Heritage licence plates have become a booming industry, with investors and collectors throwing down serious cash for rare sets.
A set of Victorian heritage plates with the number 96 were sold to a collector for $830,000 at an online auction last week arranged by the company Shannons.
“I was ecstatic and very please to see that price,” said Shannons national auctions manager Christophe Boribon.
“It reinforced the strength of the marketplace at the moment.”
That marketplace is populated by people looking for rare and eye-catching plates to fit on cars or keep as assets. And it can be a sound investment – there is a finite supply of legacy plates, and the interest in them has only been growing over the past few decades.
They can often be more expensive than the cars they adorn.
A record was set in 2017 when a set of NSW plates with the number 4 sold for $2.45m.
The lower the number on the plate, the more sought after it tends to be. Since there can be only nine single-digit plates per state, and 90 double-digit ones, those sets tend to be the most expensive.
“As a rule of thumb, the lower the number, the more valuable,” Mr Boribon said.
“Unless it’s got a sequence of numbers that’s appealing to various buyers – 88, 22, 11, and so on – or round numbers, like 10, 20 or 30.”
The Victorian 96 set was the priciest in the high two-digit range that Mr Boribon could recall.
The previous owner had held them for around 40 years, and they were first issued around 1910, the same year Victoria first issued licence plates, Mr Boribon said.
When someone buys a set of plates, it’s the number itself and the right to claim it as one’s own that’s important – not the actual piece of metal.
“The plates are replaceable, if they get damaged or stolen you can always replace them. What you’re paying for is the right to display the plates,” Mr Boribon said.
In his two decades working with number plates, Mr Boribon has seen prices rise steadily. He said a set of Victorian plates with the numbers 14, 15 and 16 sold for $75,000 a piece in 1998.
Today, they are worth $1.5m each.
“Unlike when you invest in a property, this involves no insurance or maintenance, none of that,” he said.
“It’s a piece of tin and a contract, that’s it.”