Campus News

Creative License: Sherburne Adds Vanity Project to Already Full Plate

Story posted December 17, 2010

Associate Director of Online Communications Holly Sherburne keeps a lot of plates spinning. In addition to her day job, which includes developing the College's website and social media strategy, Sherburne has turned her hobby photographing personalized license plates into a book.

Holly Sherburne

The Maine Plate: Maine Vanity License Plates and Their Meanings, which recently proved to be a popular holiday gift item at Bowdoin's Sunsplash art and craft fair, features hundreds of vanity plates and the hilarious, unique and sometimes heartfelt stories behind them.

The book also includes Maine trivia (the state ranks sixth in the nation for the percentage of personalized license plates) and games that challenge you to match a plate with the owner's vehicle or occupation.

Sherburne, a self-described "serial entrepreneur" whose career also includes stints in microbiology and toxicology, first began photographing license plates while publishing the newspaper Downeast Dog News.

Maine Plate cover200.jpg

"I thought that dog-related license plates would add a fun, visual element to the newspaper-and they did, but I discovered there were so many other creative license plates that I couldn't just stop there," says Sherburne.

"I began photographing every interesting vanity plate I found."

As her collection of photos grew, she began to wonder about the meanings behind the license plates.

"Some were obvious, but others seemed undecipherable-as though they held secrets known only to the vehicle's owner," says Sherburne.

bowdoin plates200.jpg

When she began asking people about the substance of their pithy, encrypted messages, Sherburne says the response was overwhelming.

"The stories were funny, poignant, inspiring and sometimes tragic-and all packed into only six or seven characters or less."

Having photographed more than 2,000 license plates, Sherburne says that this is just the first in a series of books she has planned.

The Maine Plate can be purchased online at, the Bowdoin Bookstore and at many independent bookstores throughout Maine.

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