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July-August 2011

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Express Yourself: A License to Collect

Who among us wouldn't love to put a gorgeous plate of amazonite and smoky quartz on the rear deck of our car. Or hang a great Kombat cerussite from our rear-view mirror to enjoy the sparkle. Or, perhaps, mount the head of a small raptor on the hood to replace the manufacturer's ornament.

Fortunately, for those of us who crave to express ourselves via our vehicles, there is a safe, affordable option, without causing us to worry about that expensive specimen fading, cracking, or mysteriously disappearing. We have, instead, the license plate—that most public of public documents, composed of a combination of numbers and letters and, depending upon the state, generally made up of six to eight characters.

License plates date back to 1905 and early on began to take on a life of their own. Variation upon variation, tweak upon redesign seemed to happen on a regular basis. Personalized plates, or vanity plates, appeared on the scene officially around 1973. Since then, their popularity has soared, with customized plates reflecting everything from the auto owner's marital status (2BWED) to their occupation (ITCH DR) to their pursuits (AU DIGR) to their religious beliefs (1WTHGOD) to their favorite foods (2M8OS; MMMBACON) to their mathematical prowess (2N2R4) to their intelligence (DMBLND) to their financial standing (-CSHFLW). A Google search of “vanity license plates” turned up 45,200 entries. There is even an online Dictionary of Custom License Plate Terms ( for those needing a primer on the common “abbreviations” used in vanity plates.

Jeff Starr, a member of the Mineralogical Association of Dallas (MAD), teaches sixth-grade science in the Dallas area.

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