7 Weird Taxes You Probably Didn't Know About

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"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."
-Ben Franklin

Countries throughout history have come up with creative ways of generating  tax revenue. Here's a countdown of the strangest tax laws past and present, and what people did to avoid them.

Tax records can be wacky, but they can also be wonderful too! Tax records can provide a goldmine of information and clues for researching your family's history. Read more about it in my blog post "Tax Records - A Rich Resource When Researching Your Ancestry."

#1. THE WINDOW TAX

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You want Sunshine and Fresh Air? That will be Extra

First imposed in England in in 1696 by William and Mary, this property tax was based on the number of windows a home possessed. At first the tax rate was set at a flat rate of 2 shillings upon each house and an additional charge of 4 shillings on houses with between 10 and 20 windows, and 8 shillings on houses with more than 20 windows.  The tax replaced the hearth tax which required tax collectors to enter homes. Tax collectors could simply stand outside and count the windows. 

People started boarding up windows, building homes with less windows, or even entire windowless floors to avoid the tax. The tax was likely meant to collect from the wealthy, but people living in tenements were greatly affected and paid a high price in taxes and illnesses as well.

 Tax Receipt. 1790. Princeton University Library Rare Book Division. General Ephemera Collection.

Tax Receipt. 1790. Princeton University Library Rare Book Division. General Ephemera Collection.

The Act was repealed in 1851 after a campaign started by medical professionals argued that it was a “tax on health” and that the lack of windows and crowded homes was leading to a rise in  epidemics.

#2.  THE WALLPAPER TAX

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You want colorful walls? Show us some green.

In 1712, England imposed a tax on printed wallpaper. The tax was originally levied at 1 pence per square yard. Builders avoided the tax by hanging plain wallpaper and then stenciling and painting it later.  The tax was abolished in 1836.

 

#3. THE HAT TAX

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You want to cover that head? That requires a cover charge.


Between 1784-1811, England imposed a sales tax on hats. In London Milliners were required to buy a retail license for two pounds and shops were charged 5 shillings. On top of that a sales tax was passed onto the purchaser. The government tracked the number of hats sold by issuing revenue stamps which were pasted inside the hats. Forgery of these revenue stamps carried the death sentence.

To avoid the tax, sellers stopped calling them “hats.” 1804 the government amended the tax to headgear, anything that could be worn on the head, including wigs.  Incidentally, wig wearing was declining due to a Wig Powder tax introduced in 1795.

#4. THE BEARD TAX

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Want to shave your tax bill? Shave your face first.

The Beard Tax was established by Tsar Peter I in 1698. His motivation? After traveling abroad he returned to Russia and wanted to modernize and Westernize the culture. He started with dress and facial hair. He shaved his own beard. He even shaved the beards off of his dinner guests at a reception. When the trend did not take off, he declared  all men must shave their beards. When people fought the declaration, he hit them in the pocket book and instead created a tax on beards. 

Wealthy beard wearers were taxed at a higher rate. The tax ranged from 100 rubles annually for nobility and merchants to a lower 1 kopek for commoners.  Since a rouble was about 38 grams of silver at this time, we can estimate that your beard tax might have cost you a whopping $1,500 today. 

Incidently, Peter I wasn’t the first ruler to introduce the beard tax. That honor goes to Henry VIII who introduced it in Britain briefly in 1535.

#5. THE BELT BUCKLE TAX

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Want to giddy up with your posse? First you’ll have to pony up with us.

It you are going to dress like a real cowboy, it will cost you extra in Texas. Go ahead and grab your Stetson hat, belt, boots and shiny spurs, but that big ole belt buckle? You will pay extra 6.25 percent sales tax on that part of your getup. But the buckle is the finishing touch on the outfit, right? How can you refuse.

By the way, Texas also generates about $15 million in annual revenue from their “pole tax” that assesses each strip club patron an additional $5 admission tax. Again, they know how to creatively choose taxes folks can't refuse.

#6. THE PLAYING CARD TAX

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Want to play poker? The joker and tax is wild in Alabama.

Alabama charges a 10 cent tax on any pack of cards that contains 54 or fewer in the deck. Sellers pay an additional $1 fee and $3 annual license fee. Uno players rejoice, with 108 cards in the Uno deck the tax doesn't apply.

#7. THE TATTOO TAX

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Want that body art? Get ready to pay for the pain.

In Arkansas, your ink and body piercings will cost you an extra 6% sales tax.

This is must my top 7, there are several more that made sense to the governments at the time. 

Tax records can be funny, but they do tell us a lot about history and our families. Read my blog post here about how taxes records can be a great resource for clues and details as you research your family history.  

Kimberlie Guerrieri