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Time Crunch Forces Hand Silk-screened License Plates

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

The first 600 numbers of the license plate sets created to celebrate the Chicago Bulls Championship win in 1993 were hand silk-screened, not machine-printed. There have been hundreds of special event license plates issued over the years but some are more special than normal. If you have one of these, you have an unusual special event license plate.

Chicago Bulls License Plate 1993
The top license plate was hand silk-screened. The lower plate was machine printed.

The Chicago Bulls won their first “three-peat” NBA championship in 1993, after winning the championships in 1991 and 1992. It was the Michael Jordan / Scottie Pippen era and the people of Chicago and the entire state celebrated with the team. The state of Illinois decided to create a special event license plate to commemorate the accomplishment. Special Event license plates are actual license plates issued by the state in connection with organizations celebrating an event or having a fundraiser. Drivers could purchase the plates from the organization and use them on their cars for about 2 months around the event date. The organization received the funds from the purchase.

In this case, the Chicago Bulls license plate would benefit Little City in Palatine, IL, a non-profit organization that offers support services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. When it became a clear possibility that the Bulls would clinch their third championship, the state prepared the license plate design and readied for production. Due to the enthusiasm for the Bulls, the secretary of state ordered 10,000 sets. But there was the timing problem — the state had to wait until the final game to be sure they could manufacture the plates — if they didn’t win, the license plates would be no good.

Of course, they were already designed and ready to go. For manufacturing, the design is created and sent to be reproduced on a large roll of film. Beside the image, the film includes the reflective material that allows license plates to shine brightly when a light hits them. When manufacturing is ready to begin, the roll is mounted and automatically fed onto blank license plates. Together, they are conveyed through the machine where the film is heat-sealed to the metal plates. The plates continue on to be stamped with state name and year and their individual numbers. Finally, a roller goes over the numbers and they are painted.

And, if you know your sports history, you know that they did win. Then it was urgent to get the new license plates into the hands of the players and officials and customers as fast as possible. But the manufacturing process takes days and days.

Chicago Bulls License Plate 1993
This photo, taken with a flash camera, shows that the hand silk-screened license plate is not reflective like the plate that was machine-made

Here is how they resolved the problem. While production was starting up, craftsmen at the manufacturing facility individually hand silk-screened the first 600 sets. The hand silk-screened license plates used the same image as the machine-printed plates and they looked nearly identical. But there are a few subtle differences.

First, the hand silk-screened license plates are not reflective. The reflective material is in the film used to machine-manufacture license plates. It is not a separate process. So that material was not present.

Chicago Bulls License Plate 1993
Looking closely at the red color, you can see that the color is a bit duller on the plate in the back. The back plate is the one that is hand silk-screened.

We can see that they are not reflective by taking a flash photo of a hand silk-screened license plate next to a machine manufactured one. As shown in the photos, the machine-manufactured plate has a very bright basketball and bull’s head — how it would like if a headlight would shine on it. The images on the hand silk-screened license plate are dull with no reflection. are interested in adding Chicago Bulls license plates to your collection, get in touch with us (708-382-2799fj) or purchase on n

Another difference is the color. The red color in the bull’s head is sightly duller on the hand-screened license plate. Look closely at the accompanying photo to see this.

Lastly, when you look at the basketball on the hand silk-screened plate, there is a little bit of orange color on the picture of the net. The net on machine-manufactured plate is all white. This means the screen used to print the orange on the plate moved a slight bit.

The numbers from 1 to 600 are hand silk-screened. The numbers from 1 to 300 were distributed to the Bulls team members and staff. Most of the others were distributed to officials and the public. Some collectors have been able to find them for their collections. If you happen to have one, you have a truly special special event Chicago Bulls license plate.

© 2021 Tom Baur and Barb Sistak Baur. All rights reserved.

This article first appeared the ALPCA Plates Magazine 2021.

Happy Collecting,

Barb and Tom, The License Plate Girl and The License Plate Guy

If you are interested in adding Chicago Bulls license plates to your collection, get in touch with us (708-382-2799) or purchase on ebay.



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