Thursday, December 18, 2008

Video of Alaskan Plates

This honestly never occurred to me.

Metacafe user Steveg7esd has posted a video of some Alaskan vanity plates.

The soundtrack is especially entertaining.

This takes our illnesshobby to a whole new level!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Plate of the Week: 1940 Sample

I've only got five photos of these in the archive; I'm not sure how many survived the metal recycling efforts of World War II.

From the collection of Pete Madsen. Thanks, Pete!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fred Meyer kid cart with plate on the back

I get a kick out of seeing pseudo-plates on everyday artifacts.

A little hard to make out in this dark photo, but you get the idea.

I tried to fit into the cart and have somebody take my picture, but security had to carry me away. :-)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Earl's Plates

As you may have read earlier, the 2008 Alaska license plate meet is in honor of Earl Jenson.

If you have more than a few Alaskas, chances are that you have at least one or two plates that look like this:

Like some other collectors with a long view of plate collecting, Earl wrote his ALPCA member number (#355) on the backs of his plates with a Sharpie. It's a fascinating little calling card. I knew that I had a couple of Earl's plates, but I had no idea that I had eight until I sifted through my boxes this evening.

Even if you can't come to the meet this year, take a moment to flip through your Alaskas, and if you find some of Earl's plates, take a quick picture of yourself holding them up, and send them to me so that we can display them at the meet.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Statehood photomosaic poster

Photo credit: Craig Bauer

I have been taking photos of Alaskan license plates since 1996. People send me photos they took, or photos of their collection. I also save photos that I find on eBay and the Internet. My Alaska photo archive currently contains over 19,000 photos, representing 15,000+ unique Alaskan plate serial numbers and vanity strings (not counting pairs).

"Why?" seems to be a common question (way up there with "Are you crazy?" or "What the heck are you doing to the back of my car?") The main reason is that the more photos you have, the more you can tell about when various features of plates changed, etc. Partly for historical research, partly for collector information. But I've always wanted do something more.

A couple of years ago, I had the idea to make a photomosaic. After a long search for software that would handle license plate photos properly (see below), here are my dad and I holding the results of my first attempt!

How it was made

To create a photomosaic, you first collect a large pool of photos to use as tiles, and select a single photo to use as the base. The pool of photos are resized to match the tile size needed. The software then divides the single base photo into a grid of smaller sections, analyzing each section for color and brightness. Finally, the software analyzes each of the smaller photos for the best match on color and brightness, and assembles the final image.

Here's a close-up of the top-left corner of the image. You can click on it to see more detail.

The full image took seven hours to generate (on one core of an AMD Athlon X2 dual-core 2.4GHz processor running Ubuntu Linux). The software I used is a free, open-source package called Metapixel, for Linux and other Unix-like operating systems. (For Windows, I recommend the free AndreaMosaic, which lacked a key feature.)

I used Metapixel because it had the right features for the right price. Most importantly, it lets you specify the dimensions of the tiles. Most photomosaic software assumes a photograph's dimensions (3 by 5, etc.), but most plates are 6" x 12", so the photos come out stretched and the plates look wrong. Also, Metapixel is open source, and I'm a big fan of unencumbered software.

I had the resulting image printed as a 3' x 6' poster at the Kinko's in Grand Junction. (They were extremely helpful and friendly!) And thanks to my family for waiting in the car while I explained in great detail what I wanted to accomplish to the Kinko's folks!

Where it's been

I made the poster while I was home in Grand Junction because I was headed from there to the 2008 Convention of the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association in Salt Lake City. The poster drew a comment or two, though most of the license plate folks are there to see license plates, not derivative artwork thereof. ;-) We weren't allowed to hang anything on the walls at the convention center, so I wrapped it around a column instead:

And here the poster's current home: in the hallway of the Benson Boulevard office of the Alaska DMV!

If you're at the Benson office and have a few minutes to kill (and who doesn't?), it's down the hallway to your right as you enter the building. Just turn right past the written driver test area.

So ... have enough photos now?


So this is one of the things I'm doing with the photos. I have other plans in the works. The more photos that I have (both for making mosaics, and for historical purposes), the better. I don't care if it's a 1921 or a vanilla blue-on-gold; I don't care if it's mint, covered in road tar, or half rusted through. Send me your photos!

Update 10:29pm: A couple of folks asked me how many individual images were in the poster. 115 plates wide by 119 plates high = 13,685 total license plate photos!

Update 9/10 7:09am: I can't believe that I forgot to thank the many people who made this possible! So many folks helped by sending me photos, giving me permission to use their photos, and letting me take photos of their plates at garage sales, at meets, in private collections, at the Museum, and on their cars. I couldn't have done it without you!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Palin's license plate in the ADN

The Anchorage Daily News recently ran a photo of this 1980s-era vanity plate in the paper (starting around Sep 3, 2008) and also in this thread, in which they report the plate as registered to Sarah and Todd Palin.

Photo source: Anchorage Daily News

"FE K9" is a reference to the Iron Dog, a famous snow machine race from Wasilla to Nome to Fairbanks. Todd Palin is a competitive snowmachiner.

Using the periodic table abbreviations are a clever way to get a larger word in fewer letters, and so great for vanity plate. In a state with a rich mining history, I've seen gold (AU) and silver (AG) on a number of plates, including:


What other elements would make a good Alaska plate?

Reported by Sean Morris of Alaskan Nomad. Thanks, Sean!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Wanted: Alaska 1962 light truck "LT 2487" plate (long shot!)

Reader Steve Hinshaw bought this Volkswagen, and actually went to the trouble of tracking down the original owner, who gave him this old photo:

We know it's a long shot, but Steve and I would love to see the original plate restored to the vehicle. (Alaska's Year of Manufacture license plate rules allow this.)

If you have the 1962 Alaskan license plate with the number LT 2-487, drop me a note. Crazier things have happened!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

O-Mama spoof of Alaska Statehood plate

Multiple people have sent me this great plate spoof:

Politics aside, I have to admit that it's pretty clever!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Plate of the Week: ATC WT FEE plates

The "ATC WT FEE" plates were to show that a truck had paid their weight fee and was in good standing with the Alaska Transportation Commission (the requirement for which was part of the Alaska Transportation Commission Act, repealed in 1983. (I'm still researching the original Act).

Webshots user grannyelge has a great shot of one of these plates still on a truck in Hope, Alaska.

UPDATE 2008-09-06: Ms. Elge has given me permission to post the picture here directly. Thanks, Clara!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Plate shopping at the Alaska State Fair

I'm getting ready to head to the Alaska State Fair to watch rides, try desperately to remember names of people I only see once a year ... and to look for plates!

In the age of eBay, good plates are harder to find on the ground. You can still find some gems if you're prepared. Here's some plate-shopping advice (for at the Fair, or anywhere else):

Take your price guide. This may be obvious, but it's sometimes hard to tell if an unusual plate is priced reasonably. Bob and Chuck Crisler's License Plate Values is a great general reference, though it only speaks to passenger plates. Check the completed auctions on eBay to get a feel for the pricing of plates you're interested in.

Take your collection with you. It's good exercise. :-) OK, not literally, but you should take your lists with you. Don't just take the list of plates that you want (what collectors call their "want list"), but also take a detailed list of what you have. You never know what information you'll need to make a good buying decision.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Don't just take a text list of what you have -- take photos, too. If you're not already taking pictures of all of the plate s in your collection, think about doing so. I use Irfanview's "contact sheet" feature to print out a page full of photos of all of the plates in my collection, so that I can instantly tell exactly how good of an upgrade I'm looking for.

Watch for sharks. Some sellers at the Fair are obviously trying to gouge people, especially late-season tourists. Here are some bad signs:
  • Plates are priced significantly higher than your idea of their value. If they're selling a single '76 Bear plate for $40 or more, they're trying to gouge people.

  • Lots of the plates are unlabeled and unpriced.

  • Replicas are not marked as such.

  • The seller tries to pressure you into buying right away instead of thinking about it and coming back later.

  • The seller seems to be sizing you up to see how much to charge you.

Be ready to walk away. Unless it's a screaming deal or it's before 1950, enough plates change hands at reasonable prices on eBay that you can afford to let a plate go if it's too expensive or if you're not comfortable with the transaction or the seller.

Happy hunting!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Plate of the Week: Riveted "Official Use Only" State of Alaska plate

The State of Alaska sometimes assembles their own plates using numbers from retired plates and riveting them to a blank base.

Here is a closeup of the riveted area:

Definitely an eye-catcher on the road.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Non-AK: DC starts scanning plates

According to an article on The Washington Post, D.C. is mounting cameras and plate recognition systems on 200 patrol cars.

It will probably be a while before Alaska needs this technology.

I hope.

Via The Washington Post

Friday, August 15, 2008

Some fun plate photos from Ms. VILDA

The Alaska Digital Archives (known to her friends as 'VILDA'), is a collaborative effort among libraries and museums in Alaska. There are many interesting historical photographs, including some Alaskan license plate photos, including this terrific shot of Governor Egan receiving his #1 Alaska plate in 1960:

There's also a shot of Egan's son attaching a #1 Alaska license plate to his motorcycle. Searching for 'car' or 'truck' also yields some interesting results, but I'll leave those as an optional exercise.

Source: VILDA.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Alaska Children's Trust ("KID") plates - three little-known facts

The Alaska Children's Trust works to prevent child abuse and neglect, and the plate itself is charming with its cute artwork of a fisherman boy in a rain slicker.

Here are three trivia tidbits about the Alaska Children's Trust plates.

1. Unlike most Alaskan plates, the KID plates started with KID 001 instead of KID 100. The only other "AAA 999" plates on the road today that do this are the Prisoner of War plates (POW 001) and the Low-Speed Vehicles (LSV 001). Any other plates that you see of the form AAA 001 are either non-current, or vanity plates.

2. You can transfer KID plates from one vehicle to another! Most non-vanity plates aren't portable in this way.

3. A new plate design is in the works. It looks like voting for the new design is over, but I'm still investigating which one won.

Update 9:19am: According to my sources, the voting is not over -- it's just on hold, and it will be resuming in the near future. I'll post again when I hear more.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

AKPL8S Alaska license plate meet 2008 - honoring Earl Jenson

We're having the 2008 Alaska license plate meet on October 4th.

This year, the meet is in honor of the late Earl Jenson, a former Alaska State Trooper, collector, and all-around great guy.

His collection of Alaskan plates was phenomenal. Here's a photo that he sent me when I first contacted him.

If you collect Alaskas, you know just how tough some of these are. For example, 3 is the lowest Legislator plate number (1 is the Governor, 2 is the Lt. Governor).

When I was just getting started, Earl befriended me and answered many eager questions about Alaska plates. He taught me that being a collector is about more than just acquisitions. He was always willing to encourage new collectors and to share all of the information that he had. We miss you, Earl.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Plate of the Week: 1947 Anchorage city plate

Anchorage (Alaska) city plate #1086
I recently got this plate from someone who found it in the newspaper lining of a dresser that they were refinishing!

I only have photo evidence of two Anchorage city plates. The other (#878) is in the Alaska section of the ALPCA Archives (membership required). A photo of 878 was also in the February 1984 issue of the ALPCA Newsletter.

There were probably at least (1086 - 100) = 986 issued. If the numbering started at 1, then there were probably at least 1086. ;-)

If you have any photos or information about Anchorage City plates from this era, please let me know!

Update 9:22am: Jack McGee just sent me this photo of his:

Anchorage (Alaska) city plate #859
Thanks, Jack! You just increased the number of photos I know of by 50%. ;-)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Alaska DMV publishes driver license statistics

The Research department of the Alaska DMV has recently started publishing on their site some driver license statistics (from 1998 through 2007). They are rough scans published as PDF, but the data is there.

This could be handy for research purposes as a cross-check of the statistics about issued plates, which Research also makes available at the same location.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

No CHICKEN in Cooper Landing

Improper Evidence of Registration and Title

"COOPER LANDING: On July 18 at approximately 7:40 p.m., Troopers observed a Green pickup towing a white cargo trailer traveling North at Mile 40 of the Sterling Highway. The trailer license plate was a decorative facsimile of an Alaska Centennial license plate, which read “CHICKEN.” Troopers contacted the driver Robert G. Johnson, age 52 of Chugiak. An investigation revealed that there was no record of the license plate and that the trailer had not been properly registered. Johnson was summoned to the Seward court for Improper Evidence of Registration or Title."

No investigation was needed to find record of that plate: "CHICKEN" has seven letters, and all Alaskan vanity plates have a maximum of six.

Here's another example: obviously not valid (seven letters), and clearly ill-advised for the purposes of staying under the Trooper radar:

Alaska souvenir vanity Centennial plate reading IMDRUNK
Also a bad idea.
Photo courtesy Mike Wiener of

A cautionary tale for us all. Via the Turnagain Times.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Post ideas from Bryan

When I told my friend Bryan that I was trying to post once a day for 30 days and might need some help with content, he contributed the following excellent ideas:
  • Using non-Roman alphabets for Alaska plates: three points of view.

  • How to use triangulation to determine whether the plate two blocks ahead of you is embossed.

  • Petitioning the DMV to release colors that will benefit license plate mosaics.

  • Report on the Uruguayan effort to make the Golden Ratio an international standard for license plates.

  • Special cleaning fluid for license plates: worth the extra money?

  • New space-saving fractal-based display structures.

I'm on it!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Wanted: "Official Use Only" trailer plate photo

I just saw an odd plate that I couldn't get a photo of in time.

It was on a trailer being pulled by a non-tractor truck that was hauling a load of culvert. The plate was smaller-size, "Official Use Only" across the top, number in the 50000s, entirely flat (non-embossed), with a crest of some kind on the left, and maybe some text on the bottom (I couldn't make it out in time).

Even more oddly, it was mounted squarely in the center of a piece of 80's sheeting, with just ALASKA at the top, like this one:

Keep your eye out and your camera handy. :-)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Alaskan license plate photo pool on Flickr

There is a Flickr photo pool of Alaskan license plates. They're almost all vanities, and fun to sift through.

(Flickr is a popular photo publishing site, with good free features and some nice premium perks for folks who want a little extra).

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Most stickers so far: 18

There's a new extreme listed on my extremes page.

David Helmer has contributed a photo of an Alaskan plate with 18 distinct, non-overlapping stickers - a new record.

Thanks, David!

Monday, August 4, 2008

New Purple Heart Vanity

The DMV has started to issue a Purple Heart vanity plate, which is only available to Purple Heart recipients and only available as a personalized plate.

It's not on the Alaska DMV personalized plates request page because you have to provide evidence of your Purple Heart to receive it.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

2008 Alaska State Fair magazine artwork with Statehood vanity plate

Tucked inside today's Anchorage Daily News is the 2008 edition of the magazine that promotes the 2008 Alaska State Fair. This year's cover has a kid's wagon with the new Statehood plate vanity that says "PALMER".

Extra points for it being a valid string (six characters or less).

In fact, the Alaska DMV personalized plates request page says that "PALMER" is an actual vanity string that has already been issued. Hopefully, this artwork will not cause any trouble with law enforcement. "Our database says that this plate should be on a 1987 Chevy Cavalier, little boy ..."

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Fun KTUU Construction license plate graphic

The KTUU D2R Construction Map has this fun license plate graphic.

Via Colorado collector and Alaska Amateur Radio operator Patrick Cuddihy. Thanks, Patrick!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Statehood Plate Kick-off

I attended the official kick-off of the Alaska Statehood license plate at the Alaska Museum of History and Art. Finding myself among senators, the Governor, three original Constitution delegates, and the artist who designed the plate, I felt like a bit of an interloper. :)

While waiting for the presentation to start, a fellow standing nearby noticed the plate under my arm. He said that he'd heard that a collector was going to be showing up, and identified himself as a collector of trains (and therefore someone who could understand a collector's motivations). We chatted for a while, and he asked a few sharp questions about the design. Eventually, I discovered that he was none other than Dean Potter, the artist who created the artwork for the plate!

Here is Dean, standing in front of the artwork itself:

Much like Kathy Sarns, the artist who created the artwork for the Alaska Centennial license plates, Dean was gracious and friendly with the collectors.

There were many shutterbugs with big iron vying for photo space, so I didn't get a photo of the actual moment of presentation. I did get an OK shot of Governor Sarah Palin with the logo of the Celebration in the background and one of the new plates in view:

After the ceremony, I got a few more shots. Here's Colleen Sullivan-Leonard with the Office of the Governor, holding the plate that was actually presented to Governor Palin for the ceremony: HAPY50.

I also got to meet the new Director of the Alaska DMV, Whitney Brewster. She was also a good sport, and is shown here holding my 1959 plate (the year that we became a state) along with Dean (this time holding my own registered plate).

And here's the highlight, in my opinion: fifty years of Alaskan history with 50 years of Alaskan license plates:

On the left is Vic Fischer, one of the crafters of our State Constitution 50 years ago, holding the 1959 (actually a 1958 plate with a '59 tab), and on the right one of the prime movers of the Statehood Celebration holding my plate. (Being only an amateur photographer, I managed to not get the name of the gentleman on the right; if someone knows his name, please let me know).

While I was there, I was delighted to be greeted by another ALPCA member -- Bill Foster of Sitka. He's been collecting for some time (his ALPCA number is 2885, while mine, having joined only a couple of years ago, is 10181) and exercised one of his benefits working for Alaska Airlines to hop onto a plane and come up for the kick-off. He's full of interesting license plate stories, and it was nice to not be the only plate geek in attendance.

I wasn't the only person there to capture the story for posterity, of course: there's an article by Beth Bragg in the Anchorage Daily News today (2008-01-04) about the new Statehood plates, including a chat with former Alaska Lt. Governor Jack Coghill about what vanity he'd like to get. I'm also quoted briefly, and they used some of my license plate photos for the gallery that appears in the print edition and the online gallery. The online version even has a small plug for, which can't hurt. :)

(The paper is a little rumpled because there was snow in the newspaper bag this morning. Ah, Alaska!)

I own the 58 ("508"), 62 ("1501"), 66 ("92586"), and 1998 Centennial ("EEN 205") from the gallery:

There was also a news spot and online story on the Anchorage NBC affiliate, KTUU.

It's nice to see plates getting some news! I look forward to seeing this plate on the road for the next two years.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Commemorating Statehood

This plate, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Alaskan statehood, became available January 2nd, 2008. These are the 'general issue' plates (given out to anyone needing license plates) until the end of December, 2009.

This fetching design is also available as an Alaska personalized plate for passenger vehicles. They will not be available for motorcycles, as there wasn't enough room for both the logo and six characters.

The first plate ordered by the DMV in this series is FGF 100. I got a relatively low number for showing up early. The DMV folks were friendly, and even tolerant enough to entertain my request for a photo op:

Or maybe they just thought it safer to humor the crazy license plate guy. :)

Where the FGF prefix falls into the current number sequence on the roads today is interesting. Within the fully-embossed Alaskan F prefixes run, Alaska had already started on FG* (I've spotted FGA on the road and know of issued FGBs). I'm almost positive, however, that that FGC through FGE will not appear until 2010.

Some other features of this plate are worth noting. You'll notice that the word ALASKA at the top is not embossed, even though Alaskan plates have been recently moving towards full embossing. Since the font used for the ALASKA at the top is exactly the same as the font used in the official logo on the left that's used for the entire Celebration, we might speculate that the Commission graphic designers required that it match the word ALASKA in the official celebration logo. Creating new dies to match that font would have probably been more expensive.

You'll also notice that the letters and numbers are in an uninterrupted string, with no space, flag, prospective gold miners, bears, totems, university logos, or anything else in between. This is the first time (that I am aware of) that the three-letter/three-number "AAA 999" format hasn't been separated in some way. Since this base is also available for personalization, there is potential for some confusion between issued and personalized plates.

If you're in Anchorage tomorrow (may not be likely) and want to see the official kick-off of the plate (may be even less likely), it's at the Anchorage Museum at 1:00pm on Thursday, January 3rd. More details (including a PDF of the invitation can be found on the official Alaska Statehood Celebration Commission site.

It's nice to see Alaskan plates and State events coinciding. The 1867-1967 Centennial of the Alaskan Purchase ("Seward's Folly") was a similar venture with a design that has proven popular with collectors:

May this one fare as well!

Settling in

Rather than subjecting my friends and family to license plate trivia, I'll be moving my Alaskan license plates activity to this new home.