More to state's plates than one survey

I walked into the Delaware Department of Motor Vehicles and walked out with a PC four-digit tag. BY RON MACARTHUR
January 13, 2014

I was surprised to see that Delaware's license plate was found to be the least appealing in the United States during a recent survey. Responders ranked Delaware's blue-and-gold plate dead last (Washington, D.C. was also included in the survey).

The survey found that Wyoming's plate – featuring a cowboy and bucking bronco silhouetted against the landmark Teton Mountains – was at the top of the list. The remaining top 10 were: 2. Hawaii; 3. Utah; 4. Alabama; 5. Oregon; 6. Maine; 7. South Carolina; 8. Florida; 9. Georgia; 10. Oklahoma.

The bottom 10 were: 42. Vermont; 43. Massachusetts; 44. Washington, D.C.; 45. Montana; 46. New York; 47. Virginia; 48. Alaska; 49. Michigan; 50. Arkansas; 51. Delaware.

Delaware's plate – relatively unchanged since 1962 – is probably overdue for a small remake. Words such as “boring” and “ugly” have been used to describe Delaware's tag, but I would prefer to use the words simplistic and functional. Some people actually like the idea that the plate has not changed.

Responders were also asked to pick their favorite license plate slogans. The winner was Sweet Home Alabama; the least favorite was Washington, D.C.'s Taxation Without Representation.

Other than the shade of blue background, The First State license plate has not changed much over the past 50 years. The first plates issued in 1909 were white lettering on black porcelain. For many years, the state's plate changed its colors every year. The modern style blue and gold tags debuted in 1958 with The First State added to the plate in 1962.

It might surprise many people to discover that Delaware offers more than 80 license plates. Although there are some that deviate from the basics, most are still blue and gold.

Of the special tags offered, the farm preservation, Law Enforcement Memorial, lighthouse and Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation tags at least offer color and graphic design that is eye appealing.

While some people think Delaware has an unattractive license plate, the state's low-digit tags are extremely collectible and valuable. When plates were issued in numerical order in 1909, it was the rich and famous of Delaware society who were able to obtain the first plates. A status symbol was born that has been perpetuated for more than 100 years.

It's rare to find a single-digit or double-digit tag on the open market. Tag 1 is reserved for the governor, tag 2 for the lieutenant governor and tag 3 for the secretary of state; it's open season on every other tag.

In 2008, tag 6 was sold by Rehoboth Beach auctioneer Butch Emmert for an amazing $675,000; the highest price ever paid for a Delaware tag. “There is no better investment in the U.S.” Emmert said.

The website is the place to buy and sell tags. According to the website, the following is the going rate for low-digit tags: Single-digit, $500,000; double-digit, $100,000 to $200,000; three-digit, $20,000 to $65,000; four-digit, $3,000 to $12,000; and five-digit, $200 to $1,500.

See photos of Delaware's first plates:

Read a history of Delaware's license plates at:

Take part in the survey at:


  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

    Contact Ron at