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ALPCA's Best Plate of 2015

Winner: Alaska


ALPCA members only: See the voting results.

All nominees

ak ca il mn mt nc nd sk tl tn wi wv


by Gus Oliver

With a 20% increase in voting, members overwhelmingly voted Alaska as the winner of the Best Plate Award for 2015. This redesigned Grizzly Bear license plate received about 34% of the maximum number of points. Alaska also won this award in 1998 with their Centennial plate. The first vote received was from Jim Schaller (2999) via email which put Alaska in the lead. Alaska stayed in the lead with the spread between it and the others growing almost every day. When I first saw this Alaska plate, I wondered if it might be the next winner as it was both legible and attractive plus it was a retro redo of a very popular plate.

Original Bear Plate

The current Alaska plate is a redesign of their 1976 Bicentennial license plate (first issued in 1975) with the standing "grizzly" bear. The drawing is actually of an Alaskan brown bear which is larger than but not as aggressive as a traditional mountain grizzly. (The Alaskan brown bear has since also been classified in the Grizzly family.) This plate was only used a few years possibly due to controversy as some felt it looked too much like an angry squirrel or woodchuck. Among collectors this plate is probably the single most popular general-issue graphic and sells for as much as $40 or more in mint condition.

New Bear Plate

Ketchikan resident, Jerry Cegelske, always liked that design and asked out-going Alaska State Representative Peggy Wilson for its return. Cogelske told lawmakers at a hearing that he drove with a grizzly plate outside the state in the 1980s and was peppered with questions about it. " The way I look at the Alaskan bear license plate is that this is free advertising for the state. When you think of Kansas, you may think of it being the first of the rectangle states. But when you look at Alaska, and especially with the bear license plate, it creates a whole different image of the last frontier." The legislature approved it unanimously in the final days of their 2014 Session.

Several designs were considered including bears in other poses but in an online poll voters chose the final design by Anchorage graphic artist Marie Conover which featured the same standing bear but darker with a fading blue background and a silhouette of the Alaska Range. Motorists registering a vehicle for the first time can choose between "The Last Frontier" and the new Grizzly Bear plate at no extra cost. Existing plates can be replaced with the bear plate for a $5 fee. Since its introduction, about 75% of general-issue plates sold are the bear plates. The bear plate is also available in a personalized format for an extra fee of $30 and account for about 40% of the personalized plates.

Cegelske received the first plate when they became available in May of 2015. Wilson changed to the bear plate after an annual spring road trip to their family farm in Missouri. This Wrangell resident says the grizzly design is a conversation starter, particularly for Alaskans roadtripping outside the state. "When you are from Alaska, people just want to talk about Sarah Palin", says Wilson. And now, this is something else the license plate, it gives them another conversation starter. After learning that their bear plate won the contest, Alaska DMV Director Amy Erickson was quite honored that this plate won and is looking forward to working with us on the presentation and press release.


To celebrate the National Bicentennial in 1976 Alaska asked for designs from several sources. Alaska officials chose the bear design from 3M Company which was based off of a pencil line sketch by a well-known wildlife illustrator Douglas Allen who lives in New Jersey. His drawing depicted a black bear, a grizzly and an Alaskan brown bear all in standing positions to show their relative size and was published in 1962 in Clyde Ormond's "Complete Book of Hunting". (Only the Alaskan brown bear is shown here.) He was inspired by the bears at the Bronx Zoo in New York City and has never been to Alaska. Apparently 3M officials lost track of the source of this drawing so it was never properly licensed nor proper credit given. Alaska resident Greg Bill immediately recognized Allen's artwork when he saw the 1976 plate and wondered why Allen was not credited. When Bill learned that the new bear plate used the same standing bear, he contacted the 79 year old Allen who was unaware and flattered that his design had been used on both of these plates. Bill asked Allen to not pursue any claim against the State of Alaska to which he agreed. Bill also advised the DMV of the designs origin and requested Allen be given credit. The current legislature has a resolution pending to finally acknowledge Allen's artwork and to give him a special personalized bear plate prior to the end of the session in April.

The Artist

When I notified Allen that the Alaska plate had won, he said he was honored and flabbergasted that a simple line drawing he created so early in his career was so well loved. He commented that if Greg Bill had not recognized his art on the plate, he would have never known of its popularity. Allen commented that Bill has numerous volumes of his work. Arrangements by Bill have been made for Allen to fly into a remote region of Alaska in June or July and accompany him to view the wild bears fishing for salmon. Allen is one of the most talented big game artists. I encourage those with access to a computer to visit his website at where you will find many of his awesome life-like paintings.

ALPCA Member Comments

Rick Kretschmer (9652) chose Alaska as his first choice and commented "Beautiful, legible, retro and modern all at the same time." Although Scott Zillmer (11753) choose this as his third choice, his comments were "A simple, retro design that captures the essence of Alaska." Stephan Feuk (771) chose Alaska as his first choice and commented, "A rather simple design and with a clearly understandable message (Come to Alaska and see fantastic wildlife), Easily legible." Kevin Hybels (10825) commented "I think this year's choices were all excellent, so I had a hard time deciding which to vote for. I decided on these (AK, WV and NC) because they were simple, elegant, memorable, and easy to read." Justin Mattes (6748) comments were: "Well it is this time again, the plates this year are better than last year in my opinion, more wide ranging choices ... My third choice is the Alaska Standing Bear plate which is a stunning update of an old plate the standing bear is one of the most identifiable graphics on any plate since the introduction of graphics!! I like the contrast and am very happy they brought the graphic back!!! As I always say the Best Plate Award is one of ALPCA's most successful programs and always gets great publicity for the club. I look forward to it every year and hope for its continued success!!"


Second place went to North Dakota with the only other animal (a bison) which also appeared on the previous general issue. California came in third with a respectable number of votes. These 3 plates received 50% of the votes and were all retro in design. On the ALPCA Discussion List (email group) one questioned why the California plate was even in the competition since it was so plain. Others responded that they favored this plate for its simplicity and retro look. Fourth place was practically a 4 way tie between Tennessee, Saskatchewan, North Carolina and West Virginia (in that order) with no more than 25 points between them. The other 5 plates collectively only received 20% of the points.

Thank You

As usual I received many thank you comments on the ballots and emails. I would gladly still do this without such comments but I find it encouraging that so many have expressed their appreciation to me personally as well as their support for the program. I would like to express my thanks to every one of you who voted and an extra thanks to the members who submitted nominations, provided comments and/or photos.

Last updated: Thursday, 12-Jan-2017 07:35:48 UTC

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