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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 – 12 passenger plates and one lone dealer plate.

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

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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

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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: 24

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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.