WASHINGTON: County-Coded Passenger Plates, 1958-1981

Washington has 39 counties, and from 1935 through 1981, all passenger car license plates could be distinguished based on their county of issuance. Through 1957, the county was identified by a one or two letter code. There were 40 codes used: one for each county, and a special code for mail-order plates from the main Department of Licensing office in Olympia.

Starting with the 1958 base plates, the passenger car numbering format was established as a three letter, three number combination. Most counties retained their same letter code, with a few exceptions. The system worked well, and was used again when all license plates were replaced statewide in 1963. Things held up until the late 1970s, when King, Pierce, and Spokane counties began to exhaust all their allotted letter assignments. It could be seen that the whole county coding system would not last much longer before becoming hopelessly complicated, so the state elected to cease manufacturing specially coded plates around 1980. Most of the remaining stocks of county coded plates were used up by the middle of 1981. By that time, plates were being manufactured in various alphabetical combinations that had not been previously assigned to any county's letter bloc.

About these plates
One of my collecting goals is to acquire at least one nice example of each different style of baseplate from each county representing the years 1958-1981. The plates shown below represent the current status of this project.

The green 1958 plates were all replaced in January 1963 with the dated "63" bases. Next came the bases with the state name spelled out in full. These appeared starting in 1965 and stopped being issued at the end of 1967 (note that some of the smaller counties never used up all their "63" plates by 1967, and thus there are no existing examples of the non-reflective ca. 1965-67 "WASHINGTON" variety). The final style is the reflective type with the state name at the top, which began to be issued in all counties starting in January 1968. All three of these kinds of green on white plates, from 1963 onward, remained valid for use until the end of 2000.

County 1958-62 base 1963-64 base 1965-67 base 1968-81 base
A King
B Pierce
C Spokane
D Snohomish
E Yakima
F Whatcom
G Clark
H Grays Harbor
I Kitsap
J Thurston
K Chelan
L Lewis
M Skagit
N Cowlitz
O Walla Walla
P Whitman
Q Clallam
R Benton
S Kittitas
T Lincoln
U Okanogan
V Pacific 65-67 baseplate not verified for this county
W Stevens 65-67 baseplate not verified for this county
X Mason 65-67 baseplate not verified for this county
Y Jefferson 65-67 baseplate not verified for this county
Z Klickitat
AD Adams
AN Asotin
CO Columbia
DO Douglas
FN Franklin
FY Ferry 65-67 baseplate not verified for this county
GA Garfield 65-67 baseplate not verified for this county
GT Grant
IS Island
PO Pend Oreille 65-67 baseplate not verified for this county
SA Skamania 65-67 baseplate not verified for this county
SJ San Juan 65-67 baseplate needed for this county
WA Wahkiakum 65-67 baseplate not verified for this county

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