Rare Chicago license plate sells for $34,000 at auction

A porcelain plate from St. Louis sold for $8,500 at Donley Auctions auction house in Union.

SHARE Rare Chicago license plate sells for $34,000 at auction
Believed to be Illinois’ very first automobile license plate, this No. 1 plate is on auction through Sunday.

Believed to be Illinois’ very first automobile license plate, this No. 1 plate sold at auction Sunday for $34,000. | Provided photo.


An exceptionally rare Chicago license plate sold for $34,000 at auction Sunday.

The estimated value of the plate was listed at $2,000 to $4,000, according to Union-based Donley Auctions.

“You think you have something rare, and you don’t know until the actual auction starts. Then you hope you have two people who want it bad enough that they are willing to fight over it; that’s what happened,” said Mike Donley, one of the auction house owners.

Donley said he had no idea the final bid would go so high.

The winning bidder wishes to remain anonymous, Donley said, adding he knows only that the man lives in the United States.

The plate, made of flimsy stamped aluminum, was considered the “holy grail” in a collection of vintage license plates and city vehicle tags from the early 1900s. They came from the estate of the late Glenview car enthusiast Lee Hartung.

The $34,000 plate features a silver No. 1 set on a black background. It was issued by the city of Chicago in 1904 and is believed to be the first automobile plate issued in Illinois.

The city soon started making them from solid brass, before the state took over the job in 1907 — which explains why city plates are so rare, Donley said. One 1905 brass city license plates sold for $2,700 during the same auction. A 1906, city of St. Louis porcelain plate went for $8,500.

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