The Nantucket Island license plate appropriately displayed on a Land Rover, a classic off-road SUV for navigating Nantucket's cobblestone streets.
Can the precious island made wealthy by Quaker ship owners and whalers, but now the purview of Ralph Lauren-clad hedge-funders, stand any more cuteness? Would that the hauntingly beautiful island rebel against yet more trite merchandising of this demi-paradise of cedar shingles and windswept moors. Once, the ultimate status symbol was an over-the-sand permit for the bumper of a Jeep, or better yet, an old Land Rover. Now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has offered another bit of snobbery with a special license plate.
Even so, the new plate is not nearly as exclusive as the various out-of-state vanity plates that are seen on the island. Imagine the pride of the Mr and Mrs Gottrocks, summer residents from somewhere near the horse country of Morristown, N.J., constantly announcing their second domicile on their Audi "Afrika Korps" urban assault vehicle.
Clearly the appeal is for more than the 10,000 or so locals, and anyone across the state can get a Nantucket Island plate for their car. It is a desirable trinket for those who regard the Far Away Land as nirvana – a place of Nantucket baskets, Nantucket red khakis, red brick sidewalks, and more take offs and landings at the airport in the summer than Boston's Logan. $28 of the island plate's $40 fee does go to non-profits that help children, but one wonders if there were not another way to raise charitable contributions than a design that pimps the island's history
Massachusetts paid a Boston brand consulting firm in Boston to glop up a license plate with several fonts. Thank goodness, the identifying NI and numbers are embossed – other states would have offered a tableau of Moby Dick in full-on Nantucket sleigh-ride mode. But no kudos should go to Nantucket artist David Lazarus for his confusing and complicated logo of a sperm whale superimposed on a detailed map of the island.
Such silliness makes a mockery of the centuries-old Quaker aesthetic that gave Nantucket such a strong design identity,as in the house below.
William Morgan is a contributing editor at Design New England magazine and is the author of such books as Yankee Modern and The Abrams Guide to American House Styles.