First Illinois license plate, from 1904, auctioned for $34,000

Do people still collect license plates in their garages? I remember when I was a kid, my dad and later my stepdad nailed them to the garage wall. But of course his father and stepfather were both mechanics, so he came naturally.

(Donley Auction Services, Union, IL, via

(Donley Auction Services, Union, IL, via

A very rare pre-state Illinois regulation-era license plate in Chicago sold at auction on Sunday for $34,000.

According to Donley Auctions, the 1904 stamped aluminum plaque was expected to fetch between $4,000 and $6,000.

Donley auctioned over 600 lots of license plates, city vehicle tags, and “toppers” (similar to today’s license plate frames) mostly from Illinois, but some from St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, and some Michigan cities. (Flint and Saginaw).

(Donley Auction Services, Union, IL, via

(Donley Auction Services, Union, IL, via

The objects were all from the collection of Lee Hartung of Glenview, Illinois. Hartung died in 2000 and most of his collection was well known and sold soon after his death. But, apparently, many of these favorite items were in his home and not being sold at the time.

Donley’s site says,

“The highlight of the collection is the ‘Chicago set’. In the early days of the automobile, most licensing was issued at the city level. Chicago began issuing plates in 1903 and continued until the state of Illinois takes over at the end of 1907. These plates are incredibly rare as there were very few of them, but the rarest of them all is the 1904 which was made of aluminum. they appeared and what makes it special besides its beautiful original condition is that it is plate #1 and was awarded to Chicagoan Arthur J. Eddy.

Eddy, who was born in Flint (he was the son of the mayor), was a lawyer and a prominent art collector, but was also a big proponent of cars in the early days of motorized transport.

A funny story about Eddy, on Wikipedia. Eddy set a record in 1901, covering about five thousand kilometers by car in just two months. (Remember, this is 1901 and there are no paved roads. The following year he traveled to Flint and gave Margery Durant, William Crapo Durant’s daughter, her first automobile trip. His father said to him, “Margery, how could you, how could you be so mad as to risk your life in one of these things. William Durant became the founder of General Motors.

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