Maui man shows off his vintage Hawaii license plate collection, dating back to 1933

The city is reassuring the public that there will be no change to the State’s rainbow license plate this year.
Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 10:01 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 11, 2023 at 6:06 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The city is reassuring the public that there will be no change to the State’s rainbow license plate this year.

Eventually, a new specialty plate will feature Hawaii wildlife and that has residents and license plate collectors excited.

50-year-old Darrell Tanaka of Haiku, Maui searches E-bay and swap meets for old Hawaii license plates.

His rarest one?

”Currently, it’s a 1933 sample plate. It has all those zeros on it,” said Tanaka.

He said the most he’s ever spent on a license plate was $1,000. Although he wouldn’t say which one, Tanaka said each is a unique piece of Hawaii history.

”Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. So, collectors like me, like to hold on to things, and eventually it’ll pass on to someone else,” said Tanaka.

”The very first time the state actually had a design on their license plate was in 1976,” Tanaka said. “It had a picture of King Kamehameha and his hand stretched out with Diamond Head in the background. It was a beautiful plate with blue letters on a white background.”

1976 Hawaii License Plate
1976 Hawaii License Plate(Courtesy: Darrell Tanaka)

“Surprisingly, it was hugely rejected by the local population at the time, because it was said that the artist wasn’t local and the plate was too touristy,” explained Tanaka.

“So, the State heard that and they held an art contest and in 1981, they produced the warrior plate, the one with the brown, head figure of a warrior.”

1981 Hawaii license plate
1981 Hawaii license plate(Courtesy: Darrell Tanaka)

Then in 1991, the State rolled out the rainbow license plate.

”The rainbow won all kinds of national awards and accolades for its design because it was a beautiful plate. The rainbow is the longest running license plate that we’ve ever had,” said Tanaka.

But, its days are numbered. The city said it will be working with the State and counties to select a new design and public input will be welcomed.

Meantime, State Senator Chris Lee and DLNR confirm a new wildlife license plate is coming this year, similar to Florida and other states, with proceeds funding conservation efforts. Lee said there are two designs being considered of an ocean-based and land-based species.

Florida and Arkansas license plate designs
Florida and Arkansas license plate designs(Courtesy: Darrell Tanaka)

No word on when we’ll see the end of the rainbow. The city only said it won’t be retiring this year.

In a statement, the city’s Department of Customer Services Director Kim Hashiro said:

Various options will be considered, including changing the rainbow plate to a fresh design. It is also possible to modify the letter-number combinations to extend the life of the rainbow design, which has been around for more than 30 years.

Still, the thought of the rainbow plate retiring has everyone wondering, what’ll be next?

”I’m all for a hula dancer or a hula halau right across the plate,” said Tanaka. “Hula is something that’s very deep. It’s cultural, and it has very significant meaning in all of the poses that the hula dancers use.”

Tanaka said he hopes everyone takes the new design seriously.

“Because it represents us, the local people.”