Published On: Tue, Mar 28th, 2017

President Trump’s license plate controversy

In his short but eventful reign as US president, Donald Trump has courted plenty of controversy. From his extreme vetting programme, to his war of words with Mexico’s president over ‘the wall’. However, his first but by no means least important spat, wasn’t with a nation or religious group but with collectors of personalised number plates. Here’s everything you need to know about Trump’s license plate fallout.

The history of presidential number plates

In January, Donald J Trump was set to become America’s first president since Herbert Hoover way back in 1929 to decline to produce special license plates for the vehicles in his inauguration parade.

Each and every inauguration, special number plates are created. However, Donald Trump’s team announced in early January that he had no plans to follow this very American tradition. This revelation sparked outrage with presidential number plate collectors who have spent decades trying to acquire a complete set.

However, it seems Donald Trump uncharacteristically recanted at the last-minute, making a personalised Trump number plate complete with his slogan, “Make America Great Again”, although that day his Cadillac limousine had a plain “1” in its plate. Why was the President of The United States of America forced to go back on his original plan, and why do people care so much about collecting number plates?

Why do people collect the presidential license plates?

First and foremost, they’re collectables. Not only are they valuable, there can also be slightly stranger reasons people may want to collect the president’s vanity plates.

“I’m sure this is just like cocaine,” said Charlie Gauthier, collector of presidential inaugural plates, “once you get addicted to this stuff, you just keep going. If you have plates that were issued to a president and a vice president of the United States, that’s a pretty cool thing to have in your house.”

But it’s not just presidential plates that enthusiasts are keen to collect. Last year in the UK, the personalised number plates market exceeded £100 million for the first time ever. Personal Registration Specialists Click4Reg, who sell personalised number plates online, suggest that emphasising their individuality is one of the main reasons people collect.

This aim to obtain individuality through number plates has earned them the nickname ‘vanity plates’. This is where presidential plates differ; often they’re a unique way to collect pieces of history, each one tells it’s own story and provides an insight to the politics of the time, from Trump’s catchphrase to Clinton’s 1997 slogan ‘Building a bridge to the 21st century’.

Why presidential number plates are big business

Of course collecting presidential plates isn’t just a way to collect pieces of history, or in Mr Gauthier’s case, get that terrible terrible buzz. They’re also big bucks.

The number plates from the inauguration are almost impossible to get hold of, however there are other collectables out there. For instance, pair of licence plates from the car that drove John F Kennedy when he was assassinated sold in 2015 at auction for $100,000.

It’s not just presidential number plates that make for big business and often very shrewd investments. For example, the number plate F1, bought for £440,000 by car tycoon Afzal Khan is now valued at over £10 million.

If Mr Khan decided to sell it, it would be the most expensive number plate ever bought. But at the moment that record goes to Saeed Abdul Ghaffer Khouri, who in 2008 bought the “1” plate for a cool £7 million. Asked why he spent so much on the plate, Mr Khouri replied: “I bought it because it’s the best number.”

Perhaps Trump’s number plates will rival that figure in the future. Last year, a man in Melbourne, Australia, tried to cash in on Trump’s presidency by putting his personalised ‘TRUMP’ license plate on gumtree for $250,000. Although the plates are unlikely to sell for that sum, he is bound to make a substantial profit on the $500 he paid for them in the 1990s.