Written by Daniel Livingston
I found a matching set of original unused 1962 NY License plates on eBay for my 1962 Comet. Now all I had to do was register them for my car. But apparently the local Monroe County, NY DMV can't approve the use of vintage license plates when you register a vintage vehicle. They can register the vintage vehicle with new plates. They can hand you the vintage plate form, and they can look at your vintage plates and shrug their shoulders. But the vintage plates have to be "Authenticated" by the DMV in Albany.
During the registration process, and after 3 different people had reviewed my paperwork, It looked like I was golden. As the teller was stapling the forms (back to back for some reason) I pulled out my 1962 NY License Plates and with a smile, I exclaimed ".. and I have Vintage plates". The teller behind the counter gave me the "deer in the headlights" look. "We can not authenticate vintage license plates." she said in her monotonic voice. The one she practices each morning until all emotion has been drained from her vocal cords. "They have to be authenticated by Albany" she continued, as if Albany was some superior being, high up on a hill somewhere. Now, I knew the rules, as I had read up on using vintage plates in NY state. From my research I knew there were three important requirements.
1. They had to be original license plates issued for the year of the vehicle.
2. You had to have two plates if that year required two plates.
3. They could not be repainted.
So I offered the plates to her to verify for herself that they were real. I pointed to the "62" that is clearly embossed in the lower right hand corner. And I also pointed out the rust that was forming on the edges of the plate, proving that the paint was original. "We can not authenticate vintage license plates." she repeated. "But I have the form already filled out", I said. She then pointed out that the form had the Albany address clearing written on it and that I should have known to send the form to Albany. Well I countered with the fact that ALL the DVM forms have the Albany address on them. How am I supposed to know which ones can be done locally and which ones I have to send to the great and almighty "Albany". She had no answer. She then started to describe to me the "Authentication" process.
So, I imagined CSI DMV Albany (cue The Who song here). I figured that they must use some high tech gadgets to scan the plate and create one of those green-lines 3D computer images that spins around on the screen. Or, better yet, the image floats in mid-air like in "Minority Report" and they manipulate the holographic plate to view it from all angles. Sounds like some really cool stuff. Paint samples are probably removed and placed into test tubes, which are then spun in a centrifuge. The results would be viewed on a spectrograph to identify the chemicals in the paint. The age is determined by carbon dating. There had to be lasers involved, there always are. Of course, they would have to dust it for prints to see if the plates were involved in some 50 year old unsolved crime. Then they must use a black-light to see if there were any blood spatter patterns or other bodily fluids, unseen with the human eye.
Snapping out of my little fantasy, I learned that the "Authentication Process" consists of sending a single 4 in. x 6 in. color photo of the license plates to Albany along with the car registration paperwork. Hun? That's it?
So let's recap. The local DMVs are trusted by Albany to issue drivers licenses and process passports. But they can't be trusted to verify that original 1962 NY State license plates, placed in their hands, are legit. That can only be done by Albany reviewing a 4x6 photograph, "showing both plates". Which means each plate is about 1 in. x 2 in. in the photo. And we know that photographs can't be altered in any way, so that's a pretty robust process. I imagine in Albany there is a room full of desks, at each sits a person with one of those large Sherlock Holmes magnifying glasses, wishing that they had some high-tech equipment to use.
I had taken half a day's vacation from work, thinking that I could walk out of the DMV with my registration in hand. Now I was headed home to photograph my license plates. I took a quick picture and printed it out on my Kodak thermal photo printer. I put it and the rest of the paperwork in the mail that afternoon. I added a tracking number so I could make sure the mighty Albany received my package. After all, I was sending the original title and if that got lost, I was screwed.
And now I wait.