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. The province contracted a Hamilton area harness maker/equestrian shop to produce the plates. 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. Ontario continued to issue this style of plate until the end of 1904. As of this writing only a handful are known to survive.

1903-04 Leather Plates – 8 Known

YearPlate NumberOwnershipDetailsPicture
19034Chandler familyIssued to Howard Chandler of Toronto. Still owned by Chandler's descendants.
19039MTO ArchivesImage courtesy of Jim Becksted (2000). Also pictured, page 47 Ontario License Plates – A Century of History by (Sallmen)
1903126Unknown Private CollectionImage courtesy of owner.
1903508Unknown Private CollectionDiscovered in 2012. Image courtesy of Jon Upton.
1903568Unknown Private CollectionSold in 2010 on ebay, formerly Plunkett collection. Ebay Image.
1903591Eric Vettoretti CollectionAlso pictured, page 10 Ontario License Plates – A Century of History by (Sallmen)
1903702Patterson familyImage courtesy of Terry Ellsworth. Also pictured on cover of Ontario License Plates – A Century of History by (Sallmen)
1903744Unknown Private CollectionImage courtesy of Terry Ellsworth. Also pictured, page 10 Ontario License Plates – A Century of History by (Sallmen)

I’ve also listed in the second chart below 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 own replica #80 leather in my own collection!

1903-04 Replica Leather Plates – 18 Known

YearPlate NumberOwnershipDetailsPicture
1903-04 ReplicaBMTO ArchivesImage courtesy of MTO. Likely assembled by using Ministry's spare parts in 1920.
1903-04 ReplicaBGary Edwards Collection
1903-04 ReplicaBUnknown Private CollectionImage courtesy of Terry Ellsworth - 2013. Taken during Belleville Musem closing.
1903-04 ReplicaBBGary Edwards Collection
1903-04 Replica4Unknown Private CollectionFormerly in Hayes collection, current whereabouts unknown.
1903-04 Replica7Ernie Trimble collectionImage courtesy of Jon Upton.
1903-04 Replica8Unknown Private CollectionImage courtesy of an anonymous submission
1903-04 Replica9Unknown Private CollectionDifferent style from #9 below (narrow vs. wide shield). Ebay Image.
1903-04 Replica9Unknown Private CollectionInternet image.
1903-04 Replica9Gary Edwards CollectionDiffers from above as screws are black in picture.
1903-04 Replica25Mounted on 1905 Northern carImage courtesy of Autofocus.ca
1903-04 Replica35Unknown Private Collection. Likely from the Hamilton area.Image courtesy of Jon Upton. Photo taken of a picture.
1903-04 Replica44Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA)Image from ALPCA archives.
1903-04 Replica55Unknown Private CollectionSold on ebay mid-2000's. Ebay Image.
1903-04 Replica65Gary Edwards Collection
1903-04 Replica80Brian Woodard CollectionAcquired from eBay in 2012.
1903-04 Replica595Gary Edwards Collection
1903-04 Replica846Mounted on 1905 Queen Model B carImage courtesy of Flickr