Vanity, Vanity: America’s Most Expensive License Plates

With almost 3,000 billionaires in the world, you’d imagine the huge mansions, mega-yachts and massive car collections, corporations and football or baseball teams would make up the bulk of the majority of the super rich’s holdings. Just on cars, it’s not the latest Bugatti or classic Ferrari that necessarily holds the most value, but rather the license plates or vanity plates.

All vehicles need license plates to show they are lawfully registered and that the driver is insured. Police can run your number through the DMV and have all your details in a matter of seconds. If you are running fakes, you’re busted. Registration costs $30-50, depending on the state. But vanity plates are a whole other ballgame. It’s all about the perceived value – what the market will pay. It’s the same with real estate, people will pay what they think it’s worth, and more if there’s a hot buying market chasing the latest auction sites.

Prestige is driving this market. If you have all that money can buy, a unique license plate is the next item to acquire. A single-digit vanity plate can set you back millions.

What's driving the high price of vanity plates?

The plate market is not like the real estate market or the stock market, where you can figure out how much something is worth by looking at similar sales or equities. It’s more like the art market, where speculation and subjectivity are major cost influencers.

Interest and demand for low or unique lettering configurations inflate prices. The exclusivity and limited number of plate options available for purchase vary according to state rules. Who would have guessed that bureaucratic red tape could push up license plate fees and result in “exclusivity”? Good ole fashioned supply-and-demand economics at its finest.

However, license plates have one advantage over just being perpetually repeating merchandise. Once a plate is snapped up, it is diminished from the pool of available options. It stays with the owner and can’t be distributed back to the market until the buyer no longer has use for it or leaves this mortal coil. Take a look at the $410K automobile on this list. It was only put on the market after its owner died.

If money isn’t an issue or you just want a nosy, here are 10 of the most expensive plates on the market.

volvo newyork vanity plate

1) An Esteemed Volvo

In 2021, America’s most expensive Volvo in history went up for sale. The mileage wasn’t even listed, and the paintwork was lagging and the trunk was sagging. But the sought number plate was up for sale with that city that never sleeps inscription, “New York”, etched on a metal plate.

The car, or vanity plate rather, was listed for sale at $20 million on Dupont Registry. The plate had been in the company of the same family since it was registered in the 70’s. And now they were about to hit pay dirt.

If you buy this plate, you could end up with a prestigious hyper-inflated license plate that is stuck on a dilapidated old Volvo. If you sell your car, you must turn in your license plates in the Empire State, unless you want to transfer them to a new vehicle. So says the New York DMV, the transfer can only be completed in the same person’s name. So you may get the plate, but you have to keep it on the car, in your garage.

You can check more details about the plate here: 

6 vanity plate delaware

2) A Snip at $675 000

In Delaware, low-digit license plates are more than just a curiosity. They are a better investment than the stock market, according to local Rehoboth Beach auctioneer Butch Emmert, who has sold one or two over the years, courtesy of Emmert Auctions. Delaware has been issuing low-digit plates for over a century. The rich traditionally got the lowest digits first, of course, and held onto them, igniting a covetous need (greed?) for those low numbers.

Fast forward to today, and the number “1” digit is allocated to the governor, the “2” to the Lieutenant Gov, and the Secretary of State gets to bank the “3”. In contrast to firms seeking to keep a low profile by incorporating their LLCs in DE, certain Delaware residents aren’t prone to inhabiting the incognito profile, they’d rather scream “I’M RICH”, in your face.

The Fucos are an established family of commercial real estate brokers in DE who have been collecting expensive plates for nearly three decades. They banked the number “9” for almost $200,000 in 1994.

They had their eyes set on the “6” and were pushed in the auctions by publishing magnate, Tim Ayres. The Fucos triumphed and handed over a hefty $675k for the honor. That was in 2008. Imagine what it is worth today. In the vanity plate sector, the race to the bottom of the numbers costs a lot more money.

20 vanity plate delaware

3) More From Delaware

The aforementioned Butch Emmert must be making great commissions. Emmert Auction Associates sold a license plate with the number “20” on it for $410k in 2018. Even Emmert has a “107” plate. If he’s not short, he may as well hold onto it for another while, as the longer it sits, the more expensive it gets. 

In Delaware, it’s not the celebs who are the celebrities or the cars. It’s the plates. What was once a standard identification badge has become an industry all on its own. Some families pass art down through the generations, and if you have a rare low-digit license plate, hold onto it, as it could be worth more than those brush strokes in the long run.

4) 12th Man Appreciation

A license plate with the inscription “12THMAN” sold for a princely $115,000 on the online auction site Tony Buzbee, a Houston Attorney, paid the fee and the funds were allocated to Texas A&M University and the general revenue fund in Texas. 

But he didn’t buy it for his own ego or prestige. He purchased it for a U.S. Marine Corps retired army vet, whom he regards as the “Twelfth Man” of the country. That’s more than a nice gesture. Buzbee refused to make public the recipient’s name, but if you see someone driving around Texas with a plate that says “12THMAN”, it could be your guy.

MM vanity license plate

5) MM- Possibly the Futures Most Expensive Plate

If you thought things were expensive so far, wait till you hear this. A plate with the inscription “MM” is currently up for auction at a minuscule $24.3m in California. Why is this plate so expensive? Cali only has 35 two-letter plates out of a total of 35 million, the chances of owning one of these two-letter plates are 1 in a million. 

But another driver, pardon the pun, is this plate also comes with an NFT (non-fungible token), which is a story for another day. Briefly, an NFT is a unique piece of artwork or a download that can’t be copied. With the plate, you get a digital artwork copy with its own unique QR code and ID (which is stamped behind the license plate).

If you buy this, you will be able to transfer it to your car, thanks to a 2017 update by the California DMV that allows plates to be transferred between owners. Previously, a plate could only be transferred to another vehicle owned by the original owner.

So whoever buys this has a barcode, a piece of metal, and a $24.3 million tab to pay. And if that’s you, you can buy it now at

You can check more details about the plate here:

6) The Triple 8 Has The Potential To Blow Them All Out Of The Water

The “888” plate, is touted as priceless by its owner Michael Modecki, the man behind Is there any better combination of digits to have on a plate to show off wealth like the “888”? The 3×8 screams opulence; it’s aggressive, flamboyant and somewhat distasteful, so you can see why brash billionaires would pay record-breaking amounts of cash for it.

Michael believes this plate will break the world record set in Abu Dhabi by the “1” plate in 2008. Michael’s business model (plate brokering) indicates that he intends to sell his plate, but only in the future when the price is set far higher than the current world record of $14.3 million. The question is not who or when it will sell, as the world is not short on wealthy people, but HOW MUCH it will sell for.

As of yet, no license plate in the United States has broken the $1m mark yet. The valuation for the MM is incredibly high, and the New York Volvo is also astronomical, but no concrete sales have occurred yet. In fact, of the 20 most expensive plate sales of all time, none have occurred in the United States.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi have sold scores of plates for 7 and 8 figures. It’s no surprise, given that oil and gas production is concentrated there. Vanity plates in the Middle East are just another plaything of the rich.

What would you do if you owned or inherited a unique plate? Would you keep it, sell it, or sit on it a while and see how much it increases?

Jason L Arthur

Jason L Arthur

Jason Arthur is a data junkie, writer, veteran amateur racecar driver and motorsport photographer. He is the co-founder of LookupaPlate, a collaborative platform to report bad drivers plying on American roads. He is also building a blockchain-based vehicle data marketplace (in stealth mode) and is an adviser to several startups. Jason has been tracking the automotive industry since the 1990s and has a disturbingly deep obsession with the automotive world, and loves to explore whatever roads he can find. From high-speed racing on the circuit to off-road exploration, Jason has an insatiable appetite for adventure. Jason has written for numerous publications, including Autocar Magazine, Motorsport Magazine, and Road & Track.

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