Delaware markets in everything

A 2003 Mercedes station wagon fetched nearly $420,000 at a Delaware auction last month—$6,800 for the car, $410,000 for the license plate.

“I wanted it,” says the tag’s winning bidder, William Lord. “I’m happy I did it.”

And who wouldn’t be? The plate reads “20,” a highly coveted low Delaware license-plate number.

The bidding was fierce. “I got caught up in the moment,” says Dr. Lord, 83, a retired dentist in Rehoboth Beach, Del. “My father and I used to go to auctions to buy cattle, machinery. There was nothing I liked better than looking at an opponent across the way and outbidding him.”

For a fringe of American drivers, having a fine car isn’t enough. They must have low license-plate numbers, too, and they’re fueling competition for the tags that can be relentless. In Delaware, a decadeslong obsession over tags with few digits has given rise to a vibrant private market.

This isn’t China, however, where lucky numbers are part of a longstanding cultural or even religious tradition.  May I be allowed to wonder whether the residents of Delaware have nothing better to spend their money on?  This point has at least been addressed:

“It’s a real part of who we are,” says state Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan. “We’ve got some loyalty to some strange things, and license plates is one of them.” A low number signifies one of two things, she says: deep roots or deep pockets.

“They are something people fight over a lot. A lot,” says Delaware divorce lawyer Marie Crossley. “It’s almost a badge of how Delaware you are.”

Here is the WSJ article, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  And note: “The state has never used letters, thanks to a population under a million.”


Stupidest State in the Union. As some people from a certain podcast recently remarked Delaware is a state inhabited by NPCs

Eh. I think the story generalizes. Silly apes.

Just for the record, this comment is from the idiotic Troll. It's not quite Trollish enough to be obvious. So, I thought I would clarify.

400K? Yawn. You amateurs. Pocket Change. Come on over to Dubai if you want to see where the real action is. Millions bid for a single low number license plate. (Don't bother posting about how you can't wait for Dubai to run out of oil. We have not had any significant oil left for decades).

then you'd probably know that the oil is in Abu Dhabi, which you'd also know is the capital of the UAE .. which includes Dubai .. it really is about trying to spend that oil money ...

So, as always, there is a market in buying "nobility". Nowadays, it's not tutelage like barons, or old historic castles, but license plates. People sure are idiots, aren't we?

Oh, btw, I remembered that I did myself buy my old University dean's door sign (that say "Dean..."), albeit I did buy it for around 5 bucks for the sole purpose of having stupid sign.

If it's really valuable, someone would try to steal it. Are there license plates robbers?

Could do. But you could not use it as a license plate - kind of conspicuous- which is the point entirely.

Also, there should be some "lost" low plate numbers. The local DMV can look in the records which plates have not been active recently and re-issue them at a nice profit.

The value is not in the physical license plate, but rather the registration rights. If someone stole the plate, the registrant can have another one made and have #20 on his car again.

'May I be allowed to wonder whether the residents of Delaware have nothing better to spend their money on?'

Of course not - they are part of our average is over world. It would be like questioning CEO golden parachutes after bankrupting the corporation that hired them - no one is allowed to question such self-dealing as we all stride, with our small steps, towards a much better world.

That's a retarded analogy. Severance packages are a form of insurance against lost income. They are not a "reward" for wrecking a company. These packages also almost always serve as a substitute for prolonged litigation which can be many times more expensive and harrowing on stockholders.

Corporations often go bankrupt through no fault of the CEO because of general market conditions or unexpected exogenous events. The CEO is required to manage a failing company the same way a pilot has to manage a disabled aircraft, thus they might make draconian cuts to employment and take other drastic measures.

The most important point here is that severance packages are a voluntary agreement between shareholders and management. They are crucial in attracting quality management. All eyes are open and the choice is rational. There is absolutely no self dealing.

I heard Jeffery Epstein used to keep his jet in Delaware. Is that where Steven Pinker boarded it or did Epstein pick up Pinker in Cambridge?

Did the article say if it was a grandfathered in black license plate?

I believe our Govrrnor gets plate #1, and, of course, all legislators get a special grey/brown plate.

Delaware, Small Blunder. ;-)

Delaware, Rhode Island, have these obsessions, yet somehown Wyoming, remains immune.


DC as well seems unobsessed.

I'm engineer not economist, don't know the precise words seems the scarcity of the good is generated by the potential clients, not the seller(s).

Usually "limited editions" are created by the seller. In this case the buyers made the exclusivity concept out of nothing.

The source of the scarcity is really irrelevant to market value. It only matters that the good actually is scarce.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by the buyers making up the scarcity, but I will try. Buyers could arbitrarily decide that license plates with the second character as F are desirable for some fanciful reason. This might count as buyer induced scarcity, but only if those plates are scarce in reality. Scarcity is always measured relative to current demand. It is not an absolute concept. My toenail clippings are unique and rare, yet they haven't sold very well yet. Now, if I suddenly become exceedingly famous, those clippings could sell for a lot of money.

As you delve into economics it is crucial to understand the parrot phrase of "supply and demand" with emphasis on the AND. Those equations also include other parameters such as income, prices of other goods, prices of key inputs, and expectations of future prices.

The man who paid ~ US$8.4mm for license plate #1 in Abu Dhabi was sentenced for writing a bad check to pay the bill.

""He said he was planning to re-resell the rare number plate at a profit so he can pay the value of the cheque to the organisers and retain the balance," said a prosecutor."

Then there's this:

And of course:

I don't see a material difference between this practice and the collection of stamps, which no one considers unusual.

Good point, and license plates have the benefit of being paraded around for prestige.

As is often said about demand, "there is no accounting for taste."

I am still shocked by the popularity of Justin Bieber.

"which no one considers unusual."

Speak for yourself. ;-)

Remember, you're talking about a state that reveres Joe Biden.

If they had any brains at all, the state would start selling vanity plates with letters and symbols. ONE and --1-- and so on. Clearly there is a market here. But no... they'll just jack up the sales tax or something.

Remember, you're talking about a state that reveres Joe Biden.

Your scheme likely wouldn't work. The prestige comes not from having a plate with low numbers on it but from the fact that the original plates with low numbers signifies long term presence in the state, whether that is true or not. Your new plates don't carry that signal.

It is a coincidence of manufacturing practice that the first items produced have the lowest serial number. This doesn't have to be true. You could for example own the first Mustang ever produced but its ID number was generated randomly. The car would still be worth a fortune (in mint condition) despite a high number.

But when early production and low number are coincident, and the low number is conspicuous, the prestige value is boosted. Not only do you have the first Mustang, everyone who sees your car knows it immediately.

This raises interesting questions about prestige as part of demand. It is closely related to virtue signalling.

"But no... they'll just jack up the sales tax or something."

Delaware has no sales tax.

Nor do we all revere Joe Biden.

If low license-plate numbers are valuable, let government auction them off.

Tax the rich? Doesn't work so well (both the rich and their money are mobile).

Tax the rich and stupid? Why not? Call it the moral equivalent of taxing the poor and stupid via state lottery.

Are the rich and stupid too stupid to be mobile?

If they are willing to pay a fortune for a low digit license plate, who knows?

“It’s almost a badge of how Delaware you are.”

Let me get this right: there are people who want to be MORE "Delaware"?

I was just in Delaware. To visit a friend, last weekend. He and I both agreed Delaware license plates are the ugliest in the nation.

Reminds me of the Geico commercial in theaters where Alexander Graham Bell answers the phone and says "no, you want number 2 - this is 1."

Dorothy Ogilvie, who died in 2016, was asked by many people how she came to have Illinois license plate #2.

"I slept with the governor", she would answer.

(She was the widow of Richard Ogilvie, governor of Illinois 1969-73.)

Delaware also seems to have a large variety of specialty plates. Many states have specially designed plates for say the state universities, or that depict the local national park, or for veterans, or whatnot.

Delaware has a number of those, but it also has a program where if you can get 200 people, or sometimes even fewer, to agree to buy a custom design then your design can go on a Delaware license plate.

So were are bidding on license plates now. I'll be sure to be on the lookout for rare ones.

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