British Columbia had been issuing automobile license plates for only ten years when this one had been struck — or in this case, printed.
The car itself had not existed long and they were already driving around on the roads of BC. The first license plates were issued in 1904, although cars had been in BC since 1890. (bcpl8s.ca) The plates have changed since then and so have the cars and roads. The purpose for them remain much the same.
Early ones from 1904 to 1912, while looking very much like smaller versions of modern ones, were made of leather. This 1914 one and the 1913 one were made of heavy metal with a porcelain coating. Latter ones were lithographed flat steel plates. Embossing methods used currently and enamelling processes were not as advanced as they are today. During times of metal shortage like during times of war, only one plate was required per passenger vehicle. At times plates were issued on a yearly basis. At other times — such as the current time — decals or tags allowed plates to be used for longer periods with the tags indicating the current year.
There were a number of issues leading to the start of licensing cars and license plates. Early on there were issues with drivers driving recklessly — that’s really nothing new is it? Drivers were spooking horses and throwing their riders — that’s a bit different unless you replace “horse” with “bicycle” — and running down pedestrians. The drivers generally got away with it because they could not be easily identified. Cars were more for “sport” than for transportation at the time.
There was a growing resentment towards “automobilists” — as they were called. Governments began regulating them, but owners of these prestige items were reluctant to mark up their shiny, expensive automobiles with painted numbers or tags. The elite car owners did not want their automobiles to look like a common taxi, reducing the car value.
License plates were a way to get around painting numbers directly on the vehicles. Uniform, cleanly, nicely designed plates were a compromise which was come up with eventually as cars became more common. The whole point was to make the owner or driver accountable for their driving.