British Columbia Sample License Plates

A special thanks to Tom Lindner for providing many of the plates pictured below

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In an era before mass communication and the internet, sample license plates were made by issuing authorities and shared amongst each other as a way to help law enforcement and government authorities familiarize themselves with the official design being used by a province or state for a particular year. Usually, for a small fee these plates were also made available to collectors.

The first indication of sample license plates being produced for BC date to 1912 and the introduction of standardized license plates to be issued to all motorists in 1913.

In October of 1912, the McClary Manufacturing Company forwarded to the provincial police "three sample signs for Automobiles and Motor Cycles", which the Police confirmed "appear to be according to specifications".

It is not clear if these were "samples" in the modern sense and displayed all zeros or some other type of lettering to clearly distinguish them as a sample or manufacturer's specimen.  It may have been that they were simply random plates plucked from the production run and sent to the Police as examples.

Shown at left is a copy of the letter included by the Superintendent of the provincial police, J.H. McMullin, with a 1931 Sample British Columbia license plate that was sent to all motor vehicle Registrars in the United States. In return, McMullin requested a sample of that particular State's 1931 license plate.

The question of when the first samples began to be produced in BC has so far evaded collectors but it is thought that the 1924 shown below is probably the first year for this plate type. An interesting article in ALPCA's newsletter in April 2017 chronicled the first "license plate collector"; a young kid in New England who started writing states and provinces in 1916 asking for plates. When BC was asked in 1922, instead of a sample, this fellow was sent the plate shown at right (which is thought to have been un-issued stock). In the absence of any other information, this is the best we have to indicate Samples didn't start earlier than 1922.

1924 - 1935
Issuing Statistics
Comments: Production numbers, where stated, are based on information contained in printed Tenders in newspapers. After 1930, plates were made in Oakalla, so no Tenders were issued.
Tom Lindner Collection
Don Schneider Collection
1933 BC Sample License Plate (Tom Lindner Collection)
1934 BC Sample License Plate (Tom Lindner Collection)

1936 - 1950
In 1949 & 1950 - and for the first time time since 1933 - the MVB would issue Sample license plates with 6 digits in addition to the standard 5 digits seen between 1936-1948.
No sample plates were produced in 1951. Rather, a validation strip was manufactured that year displaying a "000000" registration number. This was then to be placed over top of the 1950 base plate (see above).
The validation strip was manufactured in two sizes to match the 1950 base.
1952 - 1954
Dave Hollins Collection
1955 - 1963
1957 Oddball
TB Vets Collection
This oddball 5-digit sample is from the collection of the TB Vets. The Vets previously issued their keytags in the design of the province's license plates and would routinely receive a sample each year in order that they could craft their keytags in the same colours and design. Why this particular plate was only made with 5 zeros is just one of those mysteries that will likely never been solved ...
1964 - 1969
Tom Lindner Collection

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When the province introduced the alpha-numeric AAA-000 sequence for 1970, the law at the time stipulated that zero was not a valid number. Unfortunately, this was not conveyed to the Plate Shop at Oakalla and approximately 1,000 sets of license plates with the number '000' in it were manufactured.
Unable to issue these plates, it has long been suspected that the Motor Vehicle Branch opted to provide these as Sample plates to collector's and other jurisdictions.
Shown below are example from the first bloc of one million plates (shown at left) and the second bloc of one million plates (shown at right) that were issued during this period:
1970 - 1972
1970 World's Fair - Osaka, Japan

We have yet to verify this story, but it is understood by the crew here at that these particular plates are not actual Samples, but were a souvenir plate issued to certain attendees at the 1970 World's Fair held in Osaka, Japan. These plates are not very common.

1973 - 1978

At left is a letter from Keith Jackman, Superintendent of the Motor Vehicle Branch (MVB), dated May 2, 1979, to a collector in Ohio outlining the Branch's policies regarding the distribution of Sample plates in this era. Basically, they were generally not being made available (click on the letter to get a higher resolution version).

1979 - 1986
For whatever reason, 1985 passenger sample decals are almost impossible to find. Shown at left is a very rare example of one that came up for auction in late 2021.
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There are generally three types of Sample plates associated with the "Flag" era, the first of these (i.e. Type I - see below left) being those displaying the early die type used by Astrographics. It is not known how many of these plates were issued, but it is suspected that they would have only been used in 1985 & 1986.
The second type (i.e. Type II - see below middle) displays the classic Astrographic dies and was likely used for the years 1986 through to the end of Astrographics contract with ICBC to manufacture license plates in 2002 (an dpossibly for a few months into 2003).
The final type (i.e. Type III - see below right) displays the Waldale die type and began to be issued in 2003 through to the present.
1985 - 2014
Souvenir License Plate: 1985 - 2002
When the province introduced the new "Flag" graphic in 1985, the practice of making genuine Sample plates available to collector's was replaced with a Souvenir plate stamped on the Truck base and displaying a "BC-0000" serial.
Unfortunately, this plate was routinely confused as a genuine BC license place in other jurisdictions.
Due to concerns surrounding the ambiguity of the "BC-0000" type as an easily identifiable Souvenir plate, ICBC made the decision to phase it out as of November 2002.
In its place, collectors are now able to order genuine "SAMPLE" plates for a fee of $21.50 CDN (GST included); payment must be made by certified cheque.
At left is an adhesive decal of the Flag graphic in Sample form.

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