How did registration numbers start ?

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The following are the various United Kingdom styles of vehicle registration marks

  • The new ‘current style’ registrations
  • The ‘prefix style’ registrations
  • The ’suffix style’ registrations
  • The old  ‘dateless’ registrations

We will go back to the beginning, the early 1900’s to be more precise.

At the turn of the 20th Century when the number of vehicles on the roads started to increase, there were a few mishaps here and there, however, it was impossible to trace the vehicles involved. That’s when in 1903 the idea of the vehicle registration number plate was born.

Car number plates became compulsory as of 1st January 1904. the first car registration number ever to be issued was the historic A1, issued to Earl Russell who camped out overnight to make sure he got the A1 registration mark. Even then, there was a passion for special personal car registration number plates. Early personal car registration number plates were made up of up to 2 letters and 4 numbers, for example AB 1234.

The combinations of various 2 letters were allocated to different areas of the UK. Vehicle registration plates were issued as they were needed. When an area then got up to 9999 they would then issue another set of 2 letters and started over again.

Unlike today the early vehicle registration numbers did not identify the year in which they were issued. This is why they were referred to as dateless registration numbers.

This all worked very well, but, nobody had anticipated just how popular vehicles, especially cars would become. By the 1930’s the number and letter combinations for registration numbers began to run out. The answer was then to add another letter, for example ABC 123 so that each car registration number contained 3 letters instead of 2. This lasted for another 20 years.

In the 1950’s the letters and number combinations began to run out again, the solution? swap the numbers and letters around ie: 123 ABC.

By the 1960’s cars had become very very popular. Due to the fact that vehicle registration numbers were never to be re-issued, it soon became clear that this system was not going to last forever.

1963 along came the suffix style of vehicle registration numbers. For the very first time the vehicle registration number now indicated the year that it was issued.

Twenty years later yet again, we soon found ourselves running out of suffix letters to issue each year. The answer was then to reverse the format.

The new prefix vehicle registration numbers were introduced back in 1983, this time the first letter indicated the year of issue as opposed to the last letter that we had become used to.

As the supply of prefix letters came to an end, the format changed again back In 2001. This then made way for the new current style vehicle registration numbers. This time the numbers indicated the year of issue, starting with the number 51 in September of 2001.

We don’t need to tell you how popular personalised number plates have become, however one of the questions we get asked on a daily basis is “How do you know how much a number plate is worth?”.

The history of the registration mark is very important, as the older vehicle registrations will tend to be more sought after and therefore more valuable. You need to consder though that there are still many other factors which will affect the value of a registration mark.

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