Revenue stamps, also called fiscal stamps, have been issued around the world since the 17th century to verify the payment of taxes or fees on everything from alcohol and tobacco to playing cards and hunting licenses. Not used for postage, these Cinderella stamps often feature detailed, engraved designs, and some even contain anti-counterfeiting devices.
In 18th-century America, some of the first revenue stamps were produced to collect taxes on liquor. These stamps, known as Supervisors’ Seals, featured embossed rather than printed designs on their faces, as did the stamps used to collect taxes on paper and parchment, which were issued in 1798. Collectively, these early embossed revenue stamps are known as the First Federal Issue.
Adhesive-backed stamps, authorized by the Revenue Act of 1862, initially helped finance the Civil War, although the practice of using stamps to collect taxes persisted long after the conflict was over. Documentary Revenue Stamps were designed to be affixed to documents such as promissory notes, receipts, powers of attorney, and life-insurance policies. Proprietary Revenue Stamps and Private Die Proprietaries were issued to collect taxes on manufactured goods.
While relatively few people interacted with Documentary Revenue Stamps, most of us are familiar with Proprietary Revenue Stamps, which are fixtures on tobacco products and bottles of alcohol. Taxpaid tobacco stamps, called taxpaids by collectors, were attached to packs of cigarettes, while wide, strip-shaped bottle stamps were affixed to the tops of liquor bottles.
Other goods for which revenue stamps were produced include “prepared smoking opium,” coca leaves, potatoes, and flour. During World War II, Motor Vehicle Use stamps were stuck on the insides of windshields, while in the 1960s, Boating Tax Stamps were issued.
In fact, recreation stamps are among the most collected revenue stamps around. In additional to Trailer Permit Stamps issued to collect fees on trailers entering National Parks and Monuments between 1939 and the 1950s, Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as duck stamps, were issued beginning in 1934 to raise money needed to preserve wetlands.