Dual self generating headlights like this would be early, but the NY license plate looks like about 1911.
Am I wrong?
It doesn't appear to be a real car, but rather a mock-up for a photographer's studio, lights are in a silly place, steering wheel in center at an impossible angle, obvious painted background...
I have seen photos of headlights mounted like that before. They usually are on real early cars.
That is a 1910 or 1911 New York State license plate.
1910 was the first year of the state issue plate. White over dark blue.
1911 was exactly the same except white over maroon.
Car is a mock up and the plate is probably expired so photo is no earlier than 1911.
Those are self generating acetylene lamps. Instead of having a separate carbide generator or Prestolite tank plumbed to the lamps, the lamps themselves have a water tank and a basket for calcium carbide.
As Herb said, they were used early on. Don't know when they fell out of favor.
LF tire appears to be flat, check out the angle of the rear tire (obviously leaning). 1897 era vehicles used tiller steering...
That ''steering wheel'' on the studio vehicle looks like a 6 spoke cast iron valve wheel.
Even if we didn't know exactly what year the plate is, the notion that any state had 28,867 automobiles in 1897 would be ludicrous. I know it's a mock-up, but as such it would be made to resemble cars of its time. No American car had a steering wheel before 1899.
1897 may have been the photographer's negative number
I collect vintage photographs. When it comes time to identify what is pictured, I take anything written on the photo with a grain of salt. Sometimes (or maybe rarely) the photo will have accurate info written down near the time it was taken. But many times it is just a note scribbled by someone, years later, and they may, or may not, have know what they were talking about. Most of the time you with see less-than-helpful notes like: "Brother," "Mary," "On Easter," "Bill's house," or "our bunch." In this case, I think Will Brown is probably right. It may be a photographer's number on his file copy, so he can locate the negative if the customer ever wants extra copies.
While we're on the subject of license plates: high number aside, it's generally accepted among license plate collectors that no cars were registered in the U.S. prior to 1903, at least at the state level.
Steering wheels: the electric cars built by William Morrison of Des Moines, IA starting in 1890 did have steering wheels, although they did have crank handles on them (like a tractor steering wheel). So, there is at least one exception to the rule as far as U.S. cars are concerned.
The "1897" Oldsmobile above is a recently manufactured facsimile and not a good example of an actual period vehicle.
It was built by me after being carefully researched, and the configuration is spot-on. No intention was meant to mislead anyone. Here's the Smithsonian example, the only original 1897 Olds surviving. Thanks, Gary
That's a handsome rig Gary, and a quality detailed reproduction indeed...thanks for sharing.
The subject photo may have been a prop at a studio or possibly located at an event, like a fair. Much of rural America could not afford an automobile in 1911, when photo attractions like this would have been a coveted souvenir.
Real cars were being sold very early to photographers that paid for the car by selling photos of people sitting in them. This was done both in store-front studios, and travelling sets all around the country. Often. the cars were complete and in good condition. This one is not that. As others have said. it appears to be a mock-up. It does appear to be some car parts, mocked up for portable studio shots. The hood could be from a circa '06 Autocar, however, others used one very similar including Rambler.
By the way. Those self-generating headlamps were common from about 1901 till about 1907 (after which separate generators and Prest-o-lite tanks were found to be more reliable), but the self generating lamps continued to be available for cars until at least 1912. (I think actually a little later for truck use, many trucks used gas headlamps well into the 1920s, but usually used separate generators or gas tanks.)
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
As Rick pointed out, you can't trust what's written on the back of old photos. Out here in California the State Archives have an early photo of a "Union Hotel" that has written on its back, "Oroville." Well a number of us at the Butte County Historical Society got to looking at the photo and the building doesn't look anything like the Oroville Union Hotel, AND the mountains in the background don't fit in with the location. However, they do match the mountains around Bidwell's Bar, which had a Union Hotel too. Pictures of the town are very scarce, although it was the sight of a major gold discovery and the first suspension bridge west of the Mississippi. But try to convince the Archives folks to correct the error--it has "Oroville" written on it, so that must be where it is! No one know who or when "Oroville" was written on it though. . .