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Private Number Plate Checker & The History of the Number Plate

Every car has them - DVLA number plates. But what is their origin? How did they become organised as they are?

The first ever number plates were issued in 1903, the very first being DY 1, and soon followed by A 1. This article describes how number plates have evolved through the ages.

A Brief History of Number Plates

Car License plates have had various guises and formats since they first were displayed on motor vehicles since the early 1900’s.

The very first license plates were issued to the elite and County Councils for the Mayoral vehicles used in the area. It goes without saying that back in the early 1900’s there were far fewer cars around than there are now!

In late 1903 and 1904 some of the first issued were prestigious plates such as A 1, issued to Earl Russell in London, whereas F 1 was registered to Essex County Council and G 1 to Glasgow. (See more detailed history of “single-single” plates here). However, the very first to be issued is said to be DY 1 to Hastings, issued 23rd November 1903.

Number Plate Types in the UK

DATELESS: 1903-1962 (1-3 letters and 1-4 numbers) 2-6 characters. e.g. A 1 or XXX 999

SUFFIX: 1963-1982 (3 letters, number, single year letter). e.g. SUF 711X

PREFIX: 1983-2001 (Single year letter, number, 3 letters). e.g. P12 EFX

CURRENT: 2001-2049 (2 letters, 2 digit year number, 3 letters). e.g. CU12 ENT

The Prefix and Current combinations were originally issued by DVLA Swansea with millions sold since 1989, either in general releases or if the mark is deemed to be in high demand via DVLA Auction Sales. There are two new Current style releases every calendar year for newly registered vehicles 1st March to 31st August bearing the year as the numeric (02, 03, 04 up to current year) and 1st September to 28th February using the numeric year preceded by 5,6,7. For example; 63 was used for September 2013 to February 2014, and 72 was used for September 2022 to February 2023.

We are often asked when a number plate was issued, or where a certain number plate came from. With the help of Brian Heaton, the late Noel Woodall, and the data compiled by them and others over 30 years ago, CarReg have worked to extract this data (almost 90,000 combinations) from their book titled “Where’s it from? When was it issued?” and put it into a database so visitors to our website can enter a registration to check the history of a cherished number they own, or one they are perhaps looking to acquire.

Please don’t worry if the plate you check doesn’t produce any known area or issue date. This can be for the simple reason it was sold at DVLA Auction at some point between 1989 (when DVLA started holding auctions) and the current day. We are working on adding this data to the system in the future!

Try our ’Plate Checker’ today and find out where your initials originate from.

Here’s a small selection of our historic stock plates:

More About CarReg

CarReg works closely with DVLA to complete registration transfers as quickly and efficiently as possible. We also have a sophisticated number plate checker system that works with the DVLA anytime someone runs a number plate check.

CarReg is a DVLA-registered supplier of personal car registrations and number plates and is listed on the DVLA Registrations website. All number plates supplied by CarReg comply with DVLA’s prescribed standards and regulations.

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