Rare and Unique Chicago License Plate Goes to Auction

Attention car enthusiasts: the “holy grail” of Chicago license plates is up for auction.

A black and white aluminum plaque stamped with the single number “1” gives bidders a chance to win a piece of automotive history. The plate was made in 1904, the first year Chicago made metal license plates, and the only year the city made thin, stamped aluminum plates, according to the item’s description on the site. auction.

“Only (a) handful of them have been made,” said Mike Donley of Donley Auctions. “And that’s number 1. It doesn’t get lower than that.”

Before Illinois began manufacturing statewide license plates, Chicago issued its own plates between 1903 and 1907, Donley said. From this period, according to the auctioneers, those made in 1904 are the rarest. In the years that followed, the flimsy and damage-prone aluminum plates were replaced with heavy-duty solid brass.

Even rarer, this plate is marked “VG”, i.e. very good condition.

The plaque’s first owner was a founding member of AAA

This particular plate was issued to prominent Chicago lawyer and art collector Arthur Jerome Eddy, who in 1900 became the first person in Chicago to receive a motor vehicle registration badge. Prior to the distribution of the plates, license badges, intended to appear on drivers’ coats, were issued to drivers to tax city residents for funding road projects, Donley said.

Eddy was an early adopter of automobiles, Donley said. He set a car distance record in 1901 by driving 2,900 miles from Chicago to Boston and back in two months, The New York Times reported. He even published a book about it the following year – one of many he wrote – titled Two thousand miles on an automobile.

Eddy also helped found the Chicago Motor Club in 1902, to defend drivers’ rights and promote safe vehicles and roads. This club has since become the American Automobile Association (AAA). He is also credited with putting Chicago on the map of the modern art world, according to auctioneers, by sparking interest in the Art Institute of Chicago.

More recently, this plate belonged to Lee Hartung, a well-known motor vehicle collector, who died in 2011. Much of his personal collection was auctioned off years ago, but, Donley said, when his partner was recently preparing to sell their home, she found a stash of more automotive memorabilia – including the #1 plate.

Donley estimated the plaque will sell for between $4,000 and $6,000 at the auction, which ends on Sunday. But the intrigue Donley said she sparked could up the ante. The auctioneer took the plate to a license plate show this weekend in Wauconda, Illinois, where he said the item attracted collectors from out of state to view plate and assess its authenticity.

“There’s a lot of interest in it,” Donley said.

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