Jake Wimberley's License Plates

County Hunting

A common specialty of collectors is "county hunting," where a collector seeks a plate from every county in a given state. At least 23 states have used some form of county identification on their plates at one time or another. This may be the name simply being written on the plate, or it may be a code used as part of the serial. These forms of identification are usually recognized by motorists, especially when (for example) all the plates from one county begin with the same number. Some states have also explicitly assigned blocks of serials to a particular county, and that knowledge can be used to determine the source of a plate. This type of system is often not well-known to the general public, nor even to many collectors.

Mississippi has shown the county name on its general-issue plates with every issue since 1941. Above is a sampling of counties from the 2003 base. One of the challenges posed by county hunting is the fact that some counties are much more common than others due to a higher number of registrants--especially in states where most of the population lives in a small number of urban areas. As of 2010, roughly a third of Mississippi's population lived in just 6 of the state's 82 counties (Hinds, Harrison, DeSoto, Rankin, Jackson, Madison). So most collectors will tell you that Mississippi is a tough nut to crack as far as county hunting goes. Some states pose a challenge simply by sheer numbers: Kentucky has 120 counties, Georgia 159!

Collectors may choose to seek out all counties for a particular base or year. The above would be a good start for such a collector. Others are less specific (see below).

More Mississippi county madness! The plate at the lower right is a truck plate, which uses a different serial format.
A selection of Georgia counties, one from each of the last six bases issued there.
Iowa used numeric county codes from the 1920s until the 1975 base was phased out in 1978. Clockwise from upper left: Scott, Shelby, Wright, Sioux. It appears that the counties were numbered in alphabetic order.
Kansas began using two-letter abbreviations for county names as part of its serials in 1951. When the state went to an 'ABC-123' format in 1989, people were familiar enough with the abbreviations that they were kept in the form of a decal at the upper left corner, no longer part of the serial but just there for informational purposes. The four plates above are from Nemaha, Bourbon, Russell, and Ellsworth (clockwise from upper left).
Since 1932, Idaho has used county codes that follow an alphabetic system. Counties that are the only one starting with a particular letter use that letter. If two or more counties start with the same letter, the letters are prefixed with a number indicating the order. So, "2M" above is Minidoka County (Madison comes before it alphabetically and is therefore "1M.") Clockwise from there, we have Kootenai, Shoshone, and Bonner.

last updated 2011.10.31 :: return home