An Entertaining & Informative Vintage Automobile Internet Magazine

Leather License Plates and a Mystery Roadster

  • tom2
  • Russell Holden’s daughter Andrea Holden who can start and drive this 1902 Thomas Flyer, is posing with it wearing a NSW Australian license plate

Steve Hammatt from Washington State offers a unique service for early car collectors whereby he makes original style leather license plates. It is done in the style as many were originally, by first rim-stitching two thick layers of oil-tanned black cowhide harness leather together. Period style aluminum numbers and letters are then attached to the plate  and the holes for mounting are punched. Steve is also a plate historian and describes the beginning efforts concerning the licensing automobiles:

Early in the history of automobiles, governments wisely decided that some form of registration was required. Some of the first licensing efforts began in Europe, and then quickly spread to the northeastern United States. The state of New York (and the City of Cleveland, Ohio) first required license plates for motorcars starting in 1901.”

  • lp1      lp2      lp3
  •          Cars wearing reproduction license plates
  •             1909 Ford – 1913 Pierce-Arrow – 1907 Stevens-Duryea

“Soon the practice spread across the Northeast; however once registered, the motorists themselves needed to supply the actual license “tags” or “plates” with the appropriate registration numbers. The most common construction was of house numbers riveted onto a leather base”.

  • 1911A 1911 Beckley-Walton catalog shows a numbers and letters kit

“In 1903 Massachusetts started issuing their official license plate (dark blue with white lettering) made from an iron plate coated with porcelain enamel. Slowly over time, additional states not only registered automobiles, but also supplied the motorist with the state’s official license plate, thus ending the pre-state era of US auto license plate history. The last states to adopt suppling their own license plate were South Carolina and Texas, both in 1917″. Visit with Steve Hammatt at to learn more about his uncommon service. 


*Updated* Ariejan Bos has identified this car as being a 1911 Marion Torpedo Roadster. We have added two Marion ads and a photo of a Colonial Style Coupe below that uses the same gas tank and trunk on the rear. This photo shows a surviving 1911 Marion Torpedo Roadster.

Steve sent us this postcard image of an unknown circa 1910 to 1912 roadster that is wearing a 1915 Nebraska leather pre-state license plate. Efforts so far to identify it have not been successful, but hopefully our knowledgeable readers will be able to; please let us know what you may know about this car.

marion1      marion2      marion3

Hammatt also manages two internet brass car groups that are an international exchange of fact and fancy and are very helpful to car owners and members of both: Brass Buick’s caters to over five-hundred pre-1916 Buick enthusiasts at and The Early Cadillac Group (1903-14) at with four-hundred members. Check them out if you are interested in either make.

5 responses to “Leather License Plates and a Mystery Roadster

  1. This mystery car is a 1911 Marion model 40 torpedo roadster. There is at least one survivor, but I do not know where.

      • Yes, David, that’s the one. About old photographs like this one: what often amazes me is that, despite battered fenders or damaged body parts, the owner always stands proudly beside his car as if it’s new.

        • Well, back then an automobile was only owned by a small percentage of the population and was still new and novel leading to great pride of ownership.

          Today 100 years later that has changed (at least here in the U.S.) and most people consider them to be much like an appliance.

  2. I have seen the 1902 Thomas Model 18 in person. It is apparently E. R. Thomas’ ‘homeymoon car’.

    The owners were reportedly considering installing a hidden electric starter system to start the car so they could still drive it into old age! Cranking the massive 1-cyl. was said to be hard work…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *