Andrew Ballard in the Wall Street Journal
Andrew Ballard, TSD President, was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal this week about his experiences with Presidential Inaugurations and the special license plates used on the Presidential and Vice Presidential limousines in the parade from the Capitol to the White House.
He has been involved in the planning of 7 of the last 8 Presidential Inaugurations and was Director of Transportation for the 2009 and 2013 Inaugurations. He is consulting with Transportation Management Services, Inc. (TMS) the transportation vendor to the Presidential Inaugural Committee for the 2017 event.
U.S. Edition January 13, 2017
By Reid J. Epstein
Donald Trump Declines to Issue Inaugural License Plates. Sad!
Collectors are crushed as Trump becomes the first President-elect since Hoover to not produce special inauguration tags for his motorcade; ‘the hardest collection to do’
Charlie Gauthier is one of a few dozen collectors who’ve acquired every presidential inaugural license plate dating back to Franklin Roosevelt. Video/Photo: Madeline Marshall/
WASHINGTON—President-elect Donald Trump promised during his campaign to dispense with political precedent, and the world of license-plate collecting is paying the price.
On Jan. 20, Mr. Trump will become America’s first president since Herbert Hoover to decline to produce special license plates for the vehicles in his inauguration parade, a change that has unnerved collectors who have spent decades trying to acquire a complete set.
The 45th president is instead expected to travel from the Capitol to the White House in an armored Cadillac limousine with the same District of Columbia plates in use now. Trump inaugural committee spokesman Boris Epshteyn said there are “no plans” for special inaugural plates and none have been ordered. He declined to elaborate.
That is crushing for hard-core collectors like Charlie Gauthier, a retired National Highway Traffic Safety Administration executive who is one of just a few dozen to possess every inaugural plate issued.
On the wall of his home office in rural Fauquier County, Va., Mr. Gauthier has the rarest of presidential plates: Franklin Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural—the first in which a president used special plates. There is also one from Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 inauguration and autographed plates from Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. At the behest of his wife, Mr. Gauthier stores the rest of his inaugural plates —which include ones autographed by Jimmy Carter,Dan Quayle,Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton—in a box.
The 1953 inaugural plate of President Eisenhower is in the collection of Charlie Gauthier. Photo: Madeline Marshall/The Wall Street Journal
“I’m sure this is just like cocaine,” said Mr. Gauthier, who has written a five-part history of presidential inaugural plates. “Once you get addicted to this stuff, you just keep going. If you have plates that were issued to a president and a vice president of the United States, that’s a pretty cool thing to have in your house.”
Presidential inaugurations generate an untold amount of memorabilia, from embossed tickets to buttons to hats. The inaugural license plates are unique, because for decades just a few hundred sets were produced.
The president’s limousine is issued a plate with the number 1 and the vice president gets number 2, making them the most valuable in collector circles. The rarest plates—from Roosevelt’s 1930s inaugurations—can sell for $4,000 to $12,000.
“This is considered the hardest collection to do,” said Bill Tuli, a Phoenix engineer and license-plate collector who completed his inaugural set last month. “And most of us collect weird things.” He also saves copies of Mad Magazine and vintage guitars.
There are just a couple dozen people who have complete sets of inaugural plates, said Andrew Pang, a collector from Arlington, Va., who helps others find rare plates using his website, licensepl8s.com. Mr. Pang said he has mixed emotions about the Trump transition skipping the plate tradition.
“It’s kind of a Catch-22,” he said. “If they don’t use anything then I don’t have to figure out how to find one of those. But the flip side is then I don’t have one of them in my collection.”
For Hoover’s 1929 inauguration, vehicles used a commemorative 3x6-inch index card in the windshield. Since then the only inauguration that didn’t produce special plates was in 1945, when there was no inaugural parade due to World War II austerity measures.
Four years ago, President Barack Obama’s inauguration organizers had plates made, but didn’t use them in the parade. Many aficionados complained to Andrew Ballard, the Obama inaugural committee’s director of transportation, who was responsible for ordering the special plates.
“We wound up giving them to staff and folks as souvenirs,” said Mr. Ballard, who has consulted on special plates for five of the last six inaugurations. “You have to look for the screw marks to make sure they weren’t really used.”
Days after Mr. Obama’s 2013 inauguration, the unused plates showed up on eBay. The online auction site offers an array of plates from past inaugurals: One issued to Joe Biden in 2009 was listed at $1,499 before being marked down last week to $1,049. A motorcycle plate from Bill Clinton’s first inauguration with “scratches and light marks around the bolt-holes” was listed for $399. A plate from Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration with faded paint was listed for $69.95.
“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Trump is breaking with tradition, because his inaugural plates probably would have been highly collectible, very classy and one of the most tremendous designs in presidential history,” said Ryan Williams, a Republican political consultant who has plates issued to Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle hanging on the wall of his Washington office.
To some inaugural-plate collectors, it has been a long and slow decline for the hobby. In the old days, the general public could purchase replica inaugural plates to use on private vehicles for up to three months after a president’s swearing-in. That tradition ended after George W. Bush’s 2001 inauguration because of security concerns following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“They just lost their appeal to many of us because they’re really just souvenirs now,” said Mike Naughton, a Manhattan, Ill., attorney who is a member of the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association Hall of Fame. “Still, it’s a shame to lose.”
Mr. Gauthier, 73 years old, says he has spent recent weeks lobbying contacts with access to Trump transition officials in an effort to get them to create a Jan. 20 plate. It hasn’t worked.
To design, print and deliver enough plates for the Trump inaugural parade would take at least three to four days, leaving the inaugural committee until the beginning of next week if they elect to make America’s plates again. Mr. Gauthier also held out hope that whoever is inaugurated in 2021 restores the tradition.
“I’m a license-plate guy,” Mr. Gauthier said. “After 80-plus years of doing it every four years, I just think it’s something that they should continue to do.”
Write to Reid J. Epstein at Reid.Epstein@wsj.com