PA Governor's Plate of not?
This trio of plates is from the same car. The 31 Antique plate is on the rear, while the 1931 # 1 silver and blue plate is on the front. This # 1 plate raises lots of questions. The biggest question is whether it is a Governor's plate? The images were taken by Steve Thumma and sent to me by Clayton Moore. We don't know the make of the car but it is described as a burgundy convertible. There is a sign that says it was FDRs car and then the Governor at the time in 1931 got it and drove it around documenting the new roads in Pa. There are photos of it in Pinchot Park [York County]. But in the one picture the front of the car had a regular issue 1938 plate on it. And the colors of it make Clayton wonder if it was it a cut and weld project. The back of it is silver. The owner said the plate was on the car when he got it. Clayton asked if he had the mate to it and he said Pa only had one plate and he didn't press the matter.
Eric Conner, who specializes in Pennsylvania Governors' plates offers the following comments: I have serious doubts that this is a Pennsylvania Governor license plate. It could be a "cut and weld" project as Clayton mentions, but it could also be the first plate in numerical order off the assembly line. Remember, in the late 1920s, and 1930s there were a lot of different "1" plates--Department of Highway 1, Dealer 1, Governor 1, Judicial 1, etc. The first marked "Governor" plate is 1929. There were numerous variations of license plates coming from PennDOT's predecessor, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), during the golden age of Gifford Pinchot, John Fisher, and George Earle. With each different variation of #1, they were clearly marked "Governor", "Dealer", "Judicial", etc. BMV's numbering system has changed over the years, but as I discovered, as late as 1958, the #1 plate could be, and most often was, registered to a random individual. On the contrary, low numbers and single letters were highly coveted even in the '30s, so a plain #1 plate is unusual. In fact, starting in 1936, George Earle pulled all numbers less than 10000 so that there would be "no low numbers" in circulation (presumably to accentuate his use of the #1). Just 4 years before, John Fisher was known to give out single letters and low numbers to his family, friends, and big donors. Could this be an unmarked low number anomaly?
The colors are not standard PA colors. While PA did use silver and black for a few rare 1930s varieties (I believe it was Department of Highways??) John Willard has a silver and black plate [#4?] from the same era), it is very scarce and no PA Governor plate is known to have used colors other than the standard PA tag colors at the time. The format is not correct. Jake Eckenrode's 1931 PA Governor, although repainted, is the standard format for PA Governor tags during that time. There are a few abnormalities (i.e 1936, 1944, 1945), but for the most part, they all follow the same format. It is interesting that Clayton says the plate is silver on the back. Pennsylvania's license plates in 1931 were indigo blue on the reverse. Also, the size is different from all other known PA Governor plates. While shorties are often found within the hobby, no "shorty" PA Governor plate is known besides the first porcelain #1s. While the mind of 1930s Bureau of Motor Vehicles never ceases to amaze me with its whims and unusual plate variations, my gut conclusion is that this is not a real #1 plate nor a Governor plate. It is either a repainted unusual "1" plate within the "regular" series or it is a "cut and weld" tag to display on a show car.
A recent comment by John Willard suggests that this #1 plate could have been used on the Governor's car at the time.
Despite differing opinions, we don't have a solid answer concerning the provenance of this plate. We do know that there were at least 2 other 1931 Governor's plates, one with number 1 and Governor legend. the other with Governor legend and the raised loaf in the center.
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