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Washington, D.C. Diplomatic License Plates

Distinctive District of Columbia license plates were issued to diplomats for 50 years. Before they were introduced in 1935 many members of the diplomatic corps used low-number passenger registrations. (Click here to reach a discussion of this subject.) The type was abolished due to the mid-1984 introduction by the U.S. Dept. of State's Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) of a series of diplomat, consul, and diplomatic staff plates (as discussed on a separate page). The exact date by which all D.C. diplomatic plates had to be removed from service is unknown but because OFM plates began to be issued in July 1984 and it likely took about a year for the changeover to be accomplished we believe the last diplomatic plates likely were retired by mid-1985.

With only a few exceptions in the late 1960s the format, colors, and issuance timing of diplomatic plates duplicated those characteristics of general-issue D.C. passenger car plates. A second diplomatic type created in 1965 for embassy personnel not granted full diplomatic status is addressed separately from this page.

Detailed data about diplomatic plates and registrations is scant. Most of what we know has been determined based upon observation of surviving used examples. The first 150 diplomatic registrations were customarily assigned to ambassadors based upon seniority, resulting in plate no. 1 being issued to the ambassador with the longest tenure in Washington. During at least the 1960s and presumably throughout the 1970s the coveted first registration was assigned to Don Guillermo Sevilla Sacasa, who represented Nicaragua in Washington from 1943 through 1979. Click here to see a list of individuals and legations to which 1958 diplomatic plates were assigned.

The most complete collection of Washington, D.C. diplomatic license plates has been assembled by Kevin Gauthier, of Virginia. Most of the plates pictured on this page are from his collection.

1935 Diplomatic plate no. 133 1936 Diplomatic plate no. 327 1939 (exp. 2-29-40) Diplomatic plate no. 37
1942 (exp. 3-31-43) Diplomatic plate no. 474 1942 (dated to expire 3-31-43 and revalidated to expire 3-31-44) Diplomatic plate no. 703 1942 (dated to expire 3-31-43 and revalidated to expire 3-31-45) Diplomatic plate no. 792
1946 (dated to expire 3-31-47 and revalidated to expire 3-31-48) Diplomatic plate no. 1217 1948 (exp. 3-31-49) Diplomatic plate no. 691 1949 (exp. 3-31-50) Diplomatic plate no. 894
1950 (exp. 3-31-51) Diplomatic plate no. 36 1951 (exp. 3-31-52) Diplomatic plate no. 113 1952 (exp. 3-31-53) Diplomatic plate no. 476
1953 (exp. 3-31-54) Diplomatic plate no. 296 1953 (exp. 3-31-54) Diplomatic plate no. 2165 revalidated for 1954 (exp. 3-31-55) 1955 (exp. 3-31-56) Diplomatic plate no. 1284
1956 (exp. 3-31-57) Diplomatic plate no. 182 1957 (exp. 3-31-58) Diplomatic plate no. 1672 1958 (exp. 3-31-59) Diplomatic plate no. 336
1959 (exp. 3-31-60) Diplomatic plate no. 787 1960 (exp. 3-31-61) Diplomatic plate no. 703 1961 (exp. 3-31-62) Diplomatic plate no. 125
1962 (exp. 3-31-63) Diplomatic plate no. 749 1963 (exp. 3-31-64) Diplomatic plate no. 1080 1964 (exp. 3-31-65) Diplomatic plate no. 666

The expiration date of 1963 diplomatic plates was extended by two months, to May 31, 1964, at the request of the State Department. A February 1964 memorandum prepared by Director of Motor Vehicles George A. England and approved by the Commissioners on Feb. 11 reads as follows: "The State Department, through the Assistant Secretary of State for Administration, has asked that the period of validity of current diplomatic tags be extended for a period of two months during which time a new system for dealing with diplomatic traffic violators may be developed and evaluated. I recommend that this request be granted, and further that all applications for diplomatic tags be sent to the State Department, as has been the usual practice, and that the tags be issued when the applications showing diplomatic accreditation are returned to us." This situation may be connected to the introduction of a second plate type for use by foreign representatives, the WN series, for the 1965 registration year. Click here for information about WN-prefix plates.

1965 (exp. 3-31-66) Diplomatic plate no. 1543 1966 (exp. 3-31-67) Diplomatic plate no. 3146 1967 (exp. 3-31-68) Diplomatic plate no. 4807

For the 1968 registration year all diplomatic plates were replaced with undated, plain black-on-white plates such as number 38 pictured below. Less clear is what was used during the 1969 through 1973 registration years.

Most surviving diplomatic plates from this era were never issued or used. In fact, unissued diplomatic plates from this period, most of the 1968 base, are common because there was so much leftover stock that has made its way into the plate collecting hobby. Moreover, hobbyists have affixed used stickers from other plates to some of these unissued diplomatic plates in an attempt to make them look used and therefore more authentic, complicating efforts to determine what plate styles were actually used during the five registration years from 1969 through 1973.

During this period it appears that a distinction was made between a series of low-number diplomatic plates, those numbered 1 through 250, and all higher-numbered plates.

For the 1969 registration year new dated "3-31-70" plates are thought to have been issued for the first 250 registrations, and plate no. 74 pictured supports this belief. Undated 1968 baseplates numbered 251 and above are believed to have been revalidated for 1969 with black-on-yellow "3-31-70" stickers of the same style used for general-issue auto plates. There are, however, dated "3-31-70" diplomatic plates with numbers above 250, such as no. 5256 shown. These plates may have been made for new registrations issued during the year.

For 1970 (exp. 3-31-71) through 1972 (exp. 3-31-73) it is believed that dated plates were issued for registrations 1 through 250 and validation stickers were issued for registrations 251 and above, which is to say diplomatic plates dated "3-31-71," "3-31-72," and "3-31-73" with numbers above 250 are not believed to exist. Plates issued for new registrations are presumably either undated 1968 or dated 1969 (exp. 3-31-70) plates with the appropriate validation sticker.

For the 1973 registration year new dated "3-31-74" plates are thought to have been issued for all diplomatic registrations.

1968 (undated, exp. 3-31-69) Diplomatic plate no. 38 1969 (exp. 3-31-70) Diplomatic plate no. 74 1970 (1969 (exp. 3-31-70) plate revalidated to expire 3-31-71) Diplomatic plate no. 5256
1971 (exp. 3-31-72) Diplomatic plate no. 163 1972 (exp. 3-31-73) Diplomatic plate no. 9001 1973 (exp. 3-31-74) Diplomatic plate no. 477

From the 1974 registration year until the type was eliminated in the mid-1980s the issuance and replacement pattern of diplomatic plates follows that of most other types including general-issue passenger.

1974 (exp. 3-31-75) Diplomatic plate no. 866 1975 (exp. 3-31-76) Diplomatic plate no. 1380 1976 (exp. 3-31-77) Diplomatic plate no. 131
1977 (exp. 3-31-78) Diplomatic plate no. 92 1978 (exp. 3-31-79) Diplomatic plate no. 8899 1983 (exp. 3-31-84) Diplomatic plate no. 226

Responsibility for the registration of diplomatic vehicles was assumed by the federal government in mid-1984, as discussed on our page dedicated to Office of Foreign Missions plates. (Click here to get there.) Diplomatic plates then issued in 28 states and the District of Columbia were rendered obsolete within a year of the July or August 1984 introduction of OFM plates. Therefore, there likely are no D.C. diplomatic plates marked to expire later than the summer of 1985.



Three 1942 (exp. 3-31-43) Diplomatic platesIt is not uncommon for license plates of particular jurisdictions and years to exhibit variations in certain characteristics due to more than one manufacturer and/or production method having been used in order for the jurisdiction to be provided with the quantity of plates required. A good example may be seen in the three 1942 ("EX-3-31-43") plates shown here. (They're also shown near the top of this page, two of them with validation tabs, but we've repeated them here but without the tabs for comparative purposes.)

Dies used to emboss the registration number on plate no. 474 appear to be those used in the production of earlier plates of this type (see the 1936 and 1939 plates at the top of this page), a fact most evident in the first two letters. The stroke of the letters (DPL) on plate 474 is narrow compared to the two higher-number plates, and the composite image shown below illustrates slight differences in the appearance of city name. There are other variants of the D.C. 1942 plate, as well. For example, the expiration date on plate number 8370 pictured on our introduction to passenger car plates page was embossed with a die different than that used to make any the plates shown on this page.

What is most curious about these diplomatic plates is that one of them that features the earlier plate layout (with DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA centered at the top and the expiration date centered at the bottom) (no. 792) has a higher number than the plate with the later format (no. 703). With the existence of two plates of the same base and type in different formats one would expect the plate with the earlier format to have a lower number, an expectation based upon an assumption that the format was changed midway through the plate production process.

Detail of 1942 (exp. 3-31-43) Diplomatic plates 474 (top) and 792

Observant readers will also note evidence in the lower right portion plate number 703 that it was revalidated with a tab for 1943 (dated 44) or 1944 (dated 45) of the style issued for plates of the opposite format. Discoloration in the space surrounding where a long, passenger-plate-format tab was affixed is evident. Special tabs designed for display in the upper right corner of non-passenger plates were made but were apparently not issued to all plates of that format. is grateful to have been permitted to publish photographs of Washington, D.C. diplomatic license plates from the collection of Kevin Gauthier. We sincerely appreciate Mr. Gauthier's willingness to share his wonderful collection with us.

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