The Roman Empire may have had numbers on their chariots but this has not been verified. Internationally, we have been told that the first license plate was issued in Luxembourg in 1895. We do not have the research that was done to establish this information.
What may, or may not, have continued in some form for centuries remains open for further discovery. In the introduction to Colorado License Plates The First 100 Years 1013-2013, Thomas E. Boyd, George C. Sammeth and James Hucks share more information on early license plate history:
“Early documentation for the practicing of licensing vehicles can be found in the literature of late Victorian England when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his third of the four crime novels about Sherlock Holmes and his assistant, Dr. John Watson. In the detective fiction, The hound of the Baskervilles, originally serialized in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902, and published in book form in 1902 by United Kingdom publisher George Newnes, Holmes and Watson are unsuccessful in attempting to catch a public hansom cab. The horse-drawn two-passenger, hansom outran its pursuers, but Holmes was able to get close enough to spot its number, 2708, which became a major clue to uncover the mystery in the story.”
In another posting, we’ll delve into the early U.S. history of license plates.