US Stamps

Calling it like it is: World War I war tax

Jun 20, 2024, 11 AM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

Someone protested the 2¢ war tax rate effective Nov. 2, 1917, by overprinting United States 1¢ stamps “War Stamp,” as can be seen on the center stamp in Figure 1. The overprint is on the 1914 1¢ George Washington coil stamp perforated gauge 10 with a single-line watermark (Scott 424).

The object of the tax, which raised the postcard rate from 1¢ to 2¢ and the first-class rate from 2¢ to 3¢, was to fund U.S. participation in World War I. It was not called a tax — just a rate increase — but it was, in fact, a tax on those using U.S. mail services.

The rate increases were rescinded on July 1, 1919.

I have seen one cover with a stamp overprinted “War Stamp” canceled in 1917, so I do believe it was a protest. There are other stamps of the period similarly overprinted.

Figure 2 shows a scarce 1921 registered cover with a pair of 1912 1¢ imperf Washington stamps (Scott 408), one of which is defaced with the overprint invalidating it as proper postage.

Nevertheless, the overprinted stamp was credited toward payment of the 2¢ first-class rate. The 10¢ registry fee was paid by the 1893 10¢ Columbian postal stationery envelope (Scott U351).

There is a puzzle involving this overprint. It is obvious from the 1¢ strip of three in Figure 1 that it was not put on every stamp in the pane. Was it on every other stamp? Or every third stamp? I wonder if a Linn’s reader can answer that question.

If so, please contact me at or at Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125.

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