Yes, Virginia, your first license plate was in 1906

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morphy's
Carl Armentrout paid $2 for the first automotive license plate issued by the Commonwealthy of Virginia in 1906. Now it's going to auction | Morphy's Auctions photos

It wasn’t until June 6, 1906, that the Commonwealth of Virginia issued its first automobile license plate. That plate — black with “1” and “VA.” in white — went to Carl Armentrout of Staunton, who paid $2 for lifetime use of that plate on his vehicles. 

The first of those vehicles was an Oldsmobile side-entrance touring car with a 2-cylinder, 20-horsepower engine — on which the license plate was mounted at the rear.

This information comes from Morphy’s, the auction house that on May 13-14 will offer that license plate among other lots in its Automobilia & Petroliana Auction in Denver, Pennsylvania.

The license plate is mounted in a frame with related items

“Absolutely unique and authentic, it is accompanied by an extensive archive of supportive documentation,” Morphy’s said, adding that “only one or two true #1 license plates exist from any of the United States.”

Morphy’s Auctions expects the No. 1 Virginia plate to sell for $20,000 to $40,000.

Armentrout was an engineer who at one point worked at his father’s auto parts store in Washington, D.C., helped to design and produce armaments for World War II, and was a skilled model maker who became known for his detailed drawings. He died in 1985.

The original Virginia #1 plate is mounted on a board that includes several other items, including newspaper clipping reporting that on July 3, 1908, Armentrout drove the Olds to Washington, D.C., but stopped to tow a disabled vehicle, yet still arrived by 9 o’clock in what was described as “a phenomenal run.”

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Another and undated clipping notes that he paid a $11.80 fine for nothing have a light on his car. 

Harbor Petroleum Products sign among highlighted lots

Morphy’s says its auction will include “premium-grade advertising signs, gas pumps and globes. The docket includes more than 800 lots including 530 signs, 35 gas pumps, 46 gas globes and other items.

Perhaps the item with the highest pre-sale estimated value is a 1940s porcelain sign advertising Harbor Petroleum Products of Long Beach, California. Morphy’s expects the sign to bring $40,000 to $60,000.

A restored 1930s Satam twin 2.5-gallon cylinder M04 visible gas pump in Texaco livery and is expected to bring $15,000 to $25,000. A restored Wayne 50 illuminating showcase gas pump with Super Shell one-piece globe could bring $12,000 to $20,000, the auction house said.

Gas globes include those for Sinclair Aircraft Gasoline and Husky Gasoline. 

The auction will be open to absentee, telephone and internet bidding. For more information, visit the Morphy’s website.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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