Revenue stamps are a branch of philately that is not considered by most stamp collectors. There are reasons for this, including many people do not even understand that revenue stamps are part of philately. For those that do appreciate them, revenue stamps are fascinating, although hard to valuate.
The value of a revenue stamp ranges from close to zero to hundreds or thousands of dollars. The first step in determining the value of a revenue stamp is to figure out what you have. Then, you need to take into account standard factors like the stamp’s condition and history.
Revenue stamps have had an up and down history regarding their popularity. That is in addition to other factors that help determine value. Below, we map out how revenue stamps gain value, why some do not, and what type of revenue stamp is worth collecting.
What Is A Revenue Stamp?
A revenue stamp is a label that is affixed on certain products to certify that a tax has been paid on that product. Revenue stamps are issued by the government (national, state or province, local) and can come in many forms. Some have gum, some don’t, others are printed or embossed, and sizes differ by country and when the stamp was issued.
The purpose of the stamp is to indicate that an otherwise difficult tax to collect has, in fact, been collected. It also had a purpose of reducing administrative costs and paperwork for government tax workers. As computers and automation (in this case, via tracking numbers) have taken over government and retail operations, the revenue stamp, while still used, is on the wane.
How This Tax Saved Time
To understand how a revenue tax saved time and ensured taxes and fees were paid on products that had them, consider your average case of alcohol. Collecting a tax at the sale level for every bottle of liquor would be burdensome on both the government and retailers. This is because not all alcohol taxes are applied equally.
By requiring a revenue stamp for prepayment of the alcohol tax at the manufacturer, it is guaranteed to be paid. Additionally, the cost of entering each tax code into an inventory of alcohol for sale at the retail level would put an undue burden on the retailer to collect and keep track of the tax. It also would be difficult to keep track of during an audit.
Role And Type Of Revenue Stamps
Revenue stamps have multiple roles, even though they are all referred to as “revenue stamps.” Those roles are:
In every case, the purpose of the stamp is to indicate some transaction has occurred that applies to that specific item. The list of items a revenue tax can be applied to is very long. If one were to count just the most popular revenue tax stamp items, the list would exceed 500.
Items that usually have revenue stamps include, but are not limited to:
- Court fees
- Certain types of alcohol
- Local government tax
- Playing cards
- Hunting licenses
- Firearm registration
- Charity taxes
- Excise taxes
- Estate taxes and fees
Revenue Stamp History
While the exact date that a revenue stamp was first used is unknown, there is evidence that revenue stamps were employed during the 18th century. Revenue stamps predate postage stamps, but postage stamp popularity propelled widespread use of the revenue stamp.
Some governments have tried to merge postage and revenue stamps. That is known as a “postal fiscal.” When that happened, a postal cancellation mark was required. In the USA, around 1900, the requirement came into force that a revenue stamp be defaced after being affixed to documents and that a cancellation mark be used.
Why Should You Care About Revenue Stamps?
Why does any of this matter regarding the value of your revenue stamp or a revenue stamp you are thinking about purchasing?
The reason is that each aspect of the history of revenue stamps contributes to the overall value of the stamp. A stamp that is very recent, for example, will not hold the same value as one from the Ottoman Empire. Likewise, a revenue stamp for a unique purpose will be worth more than a common revenue stamp for alcohol.
Revenue stamps were once regarded as valuable as postage stamps. That changed after World War I as the number of stamps in circulation dwarfed the number of revenue stamps that were collectable.
During the 1950s, revenue stamps were regarded as little more than a scrap of paper and only rare revenue stamps usually with historical value held any worth at all. The historical value of revenue stamps began to be noticed in recent years, however, mainly because they are as unique and rarer than many postage stamps.
How Revenue Stamp Value Is Determined
There are four basic aspects to determining the value of a postage stamp. They are:
In addition, occasionally, a stamp’s history factors into its worth. For example, a stamp mailed from a military post during World War II can have a higher value because of how, where and when it was used. Additionally, if the stamp is on a cover (envelope or display sheet), it can be worth more too.
With revenue stamps, there is some overlap, mainly with the condition of the stamp and its rareness, along with some other factors, including:
- Type of revenue stamp
- That specific stamp’s history
- Current status (used or not used)
Type Of Revenue Stamp
The first thing to consider is the type of revenue stamp and its relative rareness. A land revenue stamp from England in the 1700s will be far more valuable than a liquor stamp from last month. There are just some types of taxes that make the revenue stamps associated with them worth collecting.
Some types of taxes are interesting, but most are not. A revenue tax for the US colonies for tea in the mid-1700s is interesting, and so are most war time related revenue taxes.
Types of revenue stamps that are usually not interesting include stamps for taxes or fees on marriage, weights and measures, or television licenses. One way to ascertain if a revenue stamp you have is worth anything is to consider if the topic the stamp covers is interesting to people, as topics that are not are typically of low value to collectors.
History can be affected by the type of revenue stamp, but that does not always matter. For example, a revenue stamp on a bottle of alcohol from the first batches of alcoholic drinks after the US prohibition would be worth much more than one affixed on a liquor bottle today. Likewise, value is also added based on how rare a revenue stamp is.
A more common revenue stamp, like one from a package of cigarettes, is not going to be worth as much as the prohibition revenue stamp, even if the stamps are from the same era. The item being taxed must have some historical, contextual, or perceived value so that the stamp affixed on it is worth collecting.
In many cases, rarity is driven by history. A revenue stamp that can be traced to the D-Day Invasion, for example, might not be valuable unless it can be tied to a purchase made by a soldier during that battle. The prohibition stamp is likely much more popular than the cigarette revenue stamp, mainly because prohibition was a nation shaping occurrence.
Whether a stamp was used or not also factors into value. Unused revenue stamps, particularly if they are not perforated, can be very valuable. So, though, can stamps that have been used if the stamp can be traced back to a historical event or if it has cultural significance.
This is also where condition plays a major role. A revenue stamp that is unreadable or has part of it missing will not be worth much. Conversely, one that that is in pristine condition or never been used and is attached to a historical event can be worth a lot.
What Is The Value Of A Revenue Stamp?
This article is meant to provide a framework on which the value of a stamp can be assessed. To get a precise valuation of your revenue stamp, you should take it to an official dealer and have them assess it. However, their values can run from absolutely nothing up to the hundreds or thousands of dollars to the right collector.
A precise valuation is impossible without seeing the stamp and researching it, but we can rule out a few revenue stamps that are not worth much, if anything.
Cigarettes And Alcohol
Revenue stamps for cigarettes are generally not worth much at all, particularly if the stamp is recent. There might be a cigarette revenue stamp that has value, but this is uncommon. It would also likely have to be associated with some historical event.
Likewise, alcohol for the most part is common, not rare, and its stamps are not worth very much. In fact, unless an alcohol revenue stamp can be tied into prohibition in some manner, it is not likely to be worth very much.
Odd But Common Taxes
Unless it is a famous property, a revenue stamp on a real estate transaction will not be worth much. Another example is a hunting tax revenue stamp.
Basically, the more common the tax, the less valuable the stamp. This has exceptions, but those are rare.
Administrative And Legal Revenue Taxes And Fees
If you have one from the Ottoman Empire in pristine condition, it might hold value. Otherwise, a stamp for a bureaucratic or licensing fee is just not very popular. The exception to this is a revenue stamp for a noteworthy item or event.
A rare land grant revenue stamp might be worth some money if the land in question is famous. What is not worth money is a land grant revenue stamp for a land sale today.
Revenue stamps can be worth anywhere from nothing to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The value of a revenue stamp will be determined by various stamp grading criteria, and it’s always recommended to have your stamp assessed by a professional grader if you plan to sell it.