truman’s inauguration in 1949. Just under 2,000 were produced that year. A childhood friend gave collector Andrew Pang his first license plate when he was 6 in 1976, and he has collected them ever since.

The 1953 and 1957 inauguration license plates feature the faces of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon. The plates are the most well-known and popular because of the portrait decals. About 3,000 were made in 1953.

For Eisenhower’s 1957 inauguration, 4,500 plates were made.

No. 808 was made for John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration. Starting in 1961, 10,000 or more were made in each batch of plates.

A plate made for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 inauguration.

This license plate was made for President Richard Nixon’s 1969 inauguration.

No. 546 commemorates Nixon’s 1973 inauguration.

No. 203 was made for President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration.

President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inauguration featured this license plate.

This plate was made for Reagan’s 1985 inauguration. That year, for the first time, makers produced these as souvenirs, says collector Andrew Pang. Numbered plates were still made but were controlled mostly by the inaugural committee. Members of the general public could get whatever combination of letters they wanted on one.

This plate was made for President George H.W. Bush’s 1989 inauguration.

A plate marking President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration.

A plate for Clinton’s 1997 inauguration.

A plate commemorating President George W. Bush’s 2001 inauguration. This is the last year that they could be used on civilians’ vehicles, collector Andrew Pang says. The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles had coordinated the plates’ registration but stopped after 2001. They were still used in the inauguration parade, though.

A plate for President George W. Bush’s 2005 inauguration. This was the first year that two designs were made, Pang says.

The second of two designs made for President George W. Bush’s 2005 inauguration. The style of No. 308 was used in the motorcade.

This license plate was made for President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. It is autographed by Obama. Two plate designs were made that year: This one was used on official parade vehicles.

No. 421 marks Obama’s 2009 inauguration with the second of two designs for the occasion. This design was available to the public as a souvenir.

Obama’s 2013 inauguration featured three designs. This design was available to the public.

The second 2013 design was ordered by the inaugural committee for the presidential limo and Secret Service but was never used.

The third 2013 design was made to transport VIPs during inauguration festivities. PIC stands for Presidential Inaugural Committee. Only 100 were made. They were numbered PIC 101 through 201.

To comment on this story, email wpmagazine@washpost.com or visit washingtonpost.com/magazine.
Email us at wpmagazine@washpost.com.
For more articles, as well as features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit The Washington Post Magazine.
Follow the Magazine on Twitter.
Like us on Facebook.