Since the State of Louisiana started requiring license plates on motor vehicles in 1915, it would seem it would only require a little over 100 plates to have a complete set.
Charlton Bajon, an avid collector and a fourth generation pharmacist, is an expert on Louisiana license plates, says there were many years two license plates were needed for each registered vehicle – front and rear -- and several years when four plates were issued.
“In 1922, the state, likely looking for additional money, decided that if your car had less than or equal to 23 horsepower, you were required to have what they called a ‘low horsepower’ license plate,” he said. “If you automobile had more than 23 license plates, you got a high horsepower license plate.”
That meant the lifelong White Castle resident had to locate four plates for 1922 until 1929, when the state discontinued the requirement. Bajon said low power plates were one color and higher numbers while the high power plates were a different color and used the lower numbers on them.
“The plates were more expensive and gave you a little more prestige,” he said. Bajon added four of those years, 1922 through 1929, were also during a period when the state required front and rear plates. “So to have a full collection (which he is likely the only person to have) you need four plates for those years.”
Some of those years were embossed with “front and rear” to prevent car owners from using one of the two they received for one vehicle and the other for a different car, Bajon said. In 1930, the state removed the two categories, low and high horsepower.
The requirement of stamping front and rear plates continued through 1932, he continued.
“In 1942, after the United States entered World War II, the practice of using two plates for each vehicle was discontinued,” Bajon said. “They needed metal like crazy for the war effort.”
The year 1942 was the last year the state required two plates and in 1943, no plates were made by the state, again because of World War II, he said. “All of the metal at the time was being used to manufacture airplanes, tanks and other military vehicles.”
In 1944, the shortage of metal “was still pretty bad,” Bajon said, so the plate for that year was ingeniously made from bagasse from sugar mills in the state. Bagasse is the fiber left after raw sugar and molasses is made by the mills.
The determined collector located one of those plates from a vehicle owned by Bajon’s great uncle and his wife.
“The plate was in their garage when the garage caught fire,” Bajon said. “If you smell it, you can still smell the smoke from the fire.”
“In 1945, the war was still going on but things were getting better,” he continued later, so while the state returned to metal plates, only one was required.
Bajon said 1945 through 1949 the state was still only making one plate for a vehicle, but for a reason still unknown to the compulsive collector. In 1950 and 1951, Louisiana went back to requiring two plates, he said.
“That was it, though,” he said, referring to the requirement of two plates. “We haven’t had front and right plates since then.”
(Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of four articles on Bajon’s license plate collection. In the fourth and final installment of the series, the Post South will explain how Bajon singlehandedly returned the pelican, the official state bird, to license plates after a long spell of its absence.)