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The $14m License Plate

 There is a surge of excitement among owners of low digit plates.  Of course, a fair amount of license plates with the number 1 do exist.  Every state or territory which issues license plates has one.  But no other plate is like this ONE.  Never has another plate sold for such a high price, over fourteen million dollars.

The fourteen million dollar License Plate

 This ordinary half-pound of metal was sold at auction where a determined 25 year old buyer paid $14.2 million dollars for one license plate, one with the number one.  This was an unprecedented price paid for a license plate and it shocked many people.  The seemingly reckless abandon of paying $14 million for a license plate was criticized as a frivolous waste of a large sum of money.  Fortunately, the proceeds will go to a charity benefiting victims of traffic accidents. 

 The buyer of this license plate is now “number 1”.  He is the king of the road in a country where the lower the number on your license plate, the higher your perceived status. Status was for sale and he bought it.

 The plate has been referred to as a vanity plate.  This fourteen million dollar license plate exemplifies vanity.  The winner did not buy this plate as an investment, to reap a higher reward down the road.  The buyer bought this plate purely for his own vanity.  His bumper shines more brightly today.

 The price paid illustrates an important economic lesson.  There is nothing inherent in the metal and paint on this license plate to make it worth fourteen million dollars.  There is a scarcity value for sure, as there can only be one number one.  But, EVERY license plate is unique; each plate has unique numbers, though usually more of them.  Every state in the USA issues a license plate with the number one.  Single digit plates are coveted, however, none have ever sold for anywhere near fourteen million dollars.  Just because something is rare or unique does not mean it is valuable.  Astronomical value is created only when scarcity is coupled with strong demand for an item.  Kind of like oil prices. 

 The high bidder boasted that he had no competition for this plate, he was determined that it would be his.  Well, that’s not true.  Other bidders also wanted to be number one. They bid along with him, up until the $14.2m price was determined to be the limit of the plate's value.  Ironically, it was the #2 bidder who determined the value of #1, when he ceased to bid more.  In fact, the winning bidder later revealed that he was prepared to pay up to $27 million dollars for #1. 

 What is different about this record-setting plate price is where the #1 license plate was sold and where it will appear on the road, in United Arab Emirates, specifically Abu Dhabi.  Abu Dhabi is the richest city in the world.  It has less citizens than Milwaukee Wisconsin, but AD sits on almost 10% of the world's oil.  This is a city of noveau rich. Not until 1958 was the world's fifth largest oil reserve discovered, below Abu Dhabi.  Eureka!  The citizens of Abu Dhabi now have over $1 trillion invested abroad; over $17m per citizen on average.  This is a place where big things happen and brash action is the norm, the perfect place for a $14m license plate.

 NUMBER FIVE.  But why did Numero Uno sell for so much?  The price bar for what the #1 was worth was set in an earlier Abu Dhabi auction where the number 5 license plate sold for $6.8m.  Is #1 worth twice as much as # 5?  Of course it is!  Unless the government were to issue a number zero plate.  That could cause some consternation to uno-plate owners.  But claiming “I’m a zero” will never have the same cachet as “I am number one”.

 Less is more.  The $14 million dollar #1 license plate is not adorned with beautiful artwork or jewels.  It is unique, but you would be hard-pressed to call it beautiful.  The money was not paid for the #1 license plate itself, it was to purchase the status of owning the plate.  Rumor has it this plate will soon appear on the owner's Pagini.  Sweet!

 If a rock bounces up and scratches the #1 plate or if it is stolen from the owner’s vehicle, he will simply have another one made.  No big deal, he will still be the only person legally using number ONE on his vehicle. 

NUMBER SIX - Do I hear $675,000?   In early 2008, the Delaware license plate with the number 6 was sold at auction for $675,000.  Recently Delaware #17 sold for about $300k and in 1994 #9 was sold for $185k.  In the UK a license plate with 'F1' sold for about $875k.  FYI, PlatesUSA has a few plates with 'FU' for less than $15 :).

DOUBLE ZERO -  PlatesUSA is the proud owner of the lowest number plate in Massachusetts, "Double Zero".  (The governor "only" has #1)  FYI, "MD" stands for Medical Doctor but we prefer "Minimal Digits". 

Like the #1 Abu Dhabi plate, DOUBLE ZERO may be legally registered on a vehicle.  Currently, we have no plans to register it for the PlatesUSA Pagini.  But perhaps it would look good on a 1964 Porsche 356 or a 1965 Corvette...

Do you have a one or two digit plate?  Send us a picture! Send email to

Looking for a special license plate for yourself?  Thousands of license plates are for sale at PlatesUSA.  Every one of our license plates is priced under $14 million...

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