Last week I wrote about a Mt. Pleasant man who had collected the license plates from all 50 states (although there seems to be a question about whether his “Alaska plate” is really from Alaska.) I was quick to get a call from a Moulton, IA man, way down in Appanoose County, who has all the license plates for Appanoose County, from 1904 (the year vehicles were first registered) to 2004, a hundred year’s worth.
Tracey Corder is 92 years young. I asked him why he stopped collecting Appanoose County tags after 100 years. With a cackle, he said he was going to live to be a hundred, by golly. I believe he will. His son, Butch, and grandson, Rusty, look after him, and help with his license plate collection.
How did he get started collecting Appanoose County plates? A garage was being tore down, and the owner had about 20 Appanoose County tags tacked up on the wall. Tracey asked him what he was going to do with the plates. When the man indicated that he was going to throw the tags out, Tracey went to work taking them down. The rest of the collection, he found, took off his own vehicles, traded for, bought at auctions, or stole. A friend of his was hunting, and found an old license plate out in the timber. He asked Tracy if he wanted it. “You betcha,” said Tracey.
Iowa began registering vehicles in 1904. However, the state was not making license plates yet. It was up to the owner of the vehicle to put the registration number on the vehicle, anywhere was fine. Many vehicle owners went with a leather plate with aluminum characters. Tracey has four of these leather plates in mint condition.
According to Tracey, the state originally considered making license plates good for life, especially since cars at this time were only a toy for the rich, and it was doubted very many people would own a car.
Starting in 1911, Iowa began issuing actual license plates in an attempt to make the plates more uniform. However, there was still no standard size. The longer the registration number, the longer the plate.
In 1922, Iowa began putting county numbers on license plates. The county numbers were based on the county’s population, in reverse order. The larger the population, the lower the number. As populations increased or decreased, so could the county number. In 1922, Appanoose was county number 9; in 1923, it was 10; 1924, was 11; and in 1926 it jumped to 13, indicating that other counties were growing in population faster than Appanoose.
In 1927, Iowa decided to alphabetize counties, giving counties a corresponding number. Thus, Appanoose County became number 4, a numbering system the state maintained until 1979. At that time, the state began issuing stickers to be placed over the yearly date. The county’s name was put at the bottom of the plate.
Prior to 1953, the only word that appeared on the plates was “Iowa.” In 1953, the state added the slogan “The Corn State” to the bottom of the plate. The year and “Iowa” were on the top. The slogan remained on the plates until 1955.
All plates are still stamped at the Men’s Reformatory in Anamosa, a tradition which began in 1911.
The shed where Tracey’s license plates are stored is a little jaunt from his home. Because of his age, and the condition of his yard in winter, Tracey drove his lawn tractor to the shed to show off his license plate collection. No, the tractor does not have an Appanoose County license plate.