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Low-number license plate fetches $147,000 at auction

Proceeds of sale to benefit groups on Cape Cod

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marc Larocque
Globe Correspondent / August 3, 2008

Some people, apparently, just have to be number one.

A Cape Cod & Islands license plate bearing that number has fetched $147,000 in an auction, the highest amount ever offered for a low-numbered plate in Massachusetts, the Registry of Motor Vehicles said yesterday.

Hoping to raise money for economic development and tourism, the Registry on July 8 opened an online auction for the 999 lowest-numbered plates. The auction for the first 100 numbers and the triple-digit repeat plates (111, 222, 333, etc.) closed Friday night. The second highest winning bid for those coveted numbers was $35,500 for plate number 4.

Plate number 1 took in 112 bids. That surpassed the $100,000 paid by auto dealer Herb Chambers for plate number 1 of the United We Stand specialty plates, in a 2002 auction benefiting families of Massachusetts 9/11 victims.

Some people are fascinated by low-numbered plates, said Rachel Kaprielian, the registrar of motor vehicles.

"There's a little kick that goes along with having what appears to be the first plate off the production line," she said.

The Cape Cod & Islands License Plate Committee originally thought the auction would bring in between $200,000 and $300,000, but said it now appeared that the final tally may double their projections.

Bidding on www.capeandislandsplate.com for plates 101 through 998 closed last night at 11 p.m.

"We didn't think it would happen, but every single plate had a bid on it," said Paul Rumul, chairman of the license plate committee. "We didn't think they'd have an interest. There is a great number of people - not just on the Cape - that have an affinity for the Cape."

Proceeds from the specialty license plates benefit several nonprofit organizations on the Cape and islands, including the Lower Cape Cod Community Development Corp, the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, and the Cape Cod Baseball League.

When the specialty plate was unveiled in 1996, with its serene image of a red lighthouse overlooking the ocean, the committee requested that the Registry of Motor Vehicles set aside the numbers 1 through 999. Rumul said the committee waited until the plate was better-known so they would draw higher bids.

In order for specialty plates to be created - there are now 17 different ones - the organizations involved must collect 1,500 signatures and $40 payments (which must then be repaid every two years) from people who want them.

Kaprielian predicts similar success with an upcoming auction for low-numbered Celtics specialty license plates, which will benefit Children's Hospital Boston.

"We had a big drive with [Glen] "Big Baby" [Davis] and they got the signatures that they are seeking," Kaprielian said. "People at their auction will probably go for number 17 - it's a sort of magic number for them, 17 championships! - or Larry Bird's 33. It's a great way to raise money for charity."

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