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Lottery For PL8 FNS

Some of the most desirable license plates in Massachusetts are on the road to new owners today after the 10th annual 'Low Number Plate Lottery' at the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Boston.

Thousands of applicants vied for the prized tags yesterday. Some of them have eye-catching numbers, such as '9000'...'6336'...and the historically significant '1776.' WBUR's Andrea Shea has more on the plates ... and their fans.

SOUND OF A CROWDED ROOM

BOB MABARDY: I'd like one that has an 'M' in it...for my name.

ANDREA SHEA: Bob Mabardy came to the transportation building from Lexington, but admits he's not picky.

BOB MABARDY: Because they're low plates and you can't get 'em. It's a lottery, it's a chance. So we'll see what happens.

SOUND OF LOTTERY DRUM

ANDREA SHEA: It's free to apply for the lottery, but once won, the prized plates cost about twice as much as ordinary ones.

ANNE COLLINS: This year we have over 3,900 applicants for the 205 plates that are available, there are a range of 3 and 4 digit plates and we'll get right into it by doing some drawings.

ANDREA SHEA: The lowest plates are the hottest commodity says RMV Registrar Anne Collins, the woman churning the bingo-style barrel full of names.

ANNE COLLINS: From the first minute you become registrar people start asking you, 'Can you get me a good plate? Can you get me a low number plate?' And of course since 1997 all the low number plates go out in the lottery. But people are just fascinated with it.

ANDREA SHEA: Before '97 Collins says a low number plate often signaled its holder had friends in high places. Scandals involving plates and politicians dogged the Dukakis administration in the 80s. Today Collins says the process is more transparent...and the cult of low digit plate fanatics is thriving.

ANNE COLLINS: People are always interested in numerical patterns that make some sort of sense, double digits like 6778 is up there it's got double 7s. Numbers that add up to the final number, numbers that go in sequence, it's funny (laughs) just the things that appeal to people.

JOE HORGAN: If they called me and said we have 22A I'd say all set, no thank you, turn it back in, give it to somebody else.

ANDREA SHEA: That's self-proclaimed plate purist Joe Horgan of West Roxbury. He says the inclusion of any letter...such as the letter 'A' in '22A'...is a big no-no. Plate adoration runs in his family and Horgan says it's all about the numbers.

JOE HORGAN: My grandfather had one, a five digit, my grandmother had a five digit. And there was a feud after my grandfather passed away who was gonna get one of them, so my mother just turned it into the registry and she regrets it to this day she still says. And then my mother kept the 15290 for herself.

ANDREA SHEA: And then Horgan's mother gave it to him. But now he's going to pass it along to another family member because he just won plate #469 in this year's lottery. Low number plates are commonly passed down through generations, according to Registrar Anne Collins. She refers to the very first Massachusetts license plate, pressed and issued in 1903.

ANNE COLLINS: It was literally #1 it was a blue plate with white letter on it, it went to the Tudor family and it has remained with the Tudor family to this day so from 1903 to 2007 they've continued to pay the registration and renew it every year.

ANDREA SHEA: But the Tudor family doesn't even live in Massachusetts. They're in Illinois, which Collins says is a testament to the plates' mass appeal.

For WBUR I'm Andrea Shea.

This program aired on September 13, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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