2CENTS ARCHIVES

First started as "My 2 Cents" in 1997, I have written posts numbering into the hundreds. It will take some time to resurrect the older posts, so keep checking back. They will include meet reports, travelogues, and news of interest to Ontario licence plate collectors.

1938: A year we can appreciate

Updated: May 30, 2019


1938 is on my mind, even though I wasn’t around back then.

While I was in Barrie earlier this month, hunting for plates (and not finding many, I’m sorry to say), I did re-kindle an old interest. I was in an antique market, just wandering around, when I happened to spot some old editions of the “Road Book”, as published by the Ontario Motor League. The OML was an independent road travel organization before affiliating with the CAA, and later being absorbed into it. They published an annual volume about the Ontario highway system, including maps, lists of local businesses and amenities, mileage charts, and the like.


For a few years in the 1930s, the Road Book also featured a table of Ontario licence plate number blocs and the locations they were issued. I’ve long known about this, but the last time I saw one of these books at a flea market, the plate distribution table struck me as interesting, but the book itself fell outside my collecting interests, so I never bothered to buy one. I didn’t remember what the covers looked like, so I wouldn’t have recognized one from a distance while looking for more interesting stuff—like plates, for example.

When I saw the Road Books in the antique market, I browsed through them for an older edition. I found a baby blue softcover 1938 edition, and sure enough, the plate distribution table was in the table of contents. The absentee vendor wanted $25 for the book, which I found exorbitant, so I just gleaned the info I needed: I whipped out my phone and took pictures of the three pages that contained the data. The book itself has about 250 pages, so that would come to 10¢ per page. If the book had been priced more reasonably, I might have bought it. But the vendor wasn’t there to break my loonie, so I moved on without leaving thirty cents. Not one of the nicer things I’ve done in my life, I suppose, but there were no posted store rules informing me that photography was disallowed. It’s not as though I was taking a picture inside the Sistine Chapel (guilty, 1999).

Regardless of the ethics, I entered the data into a spreadsheet when I got home, and then imported it to a new, freely-available page I created in the “Resources” section of this site. The ascension of the numbers and letter in the plate serials is quite awkward, and I did my best to explain how it worked. There are no leading zeroes, but there are trailing zeroes, but only if the plate ends with either two or three numerals. If the plate ends with one numeral, it jumps straight to 1 once 9 is reached. I have to wonder how many mis-numbered plates were tossed in the garbage at the factory.

Now, I’m on a mission. I want a copy of the other distribution tables from the other OML Road Book volumes, so I can compile the information and make it available online via The Back Bumper. I don’t know when these tables made their debut in the Road Book. However, the 1941 edition omits the tables with the following explanation:


So, I’m guessing that these tables appeared up to 1940, but not afterward. The 1942 edition, I've heard, doesn't have them either.

I collect enough items at this point in my life, so I’m not looking to accumulate these books on my shelf. But if any reader has a copy and would be willing to share a scan of the pertinent pages, I’ll gratefully accept. Maybe the next time I see a copy of a Road Book at an antique market, I’ll offer $5 to the vendor to take the pictures.


The 1938 distribution table includes, surprisingly, the doctor plate allocations as well. They were numbered from D1 to D6000, and were issued out of Toronto. I’m guessing doctors had to apply for them. Why they would wish to have distinctive plates, I’m not sure. It seems a fair bit of inconvenience to send away for a plate, especially if the doctor has no attachment to the number. Perhaps doctor-plated cars were exempt from parking tickets, or had some sort of special privilege while in operation.

Regular 1938 passenger plates bore letters in only the second, third and fourth positions. However, more plates were needed after all of those possible combinations were exhausted, and so an overflow series was created, with the letter in the first position. It was later in 1938 when these plates were made, and by then, the 1939 dies had been installed on the factory presses. Thus, these late 1938 plates, which are not included on the OML Road Book table, have a distinctively different look to them, even though the colours are the same.

At the same time as I was publishing the 1938 table, I was also busy in my Ontplates.com workshop, putting the finishing touches on two restored 1938 pairs. They were painted blue and orange that year, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Orange Lodge. One of my restored plates, number 19J7, is a typical short plate for 1938, and was apparently issued in Belleville, according to the table. The other, number B377, is an overflow plate made with 1939 dies. I finished restoring both at the same time, and just for fun, I took a picture of them side-by-side, with the sun shining on a shallow angle, to exaggerate the shadows and more clearly show the depth of the dies.


  • The 1939 serial number dies have a wider stroke. The 1938 dies have a thinner stroke. You can tell the difference by comparing the “7”. The late issue numbers look “bolder”.

  • The 1939 dies have a shallower embossment into the metal. The 1938 dies created a deep embossment in the plate when they struck the metal.

  • The 1938 crown is more intricate, with finer details in the embossing. The 1939 crown is more simplified (but it’s easier to paint the ’38 crown anyway when I’m restoring one, because the die strike is so much deeper than that of the ’39 crown).

  • There are slight size differences in the “1938” and “Ontario” legends.

  • The height of the overflow plates is shorter by about an eighth of an inch, as compared to the regular plate. When placed together, as shown in the picture, the combined height of the overflow plates is a quarter-inch less than the regular ones. I placed the plates on my kitchen floor to photograph them. The ceramic tiles are one square foot each. Follow the grout line on the bottom of the picture to see the difference between the two.

#factory #ephemera #OML #distribution

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