History of Revenue Stamped Paper

The Derby Historical Society is fortunate to have many contributors to the history of the Valley willing to share their research with us. The story and graphics below are a perfect example as Col. Don Woodworth shares with us the interesting story of an earlier form of taxation at a time when taxes are very much a part of the national political debate. Check out Col. Woodworth’s interesting story of Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to raise tax revenues for the government.

Connecticut Revenue Stamped Paper
By Col. Don Woodworth, USAF (Ret.)
O’Fallon, IL

I am a former resident of Connecticut who has lived for a long time in Illinois.  I grew up in Oxford and was educated there, in Waterbury, and Storrs.  My father and his father spent the better part of their working lives with Farrel-Birmingham in Derby and Ansonia, so there’s a soft spot in my heart for the Valley.  A large part of my interest in Connecticut revenue stamped paper thus stems from its use as an antidote for home sickness as my wife of 40+ years is from St. Louis, MO and has been holding me hostage in the mid-West for the past 26.  (-: (-:

Revenue stamped paper came about as the result of President Abraham Lincoln signing the tax Act of July 1 1862 which created the Office of Internal Revenue within the Treasury Department and also established a comprehensive series of taxes, the payment of which could be shown by “adhesive stamps, or stamped paper, vellum, or parchment.”  Stamped paper, commonly referred to as “revenue stamped paper” by stamp collectors, consisted of such documents as insurance policies, stock certificates, bank checks, bank drafts, and receipts with the revenue stamp(s) printed directly upon them.  The last of the taxes imposed under this act were not lifted until July 1 1883.  Similar taxes were again imposed during the Spanish-American War (1898-1902).

The original 1862 tax on checks was for two cents on any check of $20.00 or more.  As many people avoided the tax by simply writing two separate smaller checks, the law was changed in 1865 to encompass checks of any amount – giving rise to the existence of revenue stamped paper.  Where it might not have originally made sense for a business firm to have a supply of checks printed on revenue stamped paper when a good proportion of the checks they issued might have been issued tax free, once the law was changed to encompass all checks, it then made sense for many firms to have such checks printed.  Revenue stamps, which could also be used on checks, were susceptible to pilferage, but checks printed on revenue stamped paper were largely immune to the threat of pilferage.  Thus, such checks and related documents proliferated in the 1865-1883 time period and primarily for just checks in the 1898-1902 period.

Revenue stamped paper exists for all of the Union states and former Confederate states readmitted to the Union in 1865-1883, plus for several of the territories (ex. Utah).  The same applies to the Spanish-American War period.  There is an excellent Field Guide to Revenue Stamped Paper series (now out of print but usually available through philatelic book sellers) printed by Castenholz & Sons that catalog most known revenue stamped paper material.  This is an open-ended field, so new discoveries are often made – something that makes this area of collecting doubly interesting.  Part 5, The Eastern States, of the Castenholz series includes the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, D.C., and Ontario, Canada.  The focus here, of course, is on Connecticut.  

Revenue stamped paper was printed by security printers approved by the federal government.  After the taxed paper was printed, it could then be purchased by private printers who then printed checks and other documents upon it.  Printers printed sample books showing their work and a large variety of designs from which potential customers could choose.  A firm could choose a very plain type of check or, at higher cost, have very elegant art work printed.  There are some wonderful examples of such artwork on bank checks and drafts emanating from East Haddam, CT.  The focus here, though, is on the Naugatuck Valley towns of Ansonia and Birmingham (Derby).  Images of these checks, along with supporting historical information, have been supplied to the historical society.  The check from Ansonia bears an excellent engraving of what the interior of a late Victorian period factory might have looked like.  The checks from Birmingham are not quite as fancy but have the delightful advantage of being issued by a bank whose original premises still stand in the form of the Twisted Vine restaurant in Derby!

Collectors recognize 24 basic designs of revenue stamped paper and have assigned them designations of Type A through X.  There are no Types Y and Z.  The type designations are not governmental.  They have been assigned over time by collectors and are the standard basis for description in the Scott Specialized Catalog of United States Stamps and Covers – the bible of the stamp collecting fraternity for United States stamps.  Examples of revenue stamped paper from Connecticut are known for Types A, B, C, D, E, F, G, J. L, M, N, U, and X.  Type X applies only to the Spanish-American War period.  There are approximately 400 or so known different examples of Connecticut revenue stamped paper.  Types B, C, D, G, and X are the most common designs.  

As might be expected, the Connecticut cities most often represented are Bridgeport (53), Hartford (54), New Haven (60), New London (55), Norwich (55), and – most interestingly – East Haddam (62).  Items from the Naugatuck Valley are surprisingly uncommon – Ansonia (1), Birmingham (4), Seymour (1) and Waterbury (10).  This is rather surprising considering the industrial and commercial power house that the Valley was in the latter part of the 19th century and certainly during the time of the Spanish-American War.  The number that exists from little East Haddam is rather amazing, but this has to be a factor of happenstance in the number of checks that were saved as much as the number that were actually written.  

Most examples of Connecticut RSP are not expensive – many can be bought for $10-25.00.  A wide variety of designs are available.  There are several stamp dealers that specialize in this type of material for those that might be interested.  Over a period of years, I have managed to acquire the majority of the known Connecticut items plus a number of new discoveries.  A pet project of mine that has taken several years, and worn out the internet, has been to research information on the banks upon which the checks were written, the companies making the checks (if known) and the payer and payee of each check.  Each check in the Connecticut portion of my collection has been thus written up, though in the interest of brevity I’ve only shared those of Ansonia and Birmingham with the Derby Historical Society.  

I would be happy to answer questions from anyone that might wish additional information .