Britain’s Playing Card Tax

Anyone who is vaguely familiar with British social history will be aware that they have had some “different” (by that, yes I mean rather odd) taxes over the years.

Take for instance the Hearth Tax in which you paid based on the number of fireplaces in your house, the Window Tax was the same but was based on the number of windows you had. The Clock Tax, the Candle Tax, the Soap Tax, even a Beard Tax are others just to mention a few – and all were used as a means to raise funds for the government of the day.

But here we’re talking about a tax on Playing Cards.

Yes, truly. The humble deck of cards was taxed (not forgetting dice as well).

In reality they had been taxed since the late 1500s, but in 1710 the English Government dramatically raised the taxes on them, which the manufacturer was then liable for. As the rate of tax was equivalent to 12 times the price of a cheap pack of cards, you can imagine that there were forgeries.

But in a bid to prevent this, each manufacturer had their own ‘mark’, and would hand stamp their mark on the Ace of Spades to show that it was a legit version.

Still, as the taxes were excessive, forgeries happened.

And while creating forgeries of playing cards doesn’t sound too drastic, if you were caught making them the result was hanging.

While the tax itself is surprising enough, what’s even more surprising is that tax continued through until 1960. That’s 250 years! Incredible.

So if you are lucky enough to have an old deck of cards, take a closer look at it. Check out the maker, and in particular have a close look at the Ace of Spades and see if it has the hand stamp on it.

2 Responses to “Britain’s Playing Card Tax”

  1. Barb says:

    I never knew this. Thanks!!

  2. Charlotte says:

    Good grief! I was taught ‘racing patience’ by an elderly English aunt in the 1960s – I hope she’d paid up!

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