Jake Wimberley's License Plates

Tennessee and Kansas Die-Cuts

In the 1930s, when plates were generally large by present American standards, and much longer across than they were vertically, someone in Tennessee noticed a similarity between the shape of a license plate and the shape of the state. So in 1936, the state issued a plate die-cut in a shape rather faithfully following the shape of the state. The Mississippi River meandered along the left end, the Smokies jutted their way along the right at a slightly lower angle than the left end, and the "notches" along the northern border, both in the northwest and at the eastern tip, were included. By 1938 the authorities condensed the shape into a simpler parallelogram and reduced the size of the plate altogether. The non-rectangular design was unique among American plates of the time.

Kansas authorities, being as the state is nearly rectangular anyway, began cutting out the upper right corner of their plates in 1951 to match the portion of the border formed by the Missouri River. Special renewal tabs were issued in 1952 and '53 to cover up the date in the corner near the cutout, so the tabs were cut appropriately. All-new plates were issued in 1954 and '55.

Both states were forced to stop using their unique designs in 1956 as the U.S. Government mandated that all states use a standard 12-by-6 inch rectangular shape with the mounting holes in the same places. Tennessee's 1956-dated plate was still state-shaped, while Kansas's conformed to the new standard. The difference is probably due to issuance practices; Tennessee's plates were probably issued during 1955 while Kansas waited until after the start of the new year.

The Tennessee plate shown above is a dealer plate used on a vehicle being test-driven or otherwise demonstrated for sales purposes. Tennessee used county numbers on all state-shaped plates from 1939 onwards; the serial format of the dealer plates in 1952 was the county number, followed by a letter denoting the dealer to which the plate was issued. Then followed a number indicating different plates issued to the dealer; this one was the dealer's third plate.

With its state-shaped plates, Kansas used the same two-letter codes it still includes on plates as of 2011. The example shown has been repainted by a previous owner using what appears to be "model" paint. Repainting plates generally adds little to no value unless the painting is done professionally, restoring a finish nearly identical to the original. Some collectors offering repainting services sandblast the old paint and any rust off the plates, then actually use a roller painting system salvaged from a license plate factory.

last updated 2011.10.17 :: return home