The British Stamping Office and Taxation: Revenue Duties from 1671 to the Great Reform of 1853


Over the years the government of the country has invented numerous ways of putting its hand into the pockets of its citizens in order to fund its activities. In Britain the first tax in a form we would recognise today was Stamp Duty. It was a tax on legal documents and no such document was enforceable at law unless Stamp Duty had first been paid. The duty was payable during the period May 1671 to 30th April 1680 but no stamp was used. Embossed stamps were introduced for a four year period from 28th June 1694 in order to fund William III's war against the French. It was extended at the end of four years and still exists today.

Most taxes were collected through the relevant document (Newspaper, Almanac, Playing Card Wrapper, Hat Lining, Bank Note, Receipt, Licence etc) needing to be stamped or printed at the Stamping Office(s). Even the documents for the abortive tax intended to be levied on the North American Colonies in 1765 were supplied by the Stamping Office in London. This complex and laborious process led to situations where the cost of collecting a tax was hardly covered by the duty received and attempts to evade taxes multiplied despite the severe penalties for such evasion. The pattern throughout this period was of an expanding number of items that were taxed and a steady increase in the rates of duty payable. By the end of the 18th century, the range of articles that had been taxed at one time or another included Newspapers and Almanacs, Playing Cards, commodities such as Hair Powder, Gloves and Hats, manufactured products such as Paper, financial instruments from Bills of Exchange, Drafts and Bank Notes to Receipts.

With the huge increase in the wealth of Britain following the industrial revolution and with the growth of the British Empire as the 19th century progressed, the Stamping Offices were becoming overwhelmed by the volume of work. The British public were also becoming restive at the taxes, in particular the taxes on Newspapers. These "Taxes on Knowledge" as they were characterised, were increased to 4d in 1815 on a news-sheet that would otherwise have sold for 1d. In the 1830s widespread civil disobedience developed to the payment of these taxes in a similar way that the pressure grew for reform of the postal system. In fact the first major reduction in "postal" rates came into effect on 15th September 1836, when Newspaper Tax was reduced from 4d to 1d and, not only did the 1d pay the tax charge, but it allowed the newspaper to pass free through the post.

Further major reform of the collection of revenue duties took longer to come about than the equivalent reform of postal charges. However, on 10th October 1853, many of the commonest commercial duties were reduced and no longer needed documents to be sent to the Stamping Offices for stamping. Rather than a duty charged being based on the value of the transaction, a lower fee, and often a fixed fee, was paid through the use of adhesive stamps. A receipt for transaction value between £100 and £200 cost 2s6d prior to the Act and from 10th October 1853 the cost was 1d. Thus were born the first of the adhesive revenue stamps.

This exhibit covers the evolution of duties fro the second half of the 17th century to the great revenue reform of 1853 using some of the more interesting, rare, and attractive documents and stamps to illustrate the story. Within a particular subject matter the material is generally arranged chronologically.


Frame 1

  1. Introduction
  1. Forerunners of Stamp Duty: Control of the Production of Vellum and Parchment
  2. Forerunners of Stamp Duty: Imposition on Proceedings at Law
  3. Introduction of Stamp Duty 28th June 1694 - Blue Base Paper
  4. Introduction of Stamp Duty 28th June 1694 - Blue Base Paper
  5. White Base Paper - Grant of Land dated 24th July 1694
  6. The Cypher Label - 1701/02
  7. Cypher Labels
  8. Introdcution of Cypher Labels 1701
  9. Blue Base Paper - Use of Five Shillings Duty Stamp
  10. Blue Base Paper - Early Use of Forty Shillings Duty Stamp and Stamps Identified to a Particular Duty
  11. See sheet 11

Frame 2

  1. Red Base Paper - Civil Documents
  2. Green Base Paper - Per Pound, Apprentices Indenture
  3. Use of Inferior Quality Beige Base Paper
  4. Consolidation of Rates of Duty 1804
  5. Embossed Directly on Paper with Cypher Label
  1. Introduction of Paper Duty 1712
  2. Introduction of Printed Labels 1821
  3. Printed Labels - England
  4. Stamp Office Printing Transferred to Perkins, Bacon & Petch 1844
  5. Printed Labels - Scotland
  6. Printed Labels - Ireland
  7. Plates Made to a New Design 1847

Frame 3

  1. Introduction of Almanac Duty 1712
  2. Sheet Almanacs
  3. Book Almanacs - 1711 to 1758 - Duty 2d
  4. Book Almanacs - Increased Duties 1798 and 1804
  5. Three Year Almanacs
  6. Imprimatur Sheet from the Stamp Office Archives
  1. Introduction of Newspaper Duty 1712
  2. First Additional Halfpenny 1757
  3. Second Additional Halfpenny 1776
  4. Third Additional Halfpenny 1789
  5. Quadruple Halfpenny and Additional Three Halfpence 1797
  6. Increased to 4d 1815 and Reduced to 1d 1836

Frame 4

  1. Introduction of Almanac Duty 1774
  2. Book Almanacs - Increased and Amended Duties 1787
  3. Dublin Directories - Increased and Amended Duties 1787
  1. Introduction of Newspaper Duty 1712
  2. Increase in Duty 1784
  3. Increase in Duty 1798
  1. Taxing the American Colonies 1765 - Background
  2. Paper Document
  3. Almanac Duty
  4. Newspaper Duty
  1. Introduction of Playing Card Duty 1711
  2. Playing Card Wrappers

Frame 5

  1. Duty Ace of Spades
  1. Hat Duty: Indelible Marks on the Lining Cloth
  2. Hat Duty: 1784 Scale of Duty
  3. Hat Duty: 1804 Scale of Duty
  4. Glove Duty: Introduction of Glove Duty 1785
  5. Perfume and Hair Powder Duty: Introduced 1786
  1. Hired Horse Duty: Introduction of Hired Horse Duty 1784
  2. Hired Horse Duty: Exchange Tickets and Check Tickets
  3. Hired Horse Duty: The 'Farming Out' System 1787 to 1832
  4. Duty on Waggons, Wains and Carts: Introduction of Waggon Duty 1783
  1. Duty on Bills of Exchange: Introduction of Duty 1782
  2. Duty on Receipts: Introduction of Duty 1783

Frame 6

  1. Early Notes Issued by Private Banks
  2. First One Pound Notes Issued by Private Banks 1799
  3. New Rates of Duty 1804
  4. New Rates of Duty 1808
  5. New Rates of Duty 1815
  6. New Rates of Duty 1815
  7. Congreve Compound Plate Printing
  8. Congreve Compound Plate Printing
  9. Congreve Compound Plate Printing
  10. Congreve Compound Plate Printing - Issued Bank Notes
  11. Congreve Compound Plate Printing - Issued Bank Notes
  12. Special Embossed Duty Die 1853

Frame 7

  1. Introduction of Medicine Duty 1783
  2. Revised Scale of Duties 1802
  3. Forgery of Medicine Duty Stamps
  1. Life Policy: Essays for the Design 1853
  2. Life Policy: Essays for the Adopted Design 1853
  3. Life Policy: Essays for the Adopted Design 1853
  4. Life Policy: First Watermark
  5. Life Policy: First Watermark
  6. Life Policy: First Watermark
  7. Fire Insurance Policy: Compound Duty Stamps and Life Policy: Third Watermark
  8. See sheet 82
  9. See sheet 82

Frame 8

  1. Receipt: Background to the Changes in October 1853
  2. Receipt: De La Rue Trials to Engrave the Head Die
  3. Receipt and Draft: Embossed Stamps Used After the Issue of Adhesives
  4. Receipt: Receipt Die I - Issued 10th October 1853
  5. Receipt: Receipt Die I - Issued 10th October 1853
  6. Receipt: Receipt Die II - Issued November 1853
  7. Receipt: Receipt Die II - Blued 'Safety' Paper Issued November 1854
  8. Draft: Draft - Issued Late October 1853
  9. Receipt: Receipt Die I - Used on a Receipt
  10. Receipt: Receipt Die II - Blued 'Safety' Paper
  11. Draft: 1d Draft - Used on a Bank Draft
  12. Receipt and Draft: Receipt and Draft Stamps Made Interchangeable