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Officially called “Prestige” plates or “Personalized” plates, they are far more often referred to as vanity plates. New Mexico introduced them in 1967 but several years elapsed before they became particularly popular in this state. They are available for cars, trucks and motorcycles, with an extra annual fee charged over and above regular registration fees.  See also Motorcycle Vanity.

Though more restrictive the first few years they were available, today the rules for vanity plate characters are much more flexible. Chile plates may have 1 to 6 characters; yellow plates, 1 to 7 characters; and turquoise plates 1 to 8 characters. Motorcycle vanities, because of their smaller size, are more limited: Chile, 1 to 5 characters; yellow and turquoise, 1 to 6 characters.  In the past a limited set of special characters were permitted, including blank spaces, dashes, apostrophes, the Spanish Ñ and the Zia symbol, but as of 2018 these have all been eliminated. At present only letters and numerals are allowed, and even these must be run together with no blank spaces.   The MVD is authorized to reject a requested character set if it is found to be derogatory or obscene, or if it falsely states or implies that the driver or vehicle represents the authority of a governmental agency or official.

Handicap Vanity




Special Characters on Vanity Plates. In addition to letters and numerals, New Mexico made available certain special characters which motorists could select for use on vanity plates, some of which were never available in any other state. These were the zia symbol, blank space, hyphen, apostrophe and the Spanish Ñ. Introduced a few years after personalized plates first became available here, New Mexico’s vanities thereby became among the most expressive and meaningful in the country. In the latter part of 2018, and without explanation, the MVD withdrew all of these special characters from use. Plates from the past bearing these characters, such as those immediately above, now stand as icons of a bygone era. Please see also Special Characters used on Motorcycle Vanity plates.


8-character Vanity. Up to eight characters are permitted on turquoise vanity plates, whereas a maximum of only seven are allowed on the yellow yucca tags, and six on chile vanities.

Until about 2008 the MVD would issue vanity (prestige) plates to trailers. Shown here is a 1989 registration certificate for the plate HORSES issued to a 1987 Logan Horse Trailer.

Invalid Personalized License Plate Citation. When vanity plates were first made available in 1967, and for a number of years thereafter, holders of these plates received a new plate each year upon renewal of the registration. During these years stickers were not valid for renewals. As noted thereon, these citation forms were introduced in December 1979, but by 1983 the practice of issuing new plates each year was abandoned, and since that time vanity plates have been renewed with stickers like all other passenger car plates. Another point of interest is that these citations were apparently issued only by Mounted Patrol officers. Courtesy David L. Minton.


Were There Vanity Plates Prior to 1967?

As noted above in the introduction to this page, vanity plates were officially introduced in New Mexico beginning with the 1967 registration year, but an argument could be made that there were at least two earlier ones.

New Mexico’s first state-issued plates were introduced beginning with plate #1 on August 16, 1912, seven months after the Territory attained statehood. Two and a half months later, on October 31, 1912, by which time the regular sequentially issued plates had reached #630, plate #1-A was issued to a Mrs. C.C. Catron. She is believed to be Isabel Justine Christensen Catron, the wife of Charles C. Catron, and daughter-in-law of Thomas B. Catron, one of the state’s first two U.S. Senators. It would be some two decades later before another plate would be issued with a serial number containing any character other than numerals, and even those were for Commercial plates bearing the letter “C.” It could be argued, then, that Mrs. Catron received New Mexico’s first “vanity” plate, and probably at the behest of her politically powerful father-in-law. For more on this story click here and then go to PDF page 64.

Fern Sawyer (1917-1993) of Crossroads, NM was a champion rodeo cowgirl who competed from the 1930s into the 1950s, not just in New Mexico but throughout the country, even appearing at Madison Square Garden in New York City. She grew up on her parents’ 25,000 acre S-rafter-W ranch near Crossroads. Sawyer was involved in New Mexico State Fair activities since its inception in 1937, and was the first woman appointed to the State Fair Commission where she served for fifteen years. A brief article in the November 23, 1946 Santa Fe New Mexican related that the license plate issued to her Chrysler automobile for several years prior to and including 1946 bore the serial number “FERN S” but was not going to be issued for 1947. (This came about because the county code prefix system was to be introduced in 1947, which was incompatible with a plate whose serial number was all alphabetic characters.)  We have not found any other references to this license plate, or who authorized its issuance, but it was likely the governor or someone else in a high position of authority who wanted to recognize Ms. Sawyer’s fame and accomplishments. Whatever the case, this is another instance where one could argue that this was a “vanity” plate that existed well prior to 1967.  For more about Fern Sawyer, please see the Famous People and Car Photos pages. On the latter page, click on the 1993 link.  For more about Fern Sawyer, please see the Famous People and Car Photos pages. On the latter page, click on the 1993 link.



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