Revenue or postage stamp, or a bit of both?

May 2, 2021, 11 PM

By Rick Miller

What do you get when you cross a revenue stamp with a postage stamp? You get a postal tax stamp. Postal tax stamps have a low profile among collectors in the United States, probably at least partially because there are no U.S. postal tax stamps.

Postal tax stamps are not defined in L.N. Williams' Fundamentals of Philately or Linn's World Stamp Almanac, two of the most in-depth reference works available. They are defined in The Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting by Richard McP. Cabeen who categorizes them as either "Postal Tax, Charity, or Similar Funds" or "Postal Tax, War Funds."

The postal tax stamp was invented on the Iberian peninsula, and Spain, Portugal, many Balkan nations and some Latin American nations have been the most prolific issuers of postal tax stamps.

You can look at postal tax stamps as revenue stamps with a postal connection, because that really is what they are. Quite simply, they are revenue stamps that are used to collect a special tax on postal matter. Often there are other revenue stamps in the same series with the same design used to collect taxes on telegrams, theater tickets, railway tickets, marriage licenses and other documents.

Because only postal tax stamps have a postal connection, they are the only stamps in these series that are listed in postage stamp catalogs. The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue defines a postal tax stamp, but the definition is not easy to find.

It is before the listing of Portuguese postal tax stamps, in Vol. 5 of the Scott catalog, and it reads: "These stamps represent a special fee for the delivery of postal matter on certain days in each year. The money derived from their sale is applied to works of public charity." The definition probably is where it is in the Scott catalogs because Portugal, in 1911, issued the world's first postal tax stamp.

In the Scott catalog, postal tax stamps are prefixed RA; postal tax semipostals are RAB; postal tax air post, RAC; postal tax due, RAJ; parcel post postal tax stamps, QRA; and war tax stamps, a subcategory of postal tax stamps, MR.

Many postal tax stamps are similar to semipostals in that revenue from them goes to charitable organizations. They differ from semipostals in that their use is mandatory for stated classes of mail and periods of time. They also normally have no inherent franking value of their own.

Many postal tax stamps worldwide were issued to raise funds for the fight against tuberculosis. Anti-tuberculosis postal tax stamps usually bear the cross of Lorraine as the symbol of the fight against this disease.

If you have a stamp that you haven't been able to identify bearing a red, double-bar cross of Lorraine, look in the back-of-the-book section of the Scott catalog (after the regular numbers) at the postal tax stamp listings. If you still can't find it listed, then it's probably a charity seal, such as the anti-tuberculosis seal from the Dominican Republic shown in Figure 1, rather than a postage stamp.

Greece has been a prolific issuer of postal tax stamps. Greece's first postal tax stamp was issued in 1914. The revenue raised went to the Red Cross for relief of victims of the First and Second Balkan Wars. Subsequent Greek postal tax stamps have aided disabled veterans, tubercular postal clerks, restoration of historical monuments, archaeological research and repair of earthquake damage. A catalog image that does not show the perforations of the 1918 5-lepton Wounded Soldier postal tax stamp for the aid of disabled soldiers is shown in Figure 2.

What happens if you mail a letter during a period that a postal tax stamp is required without affixing a postal tax stamp? You get charged postal tax due, that's what.

Yugoslavia, another Balkan country that has made extensive use of postal tax stamps, is, not surprisingly, a leader in the area of postal tax due stamps. Failure to use the bright yellow and black 2-dinar Playing Children postal tax stamp on mail during Children's Week, Oct. 5-11, 1958, resulted in assessment of postal tax due. Payment of the due tax was receipted by the light ultramarine and black 2d Child With Toy postal tax due stamp, Scott RAJ18, shown in Figure 3.

Yugoslavia's predilection for using postal tax stamps continues in the successor states established through its breakup. The Red Cross and the anti-tobacco campaign were the beneficiaries of postal tax stamps issued by Slovenia since its independence in 1991. The 3-tolar Stop Smoking Week postal tax stamp of 1992 is shown in Figure 4. It was required on all mail posted during the week of Sept. 14-21, 1992.

Macedonia, another former republic of Yugoslavia, is the world's most prolific issuer of postal tax stamps. Since its independence in 1991, more than one-third of the 300-plus total stamps issued by Macedonia have been postal tax stamps.

Macedonian postal tax stamps have benefited the Red Cross and anti-tuberculosis and anti-cancer campaigns. The 2.50-denar Red Cross postal tax stamp shown in Figure 5 was obligatory on all mail posted May 8-15, 2000.

Greece is responsible for the rather peculiar stamp category of the postal tax semipostal stamp. In 1943 Greece issued a three-stamp set for the benefit of needy children. The stamps were issued as semipostals for voluntary use at other times, but their use was mandatory on all domestic mail posted in October 1943.

A catalog image that does not show the perforations of the 200-drachma+100dr Madonna and Child stamp, Scott RAB3, the high value in the set, is shown in Figure 6.

Postal tax air post stamps are for postal tax required to be paid on airmail. Spain issued its first stamp in this category in 1940. All Spanish postal tax air post stamps have been for the fight against tuberculosis. The 10-centavo Lorraine Cross and Doves postal tax air post stamp, Scott RAC3, is shown in Figure 7.

Probably the most obscure of the postal tax listings is the parcel post postal tax stamp. Chile's green 15-peso President Prieto parcel post postal tax stamp, Scott QRA1, shown in Figure 8, was required on all parcels entering and leaving Chile during the period of its validity in 1957. The surtax went to the Prieto Foundation, probably to an unnumbered account in a Swiss bank.

War tax stamps are a special category of postal tax stamp. The first war tax stamps were issued by Spain. The Scott definition is found in Vol. 6, before the listing of Spanish war tax stamps: "These stamps did not pay postage but represented a fiscal tax on mail matter in addition to the postal fees. Their use was obligatory."

Wars are costly affairs. The funds raised by war tax stamps went to defray the cost of fighting the war. Aside from Spain and Portugal, British colonies were frequent issuers of war tax stamps during World War I.

A Canadian carmine 2¢ King George V war tax stamp, Scott MR2, is shown in Figure 9. Atypically, it could be used to pay postage as long as enough were affixed to pay the war tax as well.

You might think that the United States has never issued a war tax stamp, and you would be right as long as you confined your speculation to postal war tax stamps. The War Revenue Act of 1898 took effect July 1 of that year. The Act was passed to raise funds to pay for the Spanish-American war.

It imposed taxes on a host of document classes including checks, licenses, railroad tickets, bills of lading, telegrams, certificates and more. Had the framers of the law thought to include mailed items within the scope of the tax, one of the Battleship revenue stamps might have been listed as U.S. Scott MR1.

The carmine-rose 2¢ Battleship documentary revenue stamp in the series, Scott R164, is shown in Figure 10. The design choice for the stamp was especially appropriate because the war the stamps were financing began with the sinking of the American battleship USS Maine in Havana harbor. It is interesting to note that the country with which the United States was at war, Spain, was the inventor of the war tax stamp, and it used the stamps to help defray expenses in this war.

Looked at from another perspective, the United States actually has issued war tax stamps. From Nov. 2, 1917, to July 1, 1919, the domestic first-class letter rate for letters up to 1 ounce went from 2¢ to 3¢ as a result of the War Revenue Act of 1917. The additional 1¢ was a war tax to defray the expense of the war.

From this perspective, the violet 3¢ Victory and Flags of the Allies stamp, Scott 537, shown in Figure 11, and any 3¢ violet Washington definitive used on first-class mail during the period were at least one-third war tax stamp.