License plates – good for analogy and cool as designed objects

When I teach about Library of Congress call numbers, I like to show a photo of an Oregon license plate – the discussion that results – why do states need to use letters AND numbers? so there are enough combinations so every car gets a unique plate! – really helps to explain why LC is so complicatedly funny looking. It’s not a perfect analogy – license plates are random, LC isn’t – but it works. (I write much more about using analogies in the library instruction classroom here).

Anyway, it’s finally Finals Week so I have some time to tackle the to-do list before my summer break – one of my oldest notes (from, like, January) reminds me to design my own made-up number license plate graphic, just in case my Google-imaged Oregon plate really belongs to a real car. You never know.

Being a typography geek, I don’t want to mess around: I want to use the REAL font for Oregon plates. But who knew the hunt would be so interesting? I found a complete history of Oregon plate design (we’re one of the only states to manufacture plates in-state) and so much more …

Did you know that there is no official US license plate font? Seems weird since there are strict typeface rules for all other road signage. But no: it’s up to states to design their own plates (which makes sense if you’ve ever driven in Virginia).

For a fascinating history of plate design, check this out:

So much to think about here: embossed lettering v. digital (flat) lettering – does it make a difference in terms of road visibility?

I’ll leave you with an international gallery of license plates, including historical designs:

Happy Finals Week! Drive safe!!