A State Of Plates
● Published by Aimee Cormier
By Carol Stubbs | Photos by Jennifer Beslin
Brady Como has 100 years of Louisiana history hanging on his wall. It’s a history ranging from 1915 to 2015 that illustrates changes in style and the influences of war and peace. And it’s all told through license plates. Beginning in 1903, plates were issued by cities. New Orleans, Alexandria, Shreveport and Monroe issued either auto plates or “horse drawn” plates, which were first made of leather and then porcelain. Statewide license plates weren’t issued until 1915. Como’s extensive state license plate collection is a fascinating overview of Louisiana, evidenced in the colors, materials and designs. It’s one of the few complete collections that exist in Louisiana.
“I got interested in collecting license plates as a hobby,” Como recalls. The license plate collection was a natural progression from his hobby of collecting classic cars. His car collection began about 12 years ago with the purchase of 1956 Cadillac two-door coupe de ville. All he needed was a license plate and the car would be ready to hit the road. In Louisiana, it’s legal to use a license plate on a classic car from the year the car was made. When Como began searching the Internet for a ’56 plate, he became fascinated by Louisiana license plates. Today, he has upwards of 500 plates, including the complete set for Louisiana and a plate correlating to every state issued on his birth year, 1957. He also has miscellaneous plates from other states and countries representing many years, colors and themes. As executive vice president of Delmar Systems, Inc. he frequently travels around the world, and that opens up opportunities for finding unusual license plates, such as one he found in Rio de Janeiro.
“I keep them in a building we call the Toy Shop,” he says. The Toy Shop is filled with a variety of collections, mostly car related. It’s big enough to house Como’s 1956 Cadillac, 1953 Cadillac, 1970 and 1971 Stingray, restored 1958 silver blue Corvette convertible with silver blue interior and restored 1957 Chevrolet Cameo pickup truck. “I’ve always liked the 1950s designs,” Como laments. “I’ve always gravitated toward all the chrome and the long lines. The 1950s were the best years for design in our domestic auto industry. These cars epitomize the U.S. auto industry before we started importing foreign cars.”
Como has taken the restored vehicles to shows and conventions from coast to coast. He’s collected many awards, including a recent invitation to show his 53’ Aztec red Cadillac Eldorado convertible at the Amelia Island Concours event. This is the same model car President Dwight Eisenhower rode in for his inaugural parade in 1953. The iconic automobile was General Motor’s first 12-volt car complete with power top, windows and steering. At 5,000 pounds, it is one of the heaviest vehicles of its time. The car is body number 107 out of 532 produced in the first year of production. Only about 180 remain in existence today, with only half remaining in the U.S. and the rest held by international collectors.
Como’s Chevy truck also has an interesting story. Charles Morel of Opelousas, a friend of Como’s, found the truck in a field in Kaplan about 40 years ago. It was badly in need of repair, but Morel bought it and kept it in his auto repair shop. Ten years ago, he began restoring it piece by piece. Once it was complete, Como happily added it to his collection. The ivory and turquoise 1957 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier Pickup looks like it just came off the showroom floor, but Como has the original bill of sale for the truck to prove its history. In 1957, it sold for $2,648.95 and that included the radio option for $65, turn signal option for $25 and door molding option for $4.45.
The Toy Shop walls are filled with memorabilia. Morel created an interesting display board to showcase a collection of car decals, insignias and dealership nameplates that have been housed in his auto repair shop. Como has a collection of vintage advertising signs, including gasoline signage, authentic signs for Mello Joy, Evangeline Maid and Sealtest Milk. Old gas pumps from Poly Gas, Sinclair, Phillips 66 and Super Shell illustrate the progression of literally pumping gas to digital, automated pumps. In one corner of the warehouse, there’s an old, wood phone booth, complete with a light and fan that comes on when you open the door. There’s even a super-sized bubble gum machine. The Toy Shop is a getaway spot where Como and his son, Ben, can work on cars, sort through collections and enjoy time with other collectors, friends and family.
In his search for license plates, Como has discovered that Louisiana plates are highly valued by collectors because of the colorful history represented in the stamped metal. “It’s a great conversation piece,” says Como. When Huey Long was governor, he decided to issue license plates in school colors, beginning with the purple and gold of LSU in 1935, followed by green and blue for Tulane and red and white for Southwestern (UL). During the WWII years, metal was used to make military equipment, so the 1944 license plate was made of bagasse, a sugar cane byproduct. The next year, in place of license plates, there were stickers issued, and Como is in possession of one of these as well. In 1947, the state issued aluminum plates prior to creating them with steel. All license plates are made at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.
Up until 1951, drivers in Louisiana were required to have front and back plates on their vehicles. When license plates were fist issued in 1915, cars were made with less horsepower than they have today. “Louisiana issued low horsepower and high horsepower plates,” Como says. License plate designs and colors have changed through the years. The first year that there was an outline of the pelican on license plates was in 1932. The 1950 Louisiana plate has impressive yellow lettering on a blue background, and it’s the only plate that features a white pelican. The official state bird is the brown pelican. Over the years, the pelican design went through transformations, with the pelican’s beak shown in profile, open, lifted up and then down. In 1941, the pelican was replaced with the outline of the state, but then the pelican returned in 1944 and continued through 1963.
There are stories are revealed in the designs and the numbers. In 1962, the number of licensed cars reached 1 million, and the state was forced to change the numbering sequence. Plates were issued with numbers and Louisiana State Police Troop letters. In 1964, the pelican design was replaced with a letter representing the Louisiana State Troop designation where the car was registered. For example, Lafayette was Troop I, Opelousas was Troop K, and Baton Rouge was Troop A. Plates ordered through the mail typically had an “X” as the middle letter.
In 1954, license plates were stamped with “Louisiana yams.” Prior to that, the plates only had the name of the state and the year. It wasn’t until 1958 that plates had the slogan “Sportsman’s Paradise.” In 1960, that was changed to “LSU Centennial” to honor the one hundred year anniversary of LSU. Sportsman’s Paradise was back until 1986 when it was replaced with “Bayou State” for one year, and then back again until 2001 when it was replaced with the script Louisiana logo that we see today.
Como is a member of the ALCPA, the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association, which includes about 20,000 collectors from all over the world who collect, trade and display license plates. Through the ALCPA, Como keeps up with news and information and connects with others. “One of the experts in license plate collecting lived in Lafayette for many years and recently passed away,” Como says. “Dr. Bob Crisler was a former professor at UL, and he and his son wrote a valuation guide for plate collectors on plates from all 50 states.” Crisler served as an officer of ALCPA and was a member of the organization’s Hall of Fame. He became interested in plates and started collecting when his son was in grade school back in the 50s. “I’d go see him, and he always had time to visit,” says Como. “He had boxes in his garage filled with old plates. I miss visiting with him.”
Como grew up in Patterson. He’s had a multi-faceted career path, beginning with 20 years in banking and now in the oil service field as executive vice president of Delmar Systems Inc. in Broussard. He’s also co-owner of Clima-Secur Storage in New Iberia and Lafayette. On his off time, he’s searching Ebay and craigslist.com for license plates or meeting with car and license plate enthusiasts. “My wife would choose to differ,” he says, “but the fun is in the hunt.”