November 20, 2013
In 1928, Massachusetts had one of the worst fishing seasons the state had ever seen. In that same year, a new license plate design included a fish symbol, which pointed away from the state’s abbreviation, “Mass.” Superstitious residents blamed the fish symbol and after the DMV employee responsible was fired and the design updated with the fish pointing towards the word “Mass,” the fishing industry again saw prosperous years. This is one example of the many license plate stories explored in the new exhibit, License Plates: Unlocking the Code, running Nov. 26, 2013 – March 30, 2014 at the Petersen, the anchor of Los Angeles’s Miracle Mile.
Celebrating the centennial of the State of California issuing its own license plates – which began in 1914—the exhibit will feature over 220 plates displayed with numerous plate-related ephemera and memorabilia that reflects culture, values, politics, marketing and superstitions found all over the world. Some of the stories and facts include:
- The earliest automobiles were given numbers and it was up to the owner to figure out a way to display them on the vehicle. Metal or wooden numbers affixed to a piece of leather was common in the early 1900s.
- Specific plates manufactured between 1909 and 1913 through the Automobile Club of Southern California and the American Automobile Association are nicknamed “Mickey Mouse Plates” for their resemblance to the famous Disney Character.
- Prior to 1972, every province of Argentina had its own unique plate design. A license plate from the Neuguen region features an intricate waterfall design—and all plates were hand painted.
The Petersen’s Chief Curator, Leslie Kendall, worked with three major license plate collectors including respected license plate historian, Jeff Minard, to create this exhibit. “It was a pleasure to help create this exhibit,” said Minard. “There really is educational value to each plate in this display, and at the same time, these unique pieces are displayed as art for everyone to enjoy.”
Other current exhibits at the Petersen include Pickups: The Art of Utility, Fins: Form without Function, the Hollywood Gallery: Cars of Film and Television and others. Another new exhibit at the Petersen is An Icon Re-Envisioned: The Jaguar Sports Car which features some of Jaguars most iconic vehicles, from the 1937 SS100 to the new 2014 F-TYPE V8 S in a display running from Dec. 7, 2013 – Feb 16, 2014. The museum is also offering tours of Vault—the underground storage area that houses the vehicles not currently on display including many of the collection’s “crown jewels,” like the “Round Door” Rolls-Royce, a rare Jaguar XKSS formerly owned by Steve McQueen and a 1939 Bugatti given to the Shah of Iran as a wedding present.