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Dealer Plates


Ontario was the first province in Canada that passed a law in 1903 that required motorists to pay $2 for a leather licence shield adorned with aluminum numbers. They were designed by a member of the Hamilton Auto Club, and manufactured by a Toronto-based harness maker. John C. Eaton bought the first two — one for his 1903 Winton (likely pictured above), and the second for his National electric vehicle.

Dr. Perry Doolittle, who would later found CAA, bought the third of what would eventually be 178 plates issued that year. The fourth plate, issued to Howard Chandler still exists today and is held by his descendants. Only two types of plates were made: passenger and dealer. As of this writing only a handful are known to survive – all passenger plates. No original dealer plates have been found to date.

In terms of construction, numerals are riveted on and are cast aluminum, however the rivets do not show on the front of the numerals (which is a tell-tail sign of a fake). The aluminum oval disc is also riveted in the same manner although the rivets are visible on the front. Visitors from outside Ontario were issued leather plates at the border. These were issued in the 1000 block series. It is unknown if the plate sized differed due to the four-digit configuration.

Advertisement from a US company showing the order form for plate numbers – likely the same supplier that was used by the Toronto harness maker for Ontario plates.

Passenger Plates Known: 12

YearPlate NumberOriginal RegistrationDate & Auto MakeCurrent OwnershipDetailsPicture
19034Walter Howard Chandler, 100 Tyndall Avenue, Toronto, ONSeptember 1, 1903; CadillacChandler familyStill owned by Chandler's descendants.
19039S. W. McMichael, 101 St. George Street, Toronto, ONAugust 29, 1903; RamblerMTO ArchivesImage courtesy of Jim Becksted (2000). Also pictured, page 47 Ontario License Plates – A Century of History by (Sallmen)
1903126Richard Whittaker, Sarnia, ONSeptember 8, 1903; OldsmobileKnown Private CollectionImage courtesy of owner.
1903222A. E. Chatterson, 75 Queen Street West, Toronto, ONMay 3, 1904; National (Electric)Unknown Private CollectionImage courtesy of Norm Ratcliffe.
1903240John McMartin, London, ONMay 11, 1904; FordHathways FamilyImage courtesy of Hathways Family
1903508No RecordNo RecordUnknown Private CollectionDiscovered in 2012. Image courtesy of Jon Upton.
1903568No RecordNo RecordUnknown Private CollectionSold in 2010 on ebay, formerly Plunkett collection. Ebay Image.
1903591No RecordNo RecordEric Vettoretti Collection (formerly Chandler and Patterson)Pictured, page 10 Ontario License Plates – A Century of History by (Sallmen)
1903702A.P. Goering, 102 West Avenue S., Hamilton, ONNo RecordEugene Skotniczy Collection.Image courtesy of Facebook. Also pictured on cover of Ontario License Plates – A Century of History by (Sallmen). "AP Goering" is etched on the backside of the plate. Cross-referencing the 1906 registry, this matches the same ownership record for the 1905-10 rubber plate. Most owners received the same plate number in 1905 during the re-plate.
1903742No RecordNo RecordUnknown Private CollectionImage courtesy of Norm Ratcliffe. As this plate is missing the oval licensing seal, it's assumed it was never issued. The plate however is genuine when comparing all the features.
1903744J. J. Peardon, Thamesville, ONNo RecordChatham-Kent Museum CollectionImage courtesy of Terry Ellsworth. Also pictured, page 10 Ontario License Plates – A Century of History by (Sallmen)
1903948No RecordNo RecordUnknown Private CollectionImage courtesy of private contributor.
Date: 1904, City of Toronto Archives. Leather license plates are likely mounted on all these cars pictured. The matching plate number was also required to be painted on one of the front headlights. Left to right, plates #1056 (out of province visitor), #3 (Dr. Perry Doolittle) and #18 are pictured in the front row.

To date, only one surviving leather dealer plate has been found. Dealers were assigned letters in alphabetical order on a first come first served basis. With the recent find of dealer plate “F”, it is now confirmed that dealer plates were made in the same fashion as the passenger plates, however the dimensions were different. The overall width of the plate was narrower, similar to the Ministry replica made in the 1920s from spare parts (see replica section below). In addition, the oval disc script reads “EXEMPT FROM PROVINCIAL LICENSE” as dealers did not have to pay licensing fees.

Dealer Plates Known: 1

YearPlate NumberOriginal RegistrationCurrent OwnershipDetailsPicture
1903FNot conclusive, however the 1906 registration was to David Bowen of Berlin, ON.Unknown Private CollectionImage courtesy of Norm Ratcliffe.
Excerpt from 1906 official dealer registrations. A similar list was likely kept and published for 1903 registrations, however a 1903 book has yet to be found.

Listed below are all the known replica leather plates to help novice collectors avoid a potential costly mistake. By no means are the replica plate sections below and on subsequent pages meant to “out” collectors – it is simply a registry. For example, I owned fake #80 leather in my collection for over 15 years.

Replica Plates Known: 23

YearPlate NumberOwnershipDetailsPicture
1903 ReplicaBMTO ArchivesImage courtesy of the Ministry. Assembled by using Ministry's spare parts in 1920. Consistent with the "F" plate above, the leather shield dimensions differ from the known passenger examples.
1903 ReplicaBGary Edwards Collection
1903 ReplicaBUnknown Private CollectionImage courtesy of Terry Ellsworth - 2013. Taken during Belleville Musem closing.
1903 ReplicaBDarren Wallace collectionImage courtesy of Darren Wallace. Mounted to the rear of his 1905 Queen Model B Automobile.
1903 ReplicaBBGary Edwards Collection
1903 Replica4Unknown Private CollectionFormerly in Hayes collection, current whereabouts unknown.
1903 Replica7Ernie Trimble CollectionImage courtesy of Jon Upton
1903 Replica8Unknown Private CollectionImage courtesy of Belleville Antique Market
1903 Replica9Unknown Private CollectionDifferent style from #9 below (narrow vs. wide shield). Ebay Image.
1903 Replica9Unknown Private CollectionInternet image.
1903 Replica9Gary Edwards CollectionDifferent than entry above as the oval has silver mounting nails.
1903 Replica25Mounted on 1905 Northern carImage courtesy of
1903 Replica27Formerly Ross Arnott CollectionImage courtesy of Dave Steckley
1903 Replica34Jack Clark CollectionImage courtesy of Thomas Zimmermann
1903 Replica35Unknown Private Collection. Likely from the Hamilton area.Image courtesy of Jon Upton. Photo taken of a picture.
1903 Replica44Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA)Image from ALPCA archives.
1903 Replica55Unknown Private CollectionSold on ebay mid-2000's. Ebay Image.
1903 Replica65Gary Edwards Collection
1903 Replica80Brian Woodard Collection
1903 Replica215Unknown Private CollectionImage courtesy of Keith Murphy. One of the better replica's, however the aluminum numbers are different when comparing to originals. The oval seal has different spacing in the engraving and the hanging tabs are not the same materials as the originals.
1903 Replica367Pictured in Bruce Lobay's Canadian plates pocket book.Image courtesy of ALPCA archives. Dimensions and numerals do not match originals.
1903 Replica595Gary Edwards Collection
1903 Replica846Darren Wallace collectionImage courtesy of Darren Wallace. Mounted to the front of his 1905 Queen Model B Automobile.
Date: 1903, City of Toronto Archives. This is the only photograph found to date showing a leather plate actually mounted to a car. It’s unknown if this is a dealer or passenger plate.