I wrote a separate article a couple of years ago on how to identify the various fake versions of 1952 Ontario windshield decals. This time, I’ll cover how to identify a 1944 decal.
Many collecting folks typically have a couple of omissions in their sets of Ontario permits: 1944 and 1952. These are the “windshield decal” years, where commercial (C), dual-purpose (X), and passenger plates were not made. Instead, plates from the previous year were retained and validated by way of large paper stamps, which were moistened on the front side and applied to the inner windshield glass. Sitting in the driver’s seat, the 1944 stamps were applied on the lower left corner, and the 1952s were applied on the lower right corner. While they were referred to as "stamps" in the instructions and official government verbiage, contemporary collectors commonly refer to them as decals, even though the term "stamp" is probably more accurate. These items are hard to find, and many collectors have bypassed them, opting instead for trailer plates from 1944 and 1952.
1944 decals for Commercial class (Vettoretti collection) and Passenger class (Upton collection). Verifed authentic. Neither are affixed to glass.
I’ve drawn a chart to show how likely you are to come across a 1952 or 1944 decal. The chart shows the relative abundance of real decals versus fakes for each year. I’ve not been logging sightings of decals, so I have no “hard data,” but this is what I’ve generally noticed over decades of looking in antique shops and flea markets, buying collections from people, taking pictures, writing 2Cents columns, and generally paying attention. Anyway, have a first look:
There are lots of professionally-made fake 1952 decals out there, which vastly outnumber the real ones. This is shown on the left side of the chart. Most of you, sometime, will find what looks like a 1952 Ontario windshield decal. But it’s very likely not real. 1944 decals, although rarer, are easier to identify because there are no professionally-made fakes. You’re much less likely to find a 1944 decal, but if you do, there is a better chance that the decal you’ve found is authentic, because there aren’t as many fakes floating around.
Let’s get into real 1944 decals. An “average” real decal will be used, and affixed to windshield glass. A couple of us are very, very fortunate to have unaffixed, unmodified examples, but I’ll discuss those later.
1944 decals are 4 ½ inches long, and 2 ¾ inches high. Anything that doesn’t match these dimensions is probably from a photograph or printer. They didn’t shrink or expand when used. 1944 decals are a little smaller than their 1952 counterparts.
Front and rear sides of a windshield-affixed 1944 decal. Verified authentic. Best condition known of a glass-affixed decal. Haddock collection.
The decals were water-activated, and the glue stuck reliably to the glass. There may be a bit of wrinkling on the decal, because it had to be moistened. These decals did not have to be taped or sealed onto the glass. The reverse side, still bearing the instructions, should be visible in blue print. If the decal has been applied to glass, the instruction surface should be dull, not shiny. Sometimes, the decals have faded from sunlight, or been stained a tan or brown colour because of recurring moisture. If the instructional side is covered, blank, or obscured in any way, steer clear. It might be a fake that has been designed to conceal the absence of mounting instructions.
Another thing to note: In 1944, cars did not yet have curved glass. The glass supporting a 1944 decal should be perfectly flat. If it’s curved, then the glass is newer than 1944, and the decal could be a fake. Also, in 1944, there were no tempered or reinforced windshields. Glass of this era, when broken, splintered into loose shards. If you find a glass-mounted decal that has been broken into a non-shard pattern, then the glass couldn’t have been around in 1944, meaning the decal may be a repro. It’s entirely possible that someone with a real decal might have affixed it to newer glass, but really... If you have an unused antique decal, wouldn’t it make more sense to keep it that way?
A further aspect to examine is the typeset used to denote the vehicle class and serial number. The examples shown here are consistent with authentic decals. Beware of different typesets or colours used in the lower boxes of the decals. I’ve only ever seen a dual-purpose decal once, but it uses a different font for the vehicle class. I can’t show that here because the image is part of the ALPCA Archives, which are protected by copyright.
If you have a 1944 decal that is affixed to glass and passes the criteria above, then good for you! You probably have the real deal. Don’t attempt to remove it from the glass. This is part of the decal’s authenticity. If you aren’t sure, ask an expert.
Now comes the issue of authenticating non-affixed decals, or unused / NOS / mint condition, or whatever lingo you prefer. There are very, very few of these that survive.
Public Service Announcement about the 1944 Ontario motor vehicle stamp. From the March 1944 issue of an unknown magazine.
First up, check the dimensions. Also, verify the borders around the sticker. Going from inward to outward from the blue centre, there should be a red border, then a white one outside of that, and finally, a black one that extends all the way to the edge. If any of these are missing, or if the decal seems to have been cropped, be careful.
These decals are very fragile. The adhesive has hardened and become brittle over the years, which means if someone were to fold the decal, it’s probably going to crack into separate pieces along the fold. No real decal should be folded. But the brittleness of the adhesive raises an other interesting fact: An unaffixed decal may well have fragments that have broken off cleanly from the edges. This is true with my own decal from my collection, pictured earlier in this article.
The “pretty” side of the decal was treated with water-activated adhesive, which produces a slightly glossy sheen. Bounce some light from the decal on a shallow angle, and see if you can cause a glare. If you can, that’s good. The reverse side, with the instructions, should just be matte.
What if you can’t do the sheen test because the decal has been laminated? Lamination is what fakers do to “protect” the decal from being outed as a fake. If it’s sealed inside a baseball card protector, but can be removed, then unseal the protector, and slide it out. You can’t determine whether it’s real if it’s stuck in there. If it’s trapped inside plastic laminate, or if some seller won’t remove it from a card protector, then steer clear. Or get expert help, at least. To keep this article consistent with the one I wrote two years ago on the ‘52 decals, here’s the hierarchy I used to define the types of fake / authentic decals you may encounter: FAKE:
6. Colour photocopies or photographs that are blank on the rear side (may have cropped border or be wrong size). Class 6 fakes, as I call them, are not worth the paper they're printed on.
"This Piece of Paper, View A." It lives in my files. It's a photograph of 1944 decal, printed to approximately correct size. On the surface, it might look pretty good if it were shown online. The late "Sam" Samis gave this to me around 2007.
"This Piece of Paper, View B." Same photograph as previous, but bent. Flexible paper allows bending / creasing without breakage. Obviously a photograph when held in-hand, or when viewed bent like this. A real sticker is brittle, and would snap if held in this way. Never assume authenticity of the paper unless you have seen it personally.
"A Different Piece of Paper With the Same Thing On It." This image dates to 2002. Note the doctored upper left corner. While the decal depicted in the image is the same, this one came from the dispersal of the collection of the late Ernie Wilson in 2002. No two authentic decals should have the same number (or stain patterns).
5. Colour photocopies or photos, like those in class 6, that have been pasted to old glass, with the rear side concealed by hardened caulk, paste, or other gunk. If the rear side has been painted over, or concealed so that you can't see the instructions, run far away. This is easy to detect either in person or online.
4. Unaffixed decals laminated / trapped in plastic. Instructions may or may not appear on the rear, depending on how it was laminated. New plastic lamination is always suspect. Older cellophane lamination could have ben well-intentioned, but it prevents you from examining the item completely. Get help unless you're very sure of the decal's provenance.
This decal has been fed through a modern-day laminator; note the plastic coating around the edges. It cannot be easily authenticated. The possible sheen on the front side is forever masked by the plastic. There is no way to tell if the rear side had a matte surface (assuming the rear side even had instructions in the first place). The heavy plastic prevents an observer from knowing the original weight of the paper. This item could be real, or it could be from a colour photocopier or printer. Image captured at the 2004 Acton swap meet.
This unaffixed, laminated decal looks good, but the lamination prevents us from seeing the sheen of the adhesive, which should be there in an unaffixed decal. Also, the rear side of the decal was hidden, so there's even less evidence to consider. It is very difficult, if not impossible to authenticate a laminated decal. As it happens, this one is real. But I only know that because I photographed it at the Swigart Museum in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, and I have seen the rest of the collection.
3. Unaffixed decals, with instructions appearing on the rear, that are not laminated. They may be held in rigid card protectors. The only way to authenticate it is to remove it from the protector. May have a non-glossy face, be made of foldable photo paper, or have cropped or missing borders.
Is this item real, or a reproduction? I know the answer, but only because I know where it came from. This picture alone does not provide a "smoking gun" of authenticity. You must see it in-person while it is removed from its case in order to be sure. Image from Jim Becksted.
REAL: 2. Real decals that have obviously been mounted to glass using water only, showing wear, possible tattered edges, fading or discolouration from sunlight, with no concealment of the rear side. The paper is fully exposed on the rear instructional side. Cracks in the non-tempered glass should take a shard-like pattern.
Broken glass shows a radial crack pattern, with shards visible, particularly on the front side. Glass-mounted decal from the Steckley collection.
Decal is intact with minor signs of wear and fading, and the period windshield glass was professionally cut. Image from my files. I don't recall the owner, but I've had it saved since 2015.
Exposed, tattered edges abound on the legible instructional side. A sign of authenticity. From the Steckley collection.
1. One-in-a-zillion, unused decals that are the real deal. These are made of very thin paper. The blue side should be somewhat glossy. The instructional side should have a slight sheen, with light blue print. Be sure to verify candidates with someone knowledgeable and trustworthy.
Mint condition, unaffixed, unaltered, unconcealed decal. Note the slight shine on the instructional side, which has not been exposed to any elements. Verified authentic. Kozinski Collection.