Simple definitions of some of the types of plates on this site might be:
SAMPLE – a plate that is correct in every way but is mint (unused) and has almost certainly come from the plate manufacturer direct rather than from the country that it was made for. German manufacturers were very good at giving these sample plates away to German collectors and most are now circulating as the real thing. There are often many plates with the same number and some with numbers that are too high or have lead zeros where the genuinely used ones did not. There are a few known examples from America also. There is every chance that if you buy or trade for a mint plate, it has never been attached to a vehicle in that country.
MADE TO ORDER SPECIAL – plates in many countries are owner provided and can be bought from any plate shop in any town. For the countries I specialize in, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt before the current series, Israel, India, Pakistan before the current series, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, Somalia before the current series, just about any ex French jurisdiction and some others all have owner provided plates. There are many correct or nearly correct plates from these countries that are in collectors’ hands but at least they have been made in the specific country. Some plates (particularly Israel) have completely the wrong style of number on them and are really fakes. There are also now new system French plates being made for sale to collectors but the registration will not actually exist for many years to come.
TEST DESIGN – the plate manufacturers often make several different designs of plate when bidding on a new contract for a particular country. Often the surplus rejected designs have ended up going from the manufacturer to collectors (particularly in Germany) and have now gone into circulation as genuine plates. Not only are they mint but they are also of a style that has never actually been used.
FAKES – a small number of collectors and an increasing number of Ebay sellers are actively making fake plates to sell to other (unsuspecting) collectors to fool them and part them from their hard earned money. These so-called collectors on Ebay are just out to make money and it is a simple case of forgery. Some look vaguely like the real thing but are made on the wrong sort of machine with the wrong dies and some are just fantasies of the imagination.
A couple of simple rules are:
1. Don’t buy mint plates (have a look at the back – you can usually tell from there as some fakers put holes in and otherwise distress their plates).
2. Join a collectors’ club and check the archives:
AISTA in Italy (www.aista.it)
AKS in Germany (www.aks-d.de)
ALPCA for American plates (www.alpca.org)
De Nummerplaat (www.de-nummerplaat.nl)
Europlate for the rest of the world’s plates (www.europlate.org.uk) (In my view the best archive of non-USA plate information available)
Francoplaque in France (www.plaque.free.fr) (the best photo archive on the www)
NPCC in Australia (www.npcc.org.au)
There are also excellent plate collecting forums that you can join:
Plateshed (www.plateshed.com) with a thread devoted to worldwide fakes/samples/etc
Targhe d’Italia e del mondo (www.aista.forumfree.it) in Italian
Forum Des Plaques d’Immatriculation (www.fdpi.eu) in French.