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Interesting illegal postage-as-revenue usage.

coinpicturescoinpictures Posts: 5,345 ✭✭✭
During the U.S. Civil War, when revenue stamps first became mandated to pay taxes,
it was illegal to use postage stamps as revenues, as well as the reverse. Nevertheless,
there are examples of both types of illegal usage, simply due to people not being
knowledgeable about the law at the time. Also, the distribution and supply of revenue
stamps in some areas was poor, so when they ran out of certain denominations, clerks
would substitute postage issues, or bisect/trisect larger denominations. These usages
were illegal, but they do exist.

I have a handful of different postage issues used in lieu of revenues on various
documents, and I've seen countless examples at shows. They are almost universally
low denominations, as the tax rates were such that tax payments higher than
5-10 cents were usually business/corporate transactions, which usually had ample
supplies of revenue stamps. It was usage in more remote areas and by smaller
businesses, which tended to be smaller tax amounts, that were the likeliest candidates
for substitution.

The piece shown below is from the photo gallery of Hamilton & Tidball, located on
Montgomery St. in San Francisco. It is a portion of photograph backing. It contains
a Scott #78, an R25c, as well as 2 examples of R18c. This group of stamps pays the
35-cent tax on a $7 purchase. A $7 purchase price for a photo would have been
incredibly high for the period (the equivalent of US$96 in today's currency).

However, this gallery was a larger one in a major city, so most likely provided
specialty photographs such as oversized photos or hand-tinting, which would
explain the high price.

There initially was some concern as to the legitimacy of the piece, given that cancels
don't tie any of the stamps to one another *OR* to the backing paper. Usually that
is a screaming red flag with postage usage on covers.

Not so with photographs of the era, however.

One of the experts in the revenue field explained that this lack of tying cancels on
Civil War-era photographs was quite normal:

Photographers HATED the tax stamps, as they interfered with the normal workflow
of the period. Photographers would process and stack photos or Carte de Visites (CDVs)
like a child of today would stack baseball cards. Ink-cancelled stamps presented a
problem, since the ink would offset onto the front of the next CDV unless the ink
was absolutely dry. To avoid this, photographers would handstamp cancel stamps
in advance, letting the ink dry, and then affixing the stamps at the time of purchase.

Hence the stamps not being tied.

[Note: playing card and proprietary companies took this approach one step further,
by typesetting cancels and running entire sheets through printing presses and then
allowing the sheets to dry before production - the predecessor to the traditional
"precancel" that made its appearance on covers in the 1890s. The avoidance of wet
ink was only one of the reasons for preprinting cancels; it sped up the production
in playing card factories as well as apothecaries, as the precancelled stamps merely
had to be affixed, not cancelled at the time of assembly.]

The piece is unusual in several respects:

1. The high 35-cent total tax rate.

2. The usage of a high- or unusal-denomination postage stamp.

3. The combination of both postage and revenue stamps on the same usage.

So was the postage stamp used because they ran out of revenue stamps, or
because they didn't want to use up another eight 3-cent revenues, or because
there wasn't enough room on the back of the photo for all the stamps?

We'll never know.


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