Rhode Island Motor Vehicle Dealer License Plates


Distinctive R.I. license plates for vehicle dealers and manufacturers were introduced in mid-1904 when the vehicle registration program was implemented. From 1904 through mid-1912 dealer plates were marked with an A prefix, and since mid-1912 they have featured a numbering format comprised of a dealer registration number followed by a serial letter. All letters are used on dealer plates, and for a number of years (and possibly still today) replacements for lost plates are made with a double-letter suffix as discussed below.

There was a single dealer plate type until mid-1979 at which time it was split into New Car Dealer and Used Car Dealer. Each number is issued on only one type or the other. Courtesy (i.e. "vanity") dealer plates have never been permitted. More information about dealer plate history may be found in the type history timeline presented below the photos.

R.I. Dealer Plate Images
Pre-1953 Plates (collection incomplete)
Three-Year Plates Issued Since 1996 (collection incomplete)
R.I. Dealer Plate Information
  Replacement Dealer Plates

Pre-1953 Plates









1953-1995 Plates








1965 first style - replaced after about six weeks
1965 second style


1968 first style - issued in pairs, then recalled
1968 second style - issued singly





1979 first style - 1975 plate used for three months

1979 second style - New Car and Used Car types introduced on experimental plastic plates used for nine months


Three-Year Plates Issued Since 1996

The first of several consecutively-issued three-year plates was introduced for new car dealers and used car dealers in Jan. 1996, although for the first year it was not evident that they would be revalidated for 1997, nor at the end of 1997 that they would also be used during 1998. Examples of the 1996-98 plate were not collected by the RMV when new dated “99” plates were issued in Dec. 1998 so 1996-98 plates are relatively plentiful among collectors.

Beginning with the 1999-2001 issues, however, dealers have reportedly been able to obtain plates of the next issue only to the extent they relinquish their expiring plates, which has made acquiring examples of them almost impossible. This is in sharp contrast to prior to 1999, when collectors usually could obtain as many plates as they liked just by visiting dealers on the first or second business day of each new year before they were discarded.













Dealer Plate History Timeline

June 1904. Rhode Island becomes the second state (after Mass.) to introduce the concept of vehicle registrations and uniform state-issue license plates. Distinctive plates are issued for use on privately-owned vehicles, vehicles operated by manufacturers and dealers, and motorcycles, with registration numbers in these classes assigned sequentially beginning at 1, A.1, and B.1, respectively. The first plates, of a style issued through June 1908, are undated, white-on-black porcelain enamel markers issued in pairs. They were procured on behalf of the state and provided to motorists by Benjamin S. Clark, a dealer in vehicles and auto parts and accessories whose agency was located on the earliest “automobile row” in the state, the portion of Dorrance St. in Providence where the Biltmore Hotel was erected in the early 1920s.

Through April 1912 a distinctive A-prefix number was assigned to each dealer, which then purchased as many plates as was required with that number. Numbers A.1 through A.29 were assigned during 1904. The first number of 1905, A.30, was issued to Flint Motor Car. Co., of 212 Union St., Providence. Its proprietor, Dutee W. Flint, became a prominent member of the automobile trade and business community in Providence. One of Mr. Flint's A.30 plates is pictured at the top of this page.

June 1908. A new style of plate, also an undated, white-on-black porcelain enamel issue, is introduced. This plate style is longer than the 1904-08 issue and continued to use the A-prefix numbering format. Both the 1904-08 issue and 1908 plate were used simultaneously until April 1912, the 1908 issue being provided only to those purchasing a new registration.

April 1912. New undated, black-on-white porcelain enamel plates are introduced and issued in pairs to replace all 1904-08 and 1908-12 plates then in use. With this new plate comes the numbering system still in use under which each dealer is assigned a number and then receives as many serially-lettered plates as necessary.

1918-1920. The era of undated, multi-year plates comes to an end as of Dec. 31, 1917, when flat steel plates dated “1918” are introduced. Plates of this flat style, made by a company in Ohio, are issued annually for 1918, 1919, and 1920.

1921-1942. Dated, embossed steel plates are issued annually in pairs. Plates of odd-numbered years are black on white and the opposite color scheme is used for even-numbered years. The type name DEALER is added on 1923 plates whereas in previous years (since 1912) the plate type is evident only by presence of a suffix letter to the registration number.

1943-1946. Metal conservation initiatives imposed due to World War II result in plates being used for multiple years revalidated by windshield stickers and dated metal tabs.

1946-1964. A combination of single- and multi-year plates are used. Colors continue to alternate between white on black and black on white, although the 1946-47 is black on silver. Plastic validation stickers are introduced with the three-year 1961 plate.

1965-1967. In an ill-fated effort to make dealer plates more discernible from plates of other types an unusual red-on-blue color scheme is introduced in April 1965. Complaints about them lead to their replacement with traditional black-on-white plates after only six weeks of use, resulting in there being two styles of dated “65” plate. The 1965-67 plates are the last R.I. dealer plates to be issued in pairs.

1968-1975. Dated “68” white-on-black plates are issued singly from April 1968 through early 1973 and are validated annually with stickers. They may be revalidated through March 1975, although in early 1973 a distinct black-on-white plate, the first to have the type name displayed vertically as DLR, include a slogan, and have a background covered with reflective material is introduced and issued for two years only for new registrations.

1975-1979. Distinctive white-on-green plates are used beginning in April 1975 and are validated annually with stickers. They are revalidated during March 1979 for the April 1979-March 1980 registration year but then replaced shortly thereafter, in June 1979, with separate plates for new car dealers and used car dealers. These plates are embossed plastic and presumably were issued as an experiment to determine the durability of this material. They are not marked as to the dealer type, but new car dealer plates are yellow and used car dealer plates are orange.

1979-1995. Distinctively-colored, embossed aluminum plates are issued annually for new car dealers and used car dealers. All except those of 1987 are dated. The 1987 plates are undated because the die needed to emboss the year designation was not received in time to manufacture the plates. Plates of 1992 and 1993 were made in Massachusetts, with dies used to make plates of that state, due to a disturbance at the prison where R.I. plates were then made that halted plate production from Sept. 1991 through Mar. 1993.

Since 1996. Three-year plates were introduced in Jan. 1996. In most cases they are dated and validated for their second and third years of use by large, vertical-format stickers.


Replacement Dealer Plates

When a dealer plate is reported to the RMV as having been lost or otherwise not able to be used a replacement is made and issued with the same number as the lost plate except for that the letter is presented twice. This practice is known to have been applied at least from the mid-1980s through the late 1990s.


Please click here to reach my page about District of Columbia license plates.

This page last updated on January 1, 2014

copyright 2014 Eastern Seaboard Press
Information and images on this Web site may not be copied or reproduced
in any manner without consent of the owner.
For information, send an e-mail to admin@DCplates.net