Friday, October 19, 2012

Civil War Revenue Stamps

Cartes de Visite were small portraits on card stock, generally measuring 2.5 by 4 inches, that were especially popular in the 1860s. If there is a revenue stamp on the back of the photograph, you can narrow the date down to the two years during which a tax was applied to photographs. The newly-created Internal Revenue Service was looking for ways to finance the Union's Civil War costs. While the Confederate States printed money and suffered from outrageous inflation, the North imposed taxes on every imaginable product and service.

All kinds of things were taxed, including playing cards, bank checks, and matches. Photographs were added relatively late (1864-1866), so they didn't have their own tax stamp. That's why you will often see a Carte de Visite with a playing-card revenue tax stamp or a more generic proprietary tax stamp on the back. A 2-cent tax stamp indicates that the photograph cost up to 25 cents. More expensive photographs might have a 3-cent stamp.

 Photographer: R.R. Rundell, Owego, New York.

Photographer: F. Smith Hooker, Havana, New York.

Photographer: D.W. Grout, Pulaski, New York.


Photographer: Crum & Sharp, Watkins, New York.

 Photographer W.C. Crum, Penn Yan, New York

Photographer: George W. Barnes, Rockford, Illinois (Compliments of H. White)

Photographer: Masterson & Wood, 74 and 75 Arcade, Rochester, New York


  1. Lovely images - I hadn't heard of the Civil War tax stamps before.

  2. An interesting (yet complicated?) way to raise a tax. How sad that the nature of photography in those days meant everyone had to look strained.

  3. Lovely collection and thanks for the info on the tax stamps, I'd heard of them, but didn't know the finer points.

  4. I've just checked my CDVs. I didn't expect it, but indeed one of them (one of my favorites) has an orange stamp!

  5. Hallo Christine,
    ja du hast ganz recht, als wir Kinder waren gab es nur Sankt Martin mit seinen Laternenumzügen. Aber durch das Fernsehen wurde Halloween schnell in Deutschland bekannt und die Kinder, ebenso wie die Erwachsenen feiern heute auch in Deutschland Halloween. Ich finde jeden Grund zum Feiern schön, schade ist nur das der gute alte Sankt Martin immer mehr an bedeutung verliert und deshalb heißt es heute viel häufiger "Süßes oder Saures", als "Ich gehe mit meiner Laterne"

  6. I had no idea about the revenue stamps, I would have thought somebody was trying to mail the darn pictures... They make an interesting collection though, with the different stamp and photographer's logo next to each picture in the same format- I could image a whole wall covered with them.

  7. wow! lots of NY photographers.
    These portraits are fascinating. I look at the family of five & wonder, what was their life like? everything seemed so much harder back then.

  8. wow...these images exert a strange power...they're quite haunting seen as a group...

  9. Just like Archie tech said, it may look like someone trying to mail a picture.
    Just imagine, tax for a picture !!



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