By Rick Miller
Revenue stamps have been much in the news of late with the first auction of stamps from Smithsonian Institution's National Postal Museum hoard of excess United States revenue stamps and the overturned planned destruction of others. The plans to destroy stamps brought about an outcry that eventually led the museum to change its plans.
But what exactly is a revenue stamp?
According to the web site of the American Revenue Association: "Taxes have always been with us; when the first postage stamps made their appearance in 1840, revenue stamps had already been in use for over 200 years."
The glossary at Linn's web site defines revenue stamps as, "Stamps representing the prepayment or payment of various taxes."
Linn's Complete Stamp Collecting Basics by Michael Baadke says "Revenue stamps are proof that tax was paid."
The AskPhil Glossary maintained online by the Collectors Club of Chicago defines revenue stamp as a "Stamp issued to pay various types of taxes, generally denominated in currency."
The Canadian Revenue Stamp Catalogue by E.S.J. van Dam says, "Revenue stamps, unlike regular postage stamps, are used to show that some kind of tax has been paid."
But don't take any of these definitions at face value.
In the Refresher Course of Nov. 11, 2002, I used this revenue stamp definition and was quickly and thoroughly taken to task by a leading revenue stamp collector, exhibitor and writer. He pointed out that many revenue stamps were not used to show payment of tax. Some show exemption from tax: for example, U.S. tax-exempt potato stamps, brewer's permits, distillery warehouse stamps and export stamps.
He went on to say that other revenue stamps are used to show payment of fees, as opposed to taxes, for government services such as licensing fee stamps, customs fee stamps, consular fee stamps and passport stamps.
Having been duly chastised by this worthy, I will not again be caught using such a definition, regardless of how many authorities publish it.
In this Refresher Course, we will look at a variety of revenue stamps that actually do show payment of tax.
Think of any product or activity, and some level of government can probably think of a way to tax it. Taxes have been levied and revenue stamps have been issued by virtually all levels of government.
The number, scope and variety of revenue stamps truly boggle the mind. Developing a taxonony of revenue stamps is difficult because the stamps are sometimes named for the purpose for which funds are being raised, such as war tax or national defense tax; sometimes named for the taxing authority, such as municipal revenue stamps; and sometimes named for the product or activity that they tax, such as sugar tax or entertainment tax.
There is no up-to-date world catalog of revenue stamps equivalent to the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue. The Scott standard catalog lists some foreign revenue stamps with postal connections, such as postal tax stamps, postal tax postage due stamps, (postal) war tax stamps and postal fiscal stamps, but it does not list other foreign revenue stamps.
The French-language Catalogue of Revenue Stamps by A. Forbin is a worldwide revenue stamp catalog, but it has not been updated since 1915.
Many revenue stamp catalogs for individual countries or regions are published.
J. Barefoot Ltd., Box 8, York YO30 7GL, England, has published revenue stamp catalogs for the British Commonwealth, Austria, the Balkans, Baltic States, Benelux, Bulgaria and Romania, Czechoslovakia, Great Britain, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Scandinavia, and Yugoslavia.
The Canadian Revenue Stamp Catalogue by E.S.J. van Dam is the standard reference for Canadian revenue stamps. The Catalogue of Egyptian Revenue Stamps by Peter R. Feltus, The Court Fee and Revenue Stamps of the Princely States of India by Adolph Koeppel and Raymond D. Manners, and The Revenue Stamps of Mexico by Richard Byron Stevens are also standard works.
There are multivolume revenue stamp catalogs for French colonies and for Germany. Several other national and regional revenue stamp catalogs also exist.
Revenue stamps that were valid for payment of many different types of taxes can be referred to as general revenue stamps or stamp duty stamps.
Stamps of Great Britain and British colonial stamps inscribed "Postage Revenue" were valid for either postage or general revenue usage. The Scott standard catalog lists these stamps without reference to their revenue function.
Postage stamp collectors tend to think of these stamps primarily as postage stamps, although revenue stamp collectors have a different point of view. For a used stamp, whether the cancellation is for postal use or revenue use can greatly affect its value.
For example, the Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers 1840-1940 notes regarding Tasmanian stamps, "Nos. 1-47A with pen or revenue cancellations sell for a small fraction of the price of postally used specimens [examples]."
Some stamps that were issued as revenue stamps but that were later authorized to be used for postage are listed in the Scott standard catalog as postal fiscal stamps.
The Scott standard catalog listings of postal fiscal stamps has expanded over the past decade, and it might continue to be expanded.
The 10-lat red-violet Armed Latvia revenue stamp (Latvia Barefoot 85) shown in Figure 1 is an example of one of the tens of thousand of general duty revenue stamps with no postal connection that are not listed in the Scott standard catalog.
The Figure 1 stamp is lightly canceled in purple ink with a handstamped "1 FEB. 1929" datestamp running diagonally across the stamp design. Another handstamp with an inscription in purple runs horizontally along the bottom of the stamp.
Revenue stamps are generally collected in used condition. Unused examples of the stamps often don't exist, or they might exist only in limited quantities.
The Barefoot catalogs say the following about cancels: "Revenues are generally canceled by manuscript, perfin, punch hole, or rubber stamp, as well as circular datestamp. Specimens [examples] which would be rejected by postage stamp collectors are often acceptable to revenue collectors, and superb stamps with light cancels may command a premium."
Documentary stamps are stamps that are used to show payment of taxes levied on different types of documents.
A pen-canceled Lithuania 20-auksinas black and red Vytis the White Knight documentary revenue stamp (Barefoot 26) is shown in Figure 2.
Revenue stamps collected on document are the revenue stamp equivalent of a postage stamp on a cover, or postal history. The Lithuanian birth record transcription document shown in Figure 3 bears a 2-litas green and red Vytis documentary revenue stamp (Barefoot 108). It's at the document's lower left and is tied by a purple handstamp.
In addition to general documentary tax stamps, revenue stamps have been issued specifically for bill tax, bill of exchange tax, foreign bill of exchange tax, bill of lading tax, land registry tax, military medal registration tax, public records tax, title tax, deed registration tax, check duty, company registration tax, railway documents tax and many other types of taxes.
Sometimes travelers have to pay tax just to leave. Types of travel tax stamps that have been issued include departure tax, airport tax, foreign travel tax, transport authority tax and road use tax. A Bangladeshi
5-taka indigo Jetliner airport foreign travel tax stamp is shown in Figure 4.
Luxury, entertainment and consumption taxes are popular, at least with people who can't afford the thing being taxed. Tax stamps in this category include general luxury tax, entertainment tax, amusement tax, spa tax, villa tax, beach tax, theater tax, book tax, hotel tax, resort tax, cosmetics tax, hunting tax, consumption tax and restaurant meal tax. A Romania 2½-bani red-on-buff-paper Lyre Theater tax stamp (Barefoot 4) is shown in Figure 5.
Owning a car has been a good way to incur tax liability. Stamps have been issued for motor transfer tax, vehicle registration tax, motor vehicle tax, motor vehicle use tax and gasoline tax.
Everybody has to eat, so taxes on foods and commodities are bound to capture revenue. Stamps have been issued for taxes on food, avocados, bananas, beans, bread, citrus fruits, dog food, flour, lemonade, meat, paw paws, pineapples, sacharine, salt, soda water, sugar, tomatoes, vegetables, wheat and yeast.
Another big category of tax stamps are for payment of taxes on proprietary products. Stamps have been issued for taxes on proprietary products such as eye glasses, medicines, patent medicines, sleeping tablets, matches, cigarette lighters, paper sacks and picture postcards.
The so-called sin taxes are a popular revenue stamp collecting area. Revenue stamps have been issued for taxes on wine, beer, tobacco, cigarettes, distilled spirits and playing cards. A U.S. 25¢ green beer tax stamp (Scott REA16) is shown in Figure 6.
Financial transaction tax stamps include those for stock transfers, share transfers, share registration, investments, foreign exchange and stock market tax.
Revenue stamps have been used to pay taxes on income, interest and dividends, ad valorem, sales, inheritance, foreign-owned assets, and sales of foreign merchandise.
Taxes on wages and pay have been collected through stamps for unemployment insurance, relief, national insurance, pensions, social security, vacation pay, holiday pay, wet-time compensation, health insurance, hospital fund and workmen's compensation.
Some collectors classify these types of revenue stamps as "credit stamps" used to show monetary or fiscal credit in the system that they support.
A Latvia 12-santims Nurse and Injured Worker workmen's insurance tax stamp (Barefoot 4) is shown in Figure 7.
We've barely scratched the surface.
Revenue stamp collecting opportunities are endless.