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‘Incredibly Rare’ Chicago License Plate From 1904 Is Up For Auction

The license plate — a simple black-and-white plate that says "-1-" — is an extremely rare aluminum plate from 1904, when the city made and issued its own license plates.

One of the city's first license plates is going up for sale.
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CHICAGO — One of the city’s first license plates is up for sale at an auction that ends Sunday.

The license plate — a simple black-and-white plate that says “-1-” — is an extremely rare aluminum plate from 1904, when the city made and issued its own license plates, according to a news release from Donley Auctions. It’s expected to sell for $4,000-$6,000, according to the auctioneers.

The plate will only be up for auction online, as will more than 600 other license plates and city vehicle tags, according to Donley Auctions. The auction lots will begin to close noon Sunday.

Chicago issued its own license plates 1903-1907, and they remain “incredibly rare” because few were distributed, according to the auctioneers. Of those, the aluminum plates from 1904 are the rarest.

“Only a few of these have ever turned up, and what makes them special besides its beautiful, original condition, is that it is plate No. 1 and was issued to Chicagoan Arthur J. Eddy,” according to Donley Auctions.

Chicago stopped issuing its own plates in 1907 after the state took over license plates.

Eddy was an early car enthusiast who was the first Chicagoan to get a license plate. He wrote books about cars and helped found the Chicago Motor Club, according to the auctioneers. He’s also known for his modern art collection, which his family donated to the Art Institute after his death in 1920.

Eddy’s plate eventually found its way to another car enthusiast: Lee Hartung, of suburban Glenview. Hartung died in 2011 and most of his paraphernalia was sold — but the best of his license plate and tag collection was kept and “lay forgotten until recently,” according to Donley Auctions.

It’s now those items that are going on sale.

The online catalog for the auction includes the “-1-” license plate from 1904, as well as other colorful historical items, including a tag from 1908 that says it’s for a “two horse” vehicle, a metal sign that calls Chicago a “peach” of a city and a vintage license plate topper that urges other drivers to “Watch WGN and Mutual.”

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