Cape Gazette
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Delaware license plate expected to fetch six figures

Low-digit plate goes to auction Feb. 17 in Rehoboth Beach
By Henry J. Evans Jr. | Feb 16, 2013

Rehoboth Beach — A Delaware license plate with only two digits, 67, is expected to sell at auction in Rehoboth Beach for more than $100,000. But exactly how much more won’t be known until the black-and-white tag is hammered down Sunday, Feb. 17.

“I can’t say for sure what it’ll go for, but it could be in the $120,000 to $175,000 range,” said Butch Emmert, president and owner of Rehoboth Beach-based Emmert Auction Associates.

Emmert, who has auctioned Delaware license plates for 25 years, said he’s been lucky to have some prominent plates come his way.

In Delaware, the lower the number on a license plate, the higher its value is likely to be. Prominence is determined by how low the number is and by the number of potential buyers willing to fork over lots of money, validating a plate’s prestige and importance.

Fascination with low-digit plates – and willingness to pay big bucks for them – began more than 100 years ago when automobiles first hit the roads.

Those who were wealthy could afford to buy cars and chose low-digit plates for their vehicles. It’s a century-old trend that has endured.

Today, plate buyers tend to be from the 1 percent group, people who can afford to pay six figures, possibly more, for a 6-by-12-inch, sometimes smaller, piece of metal bearing one or two digits.

In Delaware, plate number 1 is reserved for the governor; number 2 is the lieutenant governor’s; and number 3 goes to the secretary of state. Plates number 4 and up can be sold and bought on the open market.

It’s common for four-digit plates to sell for tens of thousands of dollars, and two- and three-digit plates have sold in the hundreds of thousands. Prices for one- and two-digit plates in Delaware are continuing to push closer to the $1 million mark.

A Greenville man, Emmert said, has owned plate number 67, for about 15 years. “He met the guy who owned the plate then at one of my auctions and asked him if he wanted to sell it; he didn’t,” Emmert said.

In 2008, Emmert made national news when he auctioned plate number 6 for $675,000. The buyer, Frank Vassallo IV, is a Wilmington construction and real estate development businessman. Vassallo, it was reported, was prepared to pay up to $1 million for the plate.

The Vassallo family is reported to have owned Delaware plate number 9, for which they paid $185,000 at auction in 1993, and Delaware plate number 27.

Another Delaware family, the Fuscos, has been collecting Delaware plates since 1994, when they paid nearly $200,000 for plate number 9 previously owned by the Vassallos. In 2009, the Fuscos bought plate number 11, also paying  $675,000.

But the Vassallos and Fuscos paid what could be considered chump change for plates if compared to $14.5 million sheik Saeed Abdel Ghaffar Khouri parted with in 2008 to buy plate number 1, issued by the United Arab Emirates.

Proceeds from the sheik’s purchase went toward construction of a hospital.

High-dollar license plate sales, Emmert said, are unique to The First State. He gets a lot of them, he said, because Rehoboth Beach is perceived as a place where there’s money.

He said people who don’t live in Delaware have shown interest in buying plates, but he’s never sold one to someone who doesn’t live here.

“Anyone in Delaware would like to have this tag; it’s just a matter of how much they’re willing to pay for it,” Emmert said.

He said next month another unique license plate might go on the auction block, handicapped person number 1.” Stay tuned, that’ll be news, too, Emmert said.

License plate number 67 and four additional low-digit plates, and hundreds of collectible, valuable, odd and interesting items will be auctioned at 9 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 17, at The Rehoboth Beach Convention Center, 229 Rehoboth Ave.

For additional information, call Emmert Auction Associates at 227-1433, or go to www.emmertauction.com.

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