A Brief History of US Tax Stamps

                It’s tax season in the US, with returns needing to be filed by April 18th this year.  Sounds like a good time to talk about tax stamps!

A postage stamp commemorating the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act’s repeal will be issued by the USPS in May, 2016.

Tax stamps are applied to items as proof of tax payment.  They were first used in America during the colonial period.  In 1765, the British Parliament passed the Duties in American Colonies Act which required colonists to use stamps or stamped papers to pay taxes on certain items or documents.  This caused quite an uproar at the time.  The reason behind the taxes was to pay for British military service protecting the colonies, but the colonists didn’t think that was necessary.  This lead to boycotts of British goods and protests (under the rallying cry “No taxation without representation”) which eventually lead to the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766.


                The next time the United States had tax stamps imposed upon them, it was ordered by their own, representative government.  US tax stamps were first issued in 1862.  The Civil War, which had started during the previous year, had taken a toll on the US economy.  These additional taxes at first funded the Union military, and later contributed to the reconstruction period after the war.

                Tax stamps could be broken into two general categories based on what they were taxing: documentary stamps and proprietary stamps.

“Bank Check”, “Certificate”, “Inland Exchange”, “Contract”, and “Internal Revenue” stamps from the first issue of US tax stamps.

                A documentary stamp was applied to a document, generally to pay for a transfer or loan of money.  Originally the US printed these stamps with labels to specify their use.  Examples include “Bank Check”, “Certificate”, “Inland Exchange”, or “Contract”.  Unfortunately, the stamps were often misused and attributed to the wrong documents.  The second issue of stamps were simple “Documentary” stamps usable to all documentary items.

                A proprietary stamp was applied to a taxed item.  Generally, these were used for alcohols or luxury items such as perfumes, cosmetics, or playing cards.  While the US printed generic proprietary stamps, they allowed private companies to print their own stamps.  Companies who printed their own stamps not only received a small discount to their taxes, but could design their stamps with additional advertising to decorate their packaging.

A small collection of various US revenue stamps.

                Tax stamps were used in the US until the 1950s.  A variety of designs and subjects have been used for these stamps, which can be a fun addition to your collection.

One thought on “A Brief History of US Tax Stamps

  1. Claus Dittrich June 16, 2017 / 4:07 am

    Thanx for sharing, interesting facts, I have only seen a couple of those, guess they’re hard to get by. Regards Claus


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