Massachusetts License Plates

Chris Woodcock's
Massachusetts License Plates

(Note: These are my personal collection and NOT for Sale)

My run of Massachusetts plates is below. Massachusetts was the first jurisdiction in the world to register cars and issue license plates.  They started in 1903.  From 1903 - 1907 the porcelain plates had "MASS. AUTOMOBILE REGISTER." across the top.  You can tell the issue year by the number.  (0-3241 = 1903, 3242 - 7013 = 1904, 7014-11902 = 1905, 11903-18474 = 1906, and 1847 - 26207 = 1907.

This 1903 license plate is the 1,654th issued in the USA.  It is a little banged up and missing some corners but it is older than you are!



Many of these older porcelain plates are a banged up.




This 1905 plate is nearly 100 years old though!






These are examples of the 1906 and 1907 plates.




After the initial MASS AUTOMOBILE REGISTER plates, I have them in three year groups. 

Massachusetts alternated between white on blue and blue on white porcelain until tin was used in 1916.  Steel began being used in 1919.  Notice that they used a comma separator in these early years.








Note the first "graphic" or picture on the 1928 license - a somewhat stylized cod fish.  This cod plate has a great story behind it. It is said that the cod fishing in 1928 was particularly bad and the fishing industry was upset that the cod was swimming away from "MASS" on the plate.  In 1929 the Registry took care of this by making the fish look more "cod-like" and swimming toward "MASS". (see the two below) The fishing improved that year and all were happy again.  It is a great story and is even repeated on the current Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles web site.  Unfortunately it is not at all true!  The fishing was not particularly bad in 1928.  The swimming away was just circumstance (note that starting in 1925 the year and MASS alternate sides).  The registrar tried to get new cod plates in 1929 but was only able to get them on Truck plates ("B" prefix).  He was fired before the cod ever made it on to the passenger car plates.

In 1930 the plates started to alternate between red and green backgrounds.

Some of the 1935 plates had a locking year tab.  The tab slide in the back and locked in place and could not be removed.

In 1938, Massachusetts stopped using the comma separator and started using a square dot between the numbers.  During World War II there was a shortage of steel and plates were not routinely reissued each year.  Note that the second "1942" plate below is green and not red.  These green plates were issues to new registrants in the State in 1943, this making these a 1943 plate despite the 1942 stamp.  Apparently, the higher numbered "42 greens" were issued to new registrants in 1944.  In 1945 new plates were issued again, but the blue background was added.

Massachusetts stopped issuing plates every year in 1949 - plates were issued for two years starting in 1949.  As a result, there are no dated license plates for the even years from 1950 - 1962.  However, plates issued in those even years to new registrants can be found if you know the right prefixes.  1950: H, J and some K (started Sept 49), 1952: E and P, 1954: E, P and L, 1956: X and N, 1958: U and X, 1960: F, X and U, and 1962: J, R, U, and X.  Note from Bob Hoyt: Massachustetts began issuing windshield stickers to verify registration in 1950.Massacusetts issued these windshield stickers each year that they did not issue plates.

In 1964 Mass switched from issuing plates in odd years to even years.  This was due to poor paint that was used on the 1963 paints that cracked and peeled.  (Some stories attribute this to prisoners urinating into the paint, while others chalk it up to corrupt bidding on paint.  Like the 28/29 fish story, this one has also seemed to take on a life of its own!)  Consequently, nice looking 1963 plates are hard to find.  Again in 1965 no dated plate was issued, but those issued to new registrants in 1965 had a W prefix.

Undated plates were issued starting in 1967.  There are no dated plates from 1967 - 1969.  However, one can once again tell when the plates were issued by the style and letters.  In 1968 the MASSACHUSETTS across the top was flat and not punched as it was in 1967.  Those plates also had a prefix letter.  New plates issued in 1969 came with a suffix letter.  Stickers began to be used to date plates in 1969 -- 1970 sticker for non-passenger vehicles and 1971 sticker for passenger vehicles.   The only passenger plate with a 1970 sticker were rare vanity plates such as that below with the DEC 70 sticker.  Massachusetts also started staggered registrations in 1969.  The month of expiration corresponded to the last number on the plate.  1=Jan, 2=Feb, 3=Mar, etc. X for November and Y for December were used until 1983.   Passenger cars were not re-registered in Nov or Dec. except for vanity plates after 1983 (thanks for this info Dave Nicholson and Rich Bell!).  Note that the 1974 plate below is really a non-passenger plate! 


Massachusetts first issued green lettered plates with 2 year staggered registration  in March 1977.  They still had unissued red letter plates on hand so on alternating weeks they went back and forth until the red letter plate supply was exhausted in Spring 1978. The green letter plates ALSO were issued in all numeric format 1 to 999,999.  Numbers 1-99,999 are reserved numbers Numbers 100,000 to 999,999 are generic. (Again thanks to Rich Bell!) Many of these are still actively registered today!


Massachusetts began issuing special graphic plates with the whale plate in 1995, followed by the Cape Cod plate and Olympic plates.  The Fish And Wildlife plate was supposed to satisfy those in the western part of the state that wanted something other than ocean themes.


  The original whale plates were five digits only.  When these ran out they used the R/W prefix (for Right Whale) and then the R/T (for Roseate Tern). The R/T whale plate is below




After these, Massachusetts plates issued: A Red Sox/Jimmy Fund Plate and Massachusetts's United We Stand 9/11 plate


Next came the Boston Bruins - Youth Hockey plate,

the Reissue of the Basketball Hall of Fame Plate (note that no month is shown like all others!)

the Spay & Neuter - Animal Friendly Plate

the Patriots Plate honoring the 3 time Super Bowl Champs.  These are no longer available having been replaced by the 5 times Champion Plates below.

They need to keep updating the Pats plates for the Super Bowl wins

Then came: the Conquer Cancer Plate, Fire Fighters Memorial, Cure Brest Cancer.

The Mini-Fenway Park plate was for a replica of Fenway that was to be built.  This plate was stopped and is no longer available.  See story at:

Finally a Celtics plate was issued completing the four sports teams.

Here is the University of Massachusetts plate.

And the Nantucket Island plate.

The Massachusetts Agricultural - Home Grown - plate

A New Fallen Heroes - Vet plate

Some newer ones:

NOTE: I will NOT contribute to the Anti-Choice plate in Massachusetts, so do not have a picture of one of those.

Mass also issued plates that could only be requested by members of its sports teams.  Here are plates issued to a Bruin (Rick Middleton) and a New England Whaler (Thomas Abrahamsson?)

Here are some miscellaneous plates from Massachusetts - they have quite a few!

The first plate in this next series is issued to members of the State House of Representatives. 



The Senate Plate is a plate apparently used by Senators or Staffers to get parking privileges on Beacon Hill near the State House.

Lastly there is the  old Mass Turnpike plate -- note the arrow through the Pilgrim's Hat. This has since been removed because it was either (a) not politically correct, or (b) the arrow was confusing to motorists causing them to go in the wrong direction to get to the Pike.


This was issued to participants of a Fortune 500 Conference held in 1997  in Boston

Here are some more miscellaneous types of plates:



These are a pair of motorcycle plates





In the 50's, those that were well connected could get a plate that had a plaster, 3-D seal of the Commonwealth.  I suspect you could park about anywhere with these!






There are numerous Interstate or DPU (Dept of Public Utilities) plates.  These are not real licenses, but were attached to trucks for interstate shipping purposes.



Lastly, some plates are just produced for fun like the one below for an ALPCA regional meet in Amherst and the Massachusetts Woodcock plate made up by a friend..

I hope you enjoyed this small pictorial history of Massachusetts license plates.  Email me at if you have any questions comments or corrections!!

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