Tax stamps on bookseller documents

Today, April 15th, is tax day here in the U.S., the day our Federal income taxes are officially due. If we haven't filed our tax returns yet, then today is the day we have to get our returns in the mail to Uncle Sam or file for an extension to deal with the headache later.

So it seems appropriate on this day to feature some tax revenue-related bibliophemera. I have in my collection two pieces of correspondence from the bookselling & publishing firm of Ivison, Phinney, Blakeman & Co. (By the way, ever notice how these old 19th century booksellers sounded more like law firms with their strings of names?)

The tie-in to tax revenue has everything to do with the date of these letters, more specifically the year--1866. On July 1, 1862, Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1862 to help finance the Civil War. From 1862 to 1883, tax revenue stamps were issued and required for various purchases, transactions, and documents.

The American Philatelist, in their July 2002 issue, featured a well-written and informative article, by Gary Giroux, about the history and collectibility of these philately. I draw on that source for much of the information that follows. The article is also illustrated with examples of ephemera of the day and their required stamps.

Among the most significant aspects of this legislation were the authorization of the first income tax and the establishment of the bureau that is today known as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The act also created Schedules A, B, and C to describe the various taxes to be collected on items such as inheritance, luxury items, documents, and retail goods. Documents fell under Schedule B and its 25 subcategories and required adhesive stamps to be applied directly to them.

I assume my 1866 bookseller letters to clients qualified as Schedule B items and therefore required the revenue stamps you see affixed directly on the correspondence.

By 1872, the stamp requirement for documents was rescinded, except for the two-cent bank check. I have a promissory note, pictured below, for Caughey, McCreary & Moorhead, Booksellers and Stationers, of Erie, Pennsylvania, that may illustrate that type of document. The year is 1872, but it still has a tax stamp. However, the stamp is a ten-cent stamp and the notation below the booksellers' company name informs us that five cents is required for each $100 or fractional part of $100. As this note is for $174, ten cents is required and obviously there was a stamp in a ten-cent denomination.

In 1883, all stamp taxes were eliminated, but the adhesive stamps did surface again during 1898 to help finance the Spanish American War and again during World War I.


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