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The plate collector

Fairfax man’s lifetime collection has hundreds of license plates

Everett Hanson, 88, stands next to part of his 400 plus license plate collection, which he neatly displays on several portable hinged plywood panels for viewing.

Everett Hanson, 88, stands next to part of his 400 plus license plate collection, which he neatly displays on several portable hinged plywood panels for viewing.

If a collector could take you to all parts of the country without leaving home then Everett Hanson’s 400 plus license plate collection might be a good place to start.

Hanson, 88, of Fairfax, has been collecting vehicle license plates ever since his dad, Erland, handed him a pail full of plates one day, which sparked his interest in a hobby that grew when he bought his first car, a 1931 Model A Ford.

Born in 1928 and a 1947 high school graduate, Everett displayed a strong aptitude for engines, vehicles and farm-related equipment at an early age, which led him to work as a mechanic for George Nelson Equipment Co. in Fairfax from 1948-51.

He was drafted into the Army in February 1951 and attended 14 weeks of basic training at Ft. Ord, Calif. He then shipped out to Japan and spent three days riding out a typhoon on the trip.

His next stop was the Korean War, where he was assigned to duty with the 328th Ordinance Headquarters on the 38th Parallel as a clerk typist and records specialist. He reached the rank of sergeant before his discharge and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal.

He returned to work as a mechanic before becoming a farmer for the next 36 years until retiring in 1990. He also drove a gravel truck for his uncle Stanley Larson during this time. Today, he stays active by helping his son, Gary, farm, with field work and soybean seed cleaning at harvest time.

It was during those years when his automotive skills flourished, as he bought a 1928 Chevrolet in Wisconsin and restored it, with Gary doing the bodywork and painting. It was just like the one his parents once owned when he was born. His newest business card with a photo of the car reads: “A Pair of 88s…Everett and his 1928 Chevrolet are celebrating their 88th year on the road.”

In addition, he owns a 1948 Chevrolet pickup truck that he also restored. And if that’s not enough, he taught himself how to play the concertina as well.

But it’s his license plate collection that keeps him on the hunt and busy searching for new treasures to add to his hobby. Sit down and talk to him about it, and his knowledge and passion for his hobby becomes apparent as he continues to learn as much as possible and share his enthusiasm with others. He keeps several three-ring binders full of reference material he’s compiled over the years from his hours of research and travels.

For example, did you know that collector plates can be made of tin, copper, or aluminum, and the most rare to be found are the ones made of leather. Leather plates were made before the Minnesota state metal plates.

He’ll tell you more interesting tidbits of license plate history, like the 1921-40 vehicles had plates with either a letter A on them for small light cars or a B for heavy autos. And the first year plates were made in Minnesota was 1909, with the most rare plate being from the 1920 year.

He knows the 1942 plate was the first to have a 1943 tab attached to it in order to save metal during WWII. Metal tabs were also used on 1957, ‘59, ‘61, ‘63 and ‘64 year plates.

And that’s not all. The 1949 aluminum plate used a stippling process to make lines up and down and from left to right for the special Centennial territory anniversary. Or that the 1956 plate was the first reflectorized plate, and by 1957 all plates in every state were made of a standard size 6-inch high by 12-inch wide dimension.

Everett’s collection has plates from all 50 states in America. His Minnesota collection includes his oldest plate, a 1911 porcelain white lettering on blue background beauty that he bought from the owner of a local junkyard. There were only 19,600 license plates issued in 1911.

Everett has all the Minnesota plates in the 001 to 0100 series except for 055, 082, 087 and 091. While he likes to collect many of the license plates in the collection on his own, he also relies on help he receives from friends who keep an eye out and pick up plates for him during their snowbird excursions to Arizona or Texas in the winter months. His sister gave him two plates from Ohio, and he often puts name tags on the back of each plate he receives to identify who gave it to him.

He attends car shows, swap meets and auctions looking for plates and belongs to the Chevrolet Club of America. As an avid collector he regularly peers through magnifying glasses to look at plates on cars appearing in magazine photos. During WW II several states made license plates out of soybeans. Everett said he read a story about a man in Illinois who had his soybean license plate devoured by a hog. “He pulled into a hog yard on a farm one day only to have a hog pull it off his vehicle and eat it, so it must have tasted pretty good,” he joked.

Parts of Hanson’s collection show commemorative and war veteran plates, including one from a U.S. soldier in Germany and others for WW II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, Iraq War, National Guard, Retired Air Force, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Support Our Troops.

Part of Everett's collection, showing a law enforcement plate.

Part of Everett’s collection, showing a law enforcement plate.

He’s been persistent in obtaining a couple of law enforcement plates from sheriff and police departments. He once drove to the Mankato and Marshall state patrol offices to boldly inquire about obtaining a state trooper plate.

“Both times nobody was at the office so later I was at a convenience store in Fairfax and saw a patrolman had stopped there. “I said to him, ‘I collect, can I get a plate?’ “And wouldn’t you know it he sent me the 75th Highway Patrol Anniversary plate,” Everett recalled.

Meanwhile, the sheriff’s deputy joked that Everett was going to have to steal them to get a sheriff’s plate. “But he later would end up giving me a plate too,” he said.

He has some specialty plates in his collection for antiques, early old cars, pioneer, dealer, RVs, mobile homes, vehicles in transit and tax-exempt school buses or government vehicles and a couple of personalized vanity plates, including two that read “Gas Sux” and “Achtung.”

He has other specialty plates from fire departments and for radio operators and critical habitat. There’s plates from a horse-drawn buggy and the North Dakota Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Indian reservations.

Everett said auto junkyards are prime hunting grounds for license plates, but it depends on where he looks. “Some say yes and some say no, depends a lot on their experiences with theft,” he explained. “One time I had a sheep scare the daylights out of me when it came up behind me while I was looking in a junkyard,” he laughed.

He’s met many interesting people along the way during his years of collecting plates. Once he met a man from St. Paul who had a bunch of plates made by prisoners that didn’t sell. “He had thousands of plates, and I went to his place and found a set of 1928s still in their wrappers and bought them for $20.”

Everett said several of his plates are like works of art and have some value. All of them in the collection are organized and neatly attached to several plywood board portable hinged display panels.

“But it’s all about the stories and memories people have that come back from looking at these plates,” he noted. “That’s what I really enjoy hearing.”


First Registration – 1903.

First State Plate Issued – 1909.

Porcelain Plate – 1911.

Multi-year Plates – 1912-14, 1915-17, 1918-20.

Hardest plate to find – 1920.

Letter “A” indicates light auto, “B” heavy auto – 1921-1939.

Worst paint years – 1922-1942.

Sticker years – 1966, ’67, ‘69, ‘70, ‘72, 1975 to present.

First plate using “Minnesota 10,000 Lakes” – 1950 to present.

The word “Explore” added to plate in 1987 to present.

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