Want to own Illinois’ first automobile license plate? it’s on auction now

Clip-clapping horses pull wagons and buggies, road cars collide, hordes of pedestrians wander wherever they want and automobiles weave through the chaos.

Downtown Chicago traffic in the early 1900s has been described as a kind of hell. The streets themselves were equally terrifying.

“We have to fix the roads or make the roads better. So we have to generate some revenue to do that,” said Mike Donnelly, explaining the thinking at the time.

Donnelly is one of the owners of Donnelly Auctions in Union in the northwest suburbs, which this week auctioned off a collection of 600 vintage license plates and city vehicle tags. They came from the estate of the late Glenview car enthusiast Lee Hartung.

Among the collection’s “holy grail” is a 1904, license plate issued by the City of Chicago with the number 1 stamp on it. It was, Donnelly said, the first automobile license plate issued in Illinois.

“The more I delved into it, the more I realized how important this 1904 was,” Donnelly said. “Nobody licensed anything because there were too few cars.”

Donnelly said that Plate was a well-known lawyer and the founder of the Chicago Motor Club, Arthur J. Eddie was issued.

In a time when drivers wore white “duster” coats to keep their suits clean, license plates were previously made of aluminum but were considered too flimsy. Donnelly said the city soon began making them from solid brass, before the state took over in 1907—which explains why the city’s plates are so rare.

The bidders seem to agree. As of Friday morning, the highest bid for the No. 1 license plate had reached $3,750. According to the auction house, bidding closes on Sunday afternoon.

To learn more about Plate and Auctions, visit: www.donleyauctions.com,

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