A Website for Porcelain License Plate Collectors & Enthusiasts
British Columbia Archive
TOTAL KNOWN PORCELAIN VARIETIES: 7
I: PRE-PROVINCIALS / CITY & COUNTY PLATES
British Columbia is notable for having the only full-fledged city-issued porcelain
license plate from all of Canada. This small undated plate was issued by the city
of Victoria at some undetermined time, very possibly in the pre-provincial period
prior to 1913. It should be pointed out that there have been claims that these
Victoria plates date to as early as 1884 when a new law was passed licensing
hackney carriages and express wagons. However, porcelain specialists strongly
dispute this theory based on the appearance and craftsmanship of the Victoria
plates relative to other known porcelain license plates and the history of their
usage. These highly distinctive plates come complete with the official seal of the
city of Victoria baked into the enamel at top center. There are about a dozen of
these rare plates known with numbers not even reaching the 200s. The only
other locally-issued porcelain license plates of any kind from Canada are a series
of boat plates issued by the Hamilton Harbor Commission, but unlike the Victoria
plates, these were obscure plates used by only a small number of boats. The only
Canadian porcelains that would rival the Victoria issues would be the early
Montreal porcelains that are said to have been issued – but none of these has
yet been seen.
II: PROVINCIALLY-ISSUED PASSENGER PLATES
British Columbia began its official issuance of license plates in 1913, later than
any other province in Western Canada. Thankfully, based on research conducted
by B.C. expert Dave Hollins, we have a treasure trove of information in the form
of the outgoing correspondence file of Colin S. Campbell, the superintendent in
charge of motor vehicles. In the summer of 1912, Campbell had begun
investigating what material the first B.C. plates would be made of. He solicited
bids from such companies as the McDonald Manufacturing Company of Toronto,
but ultimately chose the McClary Manufacturing Company, which had offices in
Vancouver, but which would produce the plates in its London, Ontario factory and
ship them via rail to Victoria. McClary had already produced Ontario’s 1911 first-
issue porcelains, and very likely made the Manitoba 1911 and Alberta 1912 plates
as well, so Campbell was probably familiar with the company’s work. An initial
order of 5,000 pairs of plates was placed, but on December 4th, it was clear that
this allotment would soon run out and 2,000 additional sets numbered from 5,001
to 7,000 were ordered for delivery by mid-January. McClary seems to have
handled the task well, although Campbell did complain that the plates were not
packed consecutively in the boxes and the numbers on the sleeves holding each
set of plates did not always correspond with the number of the actual plate. As a
result, all of the plates had to be unwrapped and double-checked before they
could be distributed.
In early January, Campbell began
distributing the new B.C. porcelains to his
local representatives so that they could be
issued to motorists. Notably, although the
plates were ordered from the manufacturer
in pairs, local constables were given a
clear directive to issue only one plate to
each motorist. It was clear that the
Automobile Act would soon be amended to
require the use of plates on both the front
and the rear, but until that happened,
motorists were not to receive pairs.
Constables were also instructed to remind
vehicle owners that the Automobile Act
required that the plate be placed on the
back of the car in such a position that the vehicle’s lights would shine directly on
it so that it would be plainly visible day and night. The only vehicles exempt from
having to carry license plates were official fire, ambulance, and police vehicles.
When the second order of plates arrived from McClary in late January, Campbell
again distributed them to his constables. Seventeen cases of plates numbering
from 6,100-6,600, for instance, were sent to the Chief Constable of Vancouver for
vehicle owners in that city and its surrounding communities. Everything was
going according to plan until March of 1913 when the anticipated amendment to
the Motor Traffic Regulation Act was finally passed by the British Columbia
legislature requiring the use of plates on the both the front and the rear of each
vehicle. At this point, local constables were instructed to issue the second of
each pair of plates. Campbell reported that when all was said and done, 5,201
plates were issued to passenger cars in B.C. in 1913.
When it came time to order the new plates for 1914, Campbell again began making
inquiries to determine the best material, price, and manufacturer. In writing to
the Secretary of State in Sacramento, California, Campbell wanted to know what
material was currently in use there and whether officials and motorists were
pleased with it. As he wrote, “this year we are using enamel and find that many
automobile owners complain that they chip very easily and become disfigured.”
Of course, in the summer of 1913 when this letter was written, California did not
yet have standardized license plates and the Secretary of State was not really in a
position to answer Campbell’s inquiry. On the advice of the Illinois Secretary of
State, Campbell also wrote to the Adams Seal & Stamp Company of St. Louis,
requesting a catalog for what would have probably been embossed metal plates.
Ultimately, however, the contract for 1914 plates once again went to McClary at a
cost of less than twenty cents per plate, and porcelain was once again the
material of choice. In the end, as Campbell reported, 6,688 plates were issued to
passenger vehicles in 1914.
It is notable that Campbell was actively pursuing potential contracts with
porcelain manufacturers to supply the 1915 plates as well. In fact, he seems to
have been fairly close to a deal with the United Enameling and Manufacturing
Company of Los Angeles in May of 1914. The decision to finally go with the
McDonald Manufacturing Company of Toronto was made, in part, due to the
advice of the Deputy Provincial Secretary in Edmonton, Alberta, who advised
Campbell that the lithographed flat steel plates provided by McDonald to vehicles
in that province in 1914 were found to be more satisfactory than the porcelain
plates of the prior two years.
III: PROVINCIALLY-ISSUED NON-PASSENGER PLATES
Demonstration plates were ordered from the manufacturer in groups of five, with
the idea that each dealership would pay a registration fee of $50, for which they
would be given enough plates that they could simultaneously operate up to five
different vehicles being used for demonstration purposes at any given time. If a
dealership needed more than five numbers, additional duplicate plates could be
ordered. However, after the laws were amended in March to require passenger
vehicles to carry plates on the front as well as the rear of each car, the Prime
Minister of the city of Vancouver ruled that all vehicles used for demonstration
purposes also had to carry two plates as well. This required a new order to be
placed with the McClary Manufacturing Company for five more plates of each
number to serve as the pairs to the five originally ordered. Motor vehicle
superintendent Colin Campbell received these duplicate demonstration plates in
mid May and began sending them out. At the same time, it became clear that an
additional allotment of demonstration plates would be needed, as the initial order
of 100 sets was insufficient. Thus, a new order for five pairs of each number from
D100 to D149 was placed. There was apparently a substantial increase in the
number of dealers in the province in 1914, as at least 750 sets of demonstration
plates were ordered that year. Two notable characteristics of demonstration
plates are that they were manufactured in a different color from the passenger
and motorcycle variety, and that in 1913, there was no indication of any province
included on the plate.
When the McClary Manufacturing Company first sent sample cycle plates for
approval in September of 1912, motor vehicle superintendent Colin Campbell felt
that the 6” x 10” plates were too large and requested that they be made smaller.
The final result was a virtual miniature of the passenger plate on a 5” x 8” base.
Motorcycle owners were compelled to pay a $5 registration fee and a second $5
license fee. The first order was for 500 plates, issued as singles only. Of this
allotment, motorcyclists in Vancouver and vicinity received plates numbered from
251 to 500. On April 24th, an additional 500 plates numbered from 501 to 1,000
were ordered from the manufacturer and it was requested that 100 of these be
rushed as plates were quickly running out. By October 24, 1913, it was reported
that some 840 motorcycles had been registered in British Columbia.
In the summer of 1913, when inquiries were being made as to what material the
1914 plates would be made of, Campbell wrote that the chipping and
disfigurement of porcelain motorcycle plates was a real problem because it was
difficult for motorcyclists to fasten them securely to their bikes. As a result,
Campbell was open to changing the material. In a letter to one Vancouver-based
manufacturing firm, for instance, he requested a price quote for “26 gauge metal
with turned edges for motor cycles.” When the decision was finally made to go
once again with McClary, efforts were made to make the new porcelain plates
more user friendly than the prior year’s version. A slightly convex shape and the
placement of two additional holes were designed to make mounting easier and to
minimize damage. In the end, some 944 motorcycles were registered in British
Columbia in 1914. As with other classes of vehicle, however, this was the number
issued - not the number ordered and manufactured. Mint, unissued 1914 cycle
plates, for instance, are known into the 1,200s. It should be pointed out that
motorcycle dealer plates were not manufactured in the porcelain years.
Outgoing correspondence file of Colin S. Campbell, Superintendent of the Motor
Vehicle Branch, British Columbia.
John M. Roberts, "Victoria - Birthplace of the License Plate. Frog Hollow Tag
Trader, 6, 1 (January, 2010), p. 5.
||5" x 8"
||Range: 1 - Approx. 1,000
||5" x 8"
||Range: 1 - Approx. 1,250
||6 1/2" x 12"
||Range: D1 - Approx. D150
||6 1/2" x 12"
||Range: D1 - Approx. D750
|* Dealerships were given five pairs of plates, all the same number - and could order more if they needed them.
||6 1/2" x 12"
||Range: 1 - Approx. 7,000
||6 1/2" x 12"
||Range: 1 - Approx. 7,500
||5" x 8"