Modern History of License Plates in the Bahamas

The following is an in-depth look at how license plates evolved in the Bahamas starting with their first unified issue in 1976. Although they have been issuing plates since 1914, it was not until 1976 that the first attempt at a standardized issue was done.

Foremost, I would like to extend a big thank you to Bob Bittner for all his time spent with me going over the thousands of plates in his collection used as reference for this article. All photos not from my own collection are from Bob’s.

As the Bahamian Government has no detailed records, data for this article was drawn from digging through, and comparing, thousands of plates. If you find a plate that alters any conclusion drawn, please send the info my way and I’ll gladly update this article.

All images are clickable and will render a more detailed image along with additional information in the caption of the selected plate.

1976

This is the first year of regular issue for the islands of the Bahamas and plates were blue on yellow with wide bolt slots. Because of the wide slots, it is very common to find extra holes in the plates where they were mounted to the vehicle. At the end of 1976, plates were required to be turned back into the government. Several varieties exist from this issue.

US Made Plates.

Most of the plates issued in 1976 were made in Oregon using the dies from 50’s era Alaskan plates. These feature rounded corners and wide bolt slots.

Island Made Plates.
Replacement plates and additional plates were made in the Bahamas by the government. These were made using the U.S. supplied blanks consisting of pre-punched bolt slots, rounded corners, and a raised rim. These are not common by any means.

These are very easy to distinguish as the embossing applied by the government used a male-only die-press using the interchangeable rectangular dies for the serial, island name, and "Bahamas". You will notice the different spacing in the "Bahamas" between the plates. Additionally, the Nassau plate is roller-painted while the Cat Island and Eleuthera plates are hand-painted. The Eleuthera plate was not photographed crooked – it actually was fed into the press at an angle!

Although most government made plates used a roller to apply paint to the embossing, a small handful of plains that had hand-painted lettering are known.

The above Grand Bahama plate was made using the traditional male-only die-press, but The island name and Bahamas was applied with a square paint brush.

Pre 1976 Colors

A small series of plates using 1976 blanks and painted with the older Out Islands color combination of white on green exist. The above Cat Island taxi plate is an example of such plate.

It's interesting to put a run of plates together to and see how the plates were issued to a given island. In this example, we can see that Spanish Wells probably had ordered 200 passenger plates from the U.S. manufacturer in 1976, at which point the government started making additional plates.

Number 206 is roller painted, 254 is sloppily hand-painted using a dash, and 258 is also hand-painted, but expertly done.

1977

This issue was again US made and is the only year to carry the slogan "It’s Better in the Bahamas". Like the 1976 issue, these also had wide bolt slots, are commonly found with extra holes, and were required to be turned back into the government at the start of the 1978 series.

US Made Plates.

Island Made Plates.

Replacement and extra plates were made in the Bahamas again using the large rectangular font and no slogan. These plates are not common.

1978-1980

Plates issued in 1978 were red on cream. Many plates were issued both front and rear validation stickers in 1979 and 1980, representing the first time the government used such a renewal process. This is the first issue where things get real interesting for collectors as numerous varieties were produced.

U.S. Made Plates.

This is the most common issue found during 1978. These are U.S. made and used a different manufacturer than the previous U.S. made plates.

This series was made with the same dies used in for the Rickenbacker Causeway Toll plates.

Island Made Plates.

Plates made by the government were replacements for lost plates or additional plates beyond those ordered from the U.S. manufacturer. These plates typically were made using very thin metal, have square corners, no bolt slots, and were made using the crude male-only dies. Because of the light embossing, it is very common for the roller to either not touch the letters or fill them completely. The Grand Bahama #7 plate is a replacement for a lost plate as the mate to this plate (which is somewhere in ALPCA-land) is of the U.S. made variety.

Two new dies used to emboss the island designation and "Bahamas" were introduced for these Government made plates, making the total number of dies three. Both of these used the same dies for the numerals.

Hybrid plates.

As part of the plate contract, the U.S. supplier shipped over a number of plates consisting of "Bahamas" and the rim pre-embossed and the remainder of the plate blank. The government would subsequently add the island name and the serial on an as-needed basis.

Although most of these plates were roller-painted, some were hand-painted. These can be identified by the cleaner lettering (as the paint did not spill into the lettering) and visible brush strokes.


These are turned in 1976 and 1977 issues repainted by the government red on cream and then reissued. In some cases the plates were not properly cleaned before repainting, so the paint would flake.

Hand-painted repaints also exist.



Looking at the above plates (I’ve included both front and rear photos) from Abaco, the one thing to note is that the serial is 4,005. Abaco only had 380 trucks registered in 1978. We can guess is that the local administrator could not get government issued plates in a timely manner so choose serials well outside of the range of plates numbers that could have been issued until the next replating (as they would not have known when that would be).

Flats.

Although by law all truck and passenger plates were required to be embossed, various flats exist. Looking at the style of all the flats, it would indicate that these were supplied by a single source. Careful note of the island name and "Bahamas" on the flats show that it follows the same font used in the 1976 series. Our guess is that a replacement was needed and the individual contacted this person instead of ordering a replacement from the ministry.


… in case you ever wonder what happens when plates sit out in the Caribbean sun for an extended time!

Where things get interesting is when you start examining a run of plates issued to an island. Cat Island, for example issued #4 as a flat, #5 as a 1976 repaint, #6 and #7 are government issues, and #8 as a 1976 repaint!

Validation Stickers
Note: I have pairs of plates that have both front and rear stickers as well as pairs of plates that only have validation stickers on one plate.

Here are some examples of plates that were issued both front and rear validation stickers:

1981

The islands went back to blue on yellow in 1981 and is the first series to be produced entirely in the Bahamas. Although the colors are similar to the 1976 issue, plates made for this series had narrow bolt slots. Plates which had been previously turned into the government were also reissued in 1981. The reissued plates predominantly consisted of turned in 1976 issues, but as you will see below, also consisted of the 1978 issue. The 1976 reissued plates can lead to confusion in determining if a ’76 plate was also used in 1981. The only way to tell would be to know when the plate came off the island, however a second set of bolt holes is a good telltale indication that the plate was mounted twice on a vehicle – once in 1976 and a second time in 1981.

Male Die Press

Most of the Out Islands received government made plates made using the male-only die press on thin stock. These were roller-painted and the bad embossing led to sloppy paint jobs.


Some plates were hand-painted, leading to more legible lettering. This Inagua plate used a slightly different blue that normally found on the 1981 plates. Such is the Bahamas…

Male-Female Die Press

A new male-female die press that used medium sized lettering was introduced part way through the series leading to much cleaner plates. It is believed that only Nassau and Grand Bahama received plates using this new press during the 1981-1982 issue.

Reissued 1976 Plates


Turned in or unused 1976 plates not reissued in 1978 were reissued in 1981. In the above example, the second set of bolt holes is a good indication that the plate was a reissued 1976 plate.

Reissued 1976/1978 Plates


Some 1976 plates reissued in 1978 (thus were repainted red on cream) where painted back to blue on yellow and again reissued in 1981. In the photo above, you will see what appears to be a 1976 made plate (after all, it has the correct colors, right?). Looking closely, you will see that there are hints of red on the borders and a painted over sticker, meaning that this was a 1976 issue, painted and issued in 1978-1980, and then painted back in 1981.

Reissued 1978 Plates


1978 plates repainted for 1981 exist (shown above), but are very rare.

Flats


Although rare, flats were issued. Again, the lettering follows the style used in the 1976 plates.

Off Color Paint
There are a few plates that have a very dark blue serial with an orange background.
My first inclination was that these were repainted in 1987 made from used 1983 issues. However, all of these came off the islands in late 1982 and both the flats and embossed plates have matching colors (in the above example, the left-hand side of the Mayaguana plate has the original coloring). Thus, it’s been concluded that these were painted by the DMV in 1981.

1983 - 1986

This issue was green on white and represents the first time the entire run of plates was made in the Bahamas. This was the first reflective issue for the islands. Nassau, Grand Bahama, and a limited run on some of the other islands received their plates on the newly introduced male-female die press. The remainder of the Out Islands received their plates on the older male-only die press. Keeping with tradition, there were numerous varieties issued in this year.

One thing to note on these varieties is that they can be found in combinations. For example, a plate made on thin stock, reflective, male-only dies, and no sealent.

Stock
Two types of blanks were used, thin and thick.

  • Thin Stock
    Thin metal, square corners, and most plates have pre-punched bolt holes.

  • Thick Stock
    Thicker blanks with rounded corners.

Reflective Background

The reflective background was applied to the metal via a painting process, and were then sealed with a clear, protective coating. The Eleuthera plate was made on the male-only die-press using the fixed font for the island name. The Grand Bahama plate was made on the newer male-female die-press.

Reflective Background, Missing Sealant.

The plating process consisted of applying the reflective paint to the plate, embossing and lettering the plate, then sealing the plate with a clear sealant. However, not all plates received the sealant. When Bob Bittner visited the islands in 1983, he noticed three drums of sealant and two were heavily rusted due to the corrosive nature of salt air. Sure enough, when he came back through later that year, two of the drums had rusted through and leaked empty. Therefore, not all plates that received the reflective coating could be sealed. These plates quickly deteriorated down to bare metal. This accompanying photo shows the typical condition of a used plate without sealant. The left hand side of the plate is bare metal. If you were to rub your fingers over the right hand side of the plate it would feel chalky, which is the remains of the reflective coating.

Non-Reflective Background

These plates were spray painted with a plain white background.

Flats

Flats are rare for this series, but do exist. Chub Cay, which only issued plates in the 1983 series, exclusively had flat plates matching the style above. Higher number Acklins plates also are commonly found flat.

Hand Painted Embossed

Some embossed plates were not roller panted, but rather hand painted, leading to a much cleaner lettering. The Acklins plate above is hand painted, and also had a lighter olive-green paint. Plates using this shade of green are not common.

Other Minor Varieties


Square "T"

Non-centered serials

Validation Stickers
Like the 1978 issue, some plates had front and back validation stickers issued in 1984, however I have only seen rear validation stickers in 1985 and 1986
Here are some examples of plates that were issued both front and rear validation stickers:

1987 - 1989

Plates issued in 1987 are black on dark reflective yellow, all made on the male-female die press.

The background consists of a reflective sheeting which was very prone to scaling. Validation stickers were issued in 1988 and 1989.

Some plates were made using a updated manufacturing process.

This consisted of a new smaller font for the island names and "Bahamas". I believe the manufacturing process is different because of the slight indent around the numerals which does not show on plates using the larger text font. Additionally, the plates using the new text font always have less paint applied during the application process.


Here are examples of plates made on the old and new male-female press. Number 8693 was done using the old press, 32116 using the new.

Overstrikes


Overstrikes have been found, in this case, Abaco over Eleuthera.

Validation Stickers

1990 - 1991


These are white on reflective green with validation stickers issued in 1991 and 1992. During the production of these plates, the machine used to apply the reflective green sheeting broke. Thus, a number of plates have a painted green background. For example, the Acklins #5 plate in my collection has a reflective background, while the Cat Island #5 and #7 plates have a painted background.

Both types of male-female die presses were used.


In these examples, plates 3057 and 1732 used the larger dies, while plate number 51228 and 4594 used the smaller, newer dies.

Validation Stickers

1992 - 1997


These plates commemorated the landing of Columbus and are known as the Landfall plates. These were US made, using a stenciled background and a rounded font. Interestingly enough, the above Ragged Island truck plate is the only Landfall plate from this island known.


As with previous US issues, extra blanks were ordered to fill lost and additional plate requests. The government introduced a new dies for the numerals during this series, which are slightly narrower than the previous numerals. It is not uncommon for the island name and "Bahamas" to remain unpainted. Looking at the Nassau truck plate, it would seem that the stenciled years and crest were purposely covered with a masking tape, although it does not explain why the island name was not painted.


On rare occasions, a replacement plate using the Landfall base and older dies surfaces. In this case, the island name was even abbreviated.



When the Landfall blanks ran out, plates using a plain yellow background and the new dies were made.

It can be confusing trying to tell the different between 1981 and 1992 plates that were both made on the male-female die press. If the plates are unstickered (as all 1981 plates were and front 1992 plates did not have sticker), comparing the colors is usually your only option.

Looking closely at the above plates, plate numbered 16988 was issued in 1981 while 18485 was issued in 1992. The 1981 plate is slightly more orange and the blue is slightly lighter.

Validation Stickers

1997 - Present

Late 1997, the government switched over to the current yellow on blue plates, using yearly validation stickers, therefore, Landfall and the current series plates were both issued with the '97 validation sticker.

In 1998, the stickers switched from the small rectangular sticker to a tall sticker.

This plate shows both styles of stickers - the small '97 and large '98 and beyond stickers.


Here is an oddity I found while visiting the Bahamas a few years back. Every single plate we have seen come off the island has been made from sheet aluminum. This plate is made from very heavy galvanized metal, similar to the '70's era Texas plates.

Die Varities

Male-Only Die-Press, Interchangeable Dies, Rectangular lettering.


This style used large interchangeable dies, rectangular lettering on a male-only die-press. There is no indenting in the metal from the die press beyond the lettering. Because of the interchangeable lettering, it is very common to see rotated letters. First seen in 1976

Male-Only Die-Press, Interchangeable Dies, square lettering


This type of lettering was used in the male-only die-press with large interchangeable dies and square lettering (consisting of the same width and height). There is no indenting in the metal beyond the lettering. Again, because the dies were not fixed, they were very prone to rotating. First seen in 1978

Male-Only Die-Press, Fixed Dies


A solid die plate used on the male-only die-press to emboss each island name and "Bahamas" was introduced. These can be identified by the rectangular indent of the solid die holding the island name as well as the dimple it left in the holder. The font is square, but slightly smaller than the square interchangeable dies used before. First seen in 1978.

Male-Female Die-Press, Fixed Dies, Medium Size Font


Smaller lettering than previous dies. Sharp, crisp lettering. Because of the female portion of the die, the lettering was at a consistent height, leading to a consistent paint job. First seen in 1981 on Nassau and Grand Bahama plates.

Male-Female Die-Press, Fixed Dies, Small Size Font


The lettering is the same proportions to the male-female die introduced in 1981, but slightly smaller. First seen during the 1987 series. My suspicion is that this is an entirely new press using the same numeric dies for the following reasons:

  • Paint thickness is less than the ones made with the larger font.
  • A slight rectangular depression around the numerals is always evident in plates made with the smaller lettering


The above two plates serve as a great reference point between the two styles of plates made with the male-female die-press. The rear plate (the one with the sticker) was made on the older male-female press. The front plate, which is a replacement for a lost plate, was made on the newer press. The numbers on the front plate look smaller, but only because there is less paint being used in the application process. Additionally, there is a slight depression around the serial on the front plate that is not evident on the rear plate.

Errors, Oddballs, Samples, Disasters, etc.

Errors


Government misspelled

Taxi misspelled, inverted "W" in Bahamas

Acklins Island misspelled, crooked 1

Missing paint,

Oddballs



Samples and Test Plates


1977 Sample

1977 Sample

Paint Sample

Green on Yellow Paint Sample

Paint Sample

Paint Disasters



As a parting note, how many errors can you find on the following plate? Hint: It may hold the ALPCA record for the most errors on a single plate.


Answer: 6
  • Island Name Misspelling (Acklinis Sland)
  • Inverted "W" in Bahamas (BAHAWAS)
  • Inverted 8 in serial
  • Missing upper bolt slots
  • Rotated dies
  • Missing sealant

Govenrment Figures

Private Automobiles

Island 1976 1977 1978
New Provience 20,774 23,500 34,472
Grand Bahama 7,823 7,880 11,293
Abaco 809 803 911
Andros 633 751 778
Bimini 65 89 80
Cat Island 86 89 101
Crooked / Acklins * * 25
Eleuthera 940 1,258 1,094
Harbour Island 518 581 570
Exuma 196 219 230
Inagua 50 39 38
Long Island 266 275 263
Mayaguana 4 7 5
Rum Cay / San Salvador 78 96 99
Private Trucks
Island 1976 1977 1978
New Provience 2,500 2,903 2,903
Grand Bahama 964 937 929
Abaco 260 289 320
Andros 183 186 185
Bimini 43 37 38
Cat Island 51 46 47
Crooked Island / Acklins 29 12 37
Eleuthera 279 159 318
Harbour Island / Spanish Wells 103 124 103
Exuma 120 106 118
Inagua 80 95 93
Long Island 122 114 121
Mayaguana 15 15 18
Rum Cay / San Salvador 41 39 37

Conclusion

As you can see, collecting plates from the Bahamas yields a wide variety of interesting plates. Plate hunting on the islands is a fun adventure yielding treasures in flea markets and junkyards. The government still has a very liberal export policy – take home what you want. The knowledge of these plates is still evolving with varieties still surfacing. A prime example is the Landfall Long Island #654 plate. Until this was found last year, it was assumed that the interchangeable die presses had been retired. Evidentially, not so.

I hope you have found this modern history useful and, as always, look forward to your comments and questions.

Happy Collecting!

Eric