Hello everybody! Happy New Year! I hope the year has started well for you all. I thought I’d start the year with a post about an odd tax I found in the Encyclopaedia of Ephemera (pg 171).
In 1784, during the reign of George III, an Act of Parliament was passed by the Government of William Pitt the Younger introducing a “Hat Tax”. Yes, that’s right, a hat tax! Not content with taxing people for the number of windows they had (creating the term Daylight Robbery), Parliament thought it wise to put a tax on men’s hats: not ladies’ hats, of course!
To be a bona fide hat seller, one had to take out a licence to sell hats. The licence cost two pounds in London, and five pounds outside London. Also, the seller had to have the words “Dealer in hats by retail” over the door of their premises. But wait, it gets worse…
Special stamps had to be affixed to the “lining or inside the crown” of the hats, in order to make the hats “legal.” There were penalties for both the seller and the buyer of hats without stamps, and the removal and reuse of stamps was a punishable offence. The penalty for forgery of hat stamps was particularly severe, as this quote from the Encyclopaedia of Ephemera shows:
“It is recorded that in September 1798 John Collins was caught with a forged printing plate, ready inked, with dampened linen ready to receive its impression. His hand bore the ink he had just wiped from the surface of the plate. He was sentenced to death.”
The Window Tax (1697 – 1851) and the Hat tax were not the only examples of slightly deranged taxes imposed by government. We have the Wallpaper Tax (1712 – 1863), which was a tax on patterned, printed or painted wallpaper. It was evaded by buying plain wallpaper and having it hand stencilled. Other crazy taxes were the Brick Tax (1784 – 1850) and the Glove Tax (1785 – 1794).