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275,192 and counting: Wisconsin Collector Plates

Wisconsin reaches a milestone with 50 years of Collector plates.
Wisconsin Collector plate number “70” was originally issued to Old Cars’ founding parent company, Krause Publications, which had a substantial car collection, hence the letters before and after the Collector number.

Wisconsin Collector plate number “70” was originally issued to Old Cars’ founding parent company, Krause Publications, which had a substantial car collection, hence the letters before and after the Collector number.

2022 marks two automotive-related golden anniversaries in Wisconsin — the 50th anniversaries of the Iola Car Show and the establishment of the state’s Collector license plate.

The June 1972 issue of Old Cars reported that, at 11 a.m. on May 3, 1972, “Wisconsin Assembly Bill A-1202 was signed into law by Governor Patrick J. Lucey, using the fender of a 1928 Marmon as a writing desk. The landmark bill is the first of its kind in the United States and provides for a distinct ‘Collector’ license plate.... Previously, Wisconsin law allowed only cars 40 years old or older to be registered as antiques. The new law encompasses the antiques, and allows the antique plates to remain as an optional form of registration, but further allows collector cars which are 20 years old or older to be registered separately.

“A distinct feature of the new law is the elimination of restricted use of vehicles. As with most states, the Wisconsin antique auto plate law restricted use of the plate to public exhibits and club functions. The new law has no such restraints, but specifies that the applicant must have a regularly registered car operating in Wisconsin before application for the Collector plate can be made.”

Once the Collector plate became available in Wisconsin, they were issued in numeric order with the number tied to the hobbyist who applied for the Collector plate. A hobbyists with multiple collector vehicles was issued Collector plates with their dedicated number and then a letter for each additional vehicle, so the hobbyist with Collector plate “1” was issued Collector plate “1A” for his second collector car, Collector plate “2B” for his third collector car, and so on.

Wisconsin Governor Patrick J. Lucey signs the state’s Collector bill into law on May 3, 1972, using a 1928 Marmon as a writing desk. Pictured from left to right are Norman Clapp, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in 1972; Gov. Lucey; Dick Dorsey; and Karl Foss.

Wisconsin Governor Patrick J. Lucey signs the state’s Collector bill into law on May 3, 1972, using a 1928 Marmon as a writing desk. Pictured from left to right are Norman Clapp, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in 1972; Gov. Lucey; Dick Dorsey; and Karl Foss.

The authors and prime movers of the bill were Wisconsinites Dick Dorsey and Karl Foss, who received Wisconsin Collector plates “1” and “2.” The original story in Old Cars states that additional collectors were on hand at the bill signing who were scheduled to receive the first 10 plate numbers in the new series. Among them was original Old Cars editor Dave Brownell, who received Wisconsin Collector plate number “5.” Other recipients of low Wisconsin Collector plate numbers who are known to the Old Cars staff included Kenny Buttolph, Old Cars’ late research editor, who initially received Wisconsin Collector plate number “72,” which he selected because he said it would help him remember the year the Collector plate was established. Old Cars founder Chet Krause was issued Collector plate number “291,” and Krause Publications, Old Cars’ founding company, was issued plate number “70.”

As of May 28, 2022, Wisconsin has issued 228,725 Collector license plate numbers and a total of 275,192 Collector plates. The latter figure includes plates issued to Collector plate holders registering multiple collector vehicles, so it includes those Collector plate numbers followed by letters. Since 1972, all Collector plates have been painted blue with red letters, the same colors that appeared on Wisconsin’s official road
map in 1972.

Collector cars on hand during the signing of Wisconsin Assembly Bill A-1202 “symbolized virtually the entire collecting range in the hobby, ranging from a 1917 Locomobile town car to an immaculate 1951 Hudson Hornet,” the latter of which was only 21 years old at the time the bill was passed and the story was published. “Other cars on hand for the historic signing included two Lincolns — a 1941 Continental and a 1938 Zephyr, two Buicks —a 1931 Sedan with 9,000 original miles, and a 1934 Series 90 convertible, a 1928 Marmon, 1929 Chevrolet, 1936 Ford, and a Model A Cabriolet.”

A couple of the aforementioned cars appear to be still registered to those first 10 Collector plates (see following list). It’s interesting to note that the 1991 Chevrolet currently registered with Collector plate number “1” hadn’t yet been dreamed of at the time of the bill’s 1972 signing. (A Wisconsin Collector plate is registered to the owner, so it can be moved from vehicle to vehicle.)

Old Cars reported that “the signing of the bill culminated one and a half year’s intense work with legislators by Dorsey, Foss and other members of the Wisconsin Auto Clubs in Association. The Association was formed in reaction to a number of bills which contained potential harm to the hobby.” A-1202 was introduced in order to “achieve a balance between these bills and the right of an auto hobbyists to enjoy, use, and expand his collection.”

Currently registered cars of
Wisconsin Collector plates #1-10

1: 1991 Chevrolet

2: 1941 Lincoln

3: 1967 Pontiac

4: 1955 Ford

5: 1969 Buick

6: 1938 Dodge

7: 1938 Lincoln

8: 1948 Chevrolet

9: 1970 AMC Rebel

10: 1967 Chevrolet

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