Cartographers, unite! A number of license plates have featured the state map – sometimes as small as an icon in a corner, other times taking up the entire plate.
I. Whole plate
Montana is the King of whole plate maps, as demonstrated by the examples pictured here. This practice included the period before 1957, when the federal government mandated all passenger plates to measure 6 X 12″ (the example above is two plates mashed together, but legally–Montana was one of many states to conserve metal for the war effort, so in this case they added a red “43” tab to the 1942 base).
Kansas has a state shape with an almost perfect fit for a 6 x 12″ plate, and from 1951-1955 had the northeast corner actually cut out; from 1956 through the 1976 base (which was used through 1979), Kansas retained the state shape but covered up the corner with a background.
Pennsylvania employed the whole plate map from 1937 through 1970.
Nebraska used a whole plate map for its 2005 base.
II. Large graphics
West Virginia depicted a large state map on its 1976 base (left); but when the dark blue outline and light blue shadow made readability a problem, the outline and shadow were removed for the 1982 base.
For the Lewis & Clark specialty, Montana shrunk the state map from their usual whole plate designs and used the famed explorers (along with Sacagawea) as the eastern border.
Kentucky has used a large state outline for both a passenger (creatively masked as a cloud) and several specialties.
South Carolina’s 1981 base printed its state seal in a large light blue state map.
III. Small graphic
Tennessee had one of the coolest ideas of all time, having its license plate actually cut out entirely in the state shape from 1936 through 1956. The new law in 1957 stipulating a standard plate size put an end to it, but the state made it live on in succeeding bases.
Arkansas’ education specialty, as well as anniversary plates from Iowa, Indiana, and Louisiana, all utilized a small map graphic.
Texas has used a state map separator in many instances, and on its latest base got creative by coloring it in with the state flag.
This Minnesota trio exhibits an embossed map and serial, a flat map with an embossed serial, and a flat map and serial.
Connecticut added a state map to the upper left corner for its 1987 and 2000 bases.
Below right, Missouri’s outline is a little large to be considered a separator, but it still serves that purpose.
New Jersey and New York have each used a state map separator on each of their last two bases.
These base plates from the last few decades all use a state map separator.
Michigan’s 2007 version of the Mackinac Bridge optional mixes in a state map separator by highlighting the Great Lakes.
Oklahoma’s specialty devoted to the Oklahoma City Bombing Relief depicts a state map with a U.S. flag motif and partially covered by a heart and a ribbon.
A not uncommon practice in decades past was to include the state map in the sticker. The era of having such unique stickers, however, has gone by the wayside, mainly because the onset of graphic plates provided a much larger canvas for creativity.