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Gerald Tebben

Five Facts

Gerald Tebben

Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.

Coin World’s bloggers are not edited by Coin World’s editorial staff and blog posts reflect the views of the individual author.

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Archive for 'April 2015'

    ​Tax on checks

    April 27, 2015 3:30 PM by

      With the nation at war with itself, the United States government shook every tree it could find to raise money to prosecute the Civil War. It issued paper money that was backed by nothing more than the government’s full faith and taxed everything it could.

    The newly created Internal Revenue Service taxed mortgages, bonds, contracts, bank checks and a host of other documents.

    The initial bank check tax, instituted in 1862, was 2 cents on checks drawn for $20.01 and more. Tax dodgers quickly figured out that if they wrote a bunch of $20 checks instead of one big one they could avoid the tax.

    The government wised up in 1864 and applied the tax to all checks.

    Not surprisingly, the tax didn’t disappear after the Civil War or after the Indian Wars. It didn’t go away until years after the Spanish American War.

    For decades checks bore stamps that looked much like postal stamps.  Most stamps on 19th century checks are specially issued BANK CHECK stamps. But in the early years, when the government was not able to provide enough of the special check stamps, general U.S. Internal Revenue stamps were OK. The stamps were “canceled” by being written on in ink so they could not be reused.

    Sharpies figured out they could bleach out the ink cancelations and reuse the stamps, much to the government’s consternation.

    Philatelists have studied the 19th century revenue stamps extensively, but few people collect them. Despite their great history and Civil War connection, canceled bank check stamps tend to catalog for 50 cents or less.

    For check collectors, the stamps add a bit of sparkle, but a check’s primary value comes from who signed it, what’s pictured on it, which bank it was drawn on and where it was issued.

    Tiny tax tokens

    April 21, 2015 10:57 AM by
    Sales taxes, a regressive form of taxation enjoying new popularity among tax hikers across the country, owe their birth to the Great Depression. As income and therefore income tax receipts fell in the early 1930s, state after state turned to consumption taxes.

     A problem, though, quickly developed. While a 1 percent tax on a $1 purchase worked out to an even cent, no smaller coin was available for the tax on amounts of less than $1.

     To avoid overcharging people, 12 states – Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Washington – issued their own tokens in denominations as small as 1/10th of a cent to make change.

     The tokens – tiny in size and tiny in value – proved to be too much of a bother. Most states discontinued their usage before World War II, though Missouri tokens lasted into the early 1960s.

     The tokens tend to be simple affairs – often with just the state’s name and denomination. New Mexico’s are noteworthy in that they show a saguaro cactus. Sales tax tokens were made in fiber, plastic, aluminum, zinc and bronze and were often holed.

     The tokens are avidly sought after by a small group of collectors – many of whom are members of the American Tax Token Society. Sales tax tokens tend to be junk box material, often selling for a dime or so. Some rare varieties, though, have sold for as much as $500.

     Next: Tax on checks


    ​Peter the Great’s beard tax

    April 15, 2015 10:48 AM by

    Taxes serve three purposes: raise money for government functions, encourage activities (such as tax credits for energy efficient furnaces) and discourage activities (think cigarette taxes.)

    In 1705, Russian Czar Peter the Great instituted a tax on beards as part of his plan to modernize and westernize his backward country.

    Peasants and clerics were exempt, but everyone else who wanted to wear a beard had to pay an annual fee and carry a medal as proof of payment.  The first medals were round affairs showing a nose, mustache and beard on one side and the imperial eagle on the reverse.  Later issues were diamond shaped and dropped the images but bore the legend, “The beard is an unnecessary burden.”

    Randolph Zander, writing in The Numismatist (“Russian Beard Tokens,” December 1948), noted: “The law provided for check-points at the entrance to towns, where officials would deny passage to any bearded person who could not produce a beard token. In addition, law enforcement agencies were enjoined to arrest and fine bewhiskered individuals on sight if they carried no beard license.”

    The tax was collected from 1705 to 1772. It was levied according to rank, topping out at 100 rubles for wealthy merchants.

    Beard tax tokens are prized by collectors, partly for their novelty and partly for their sheer ridiculousness.  They are scarce and often sell for thousands of dollars when they appear at auction.

    Next: Tiny tax tokens

    Lady Godiva's tax protest

    April 8, 2015 4:54 PM by

    Seventeen a beauty queen
    She made a ride that caused a scene
    In the town

    Her long blonde hair
    Hangin' down around her knees
    All the cats who dig striptease
    Prayin' for a little breeze
    Her long blonde hair
    Falling down across her arms
    Hiding all the lady's charms
    Lady Godiva


    Peter and Gordon’s 1966 chart topper celebrates the world’s most famous tax protest, the fabled and likely fictitious 11th century ride of Lady Godiva, wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia in Anglo-Saxon England.

    The story of the lady’s naked ride was first recorded in Roger of Wendover’s 13th century book Flores Historiarum or Flowers of History. Despite its title, the book is a chronicle of events not a gardening guide.

    The tale has been embellished over the centuries, but the plot remains the same: Leofric refuses Godiva’s entreaties to lower the taxes on the oppressed residents of Coventry. One day, though, Leofric gives in, saying he’ll cut taxes if she rides naked through the town at midday.

    In a report on the historic person, the BBC wrote, “The rest of the story is not documented at all, but it is said that so great was her compassion for the people of Coventry that Godiva overcame her horror of doing this. She ordered the people to remain indoors with their windows and doors barred. Loosening her long hair to cover her as a cloak, she mounted her waiting horse.

    “Then she rode through the silent streets unseen by the people, who had obeyed her command because of their respect for her.”

    Peeping Tom, the tailor who was struck blind for looking, was added to the story in the 17th century.

    Lady Godiva appeared on a privately minted 1792-1794 halfpenny token issued during Great Britain’s Condor token craze. The token, which was designed by William Mainwaring and struck by William Lutwyche, shows a not-too-pretty nude equestrian on one side along with the date and the legend PRO BONO PUBLICO, a wording with a double meaning on this piece.

    With small change in short supply, private mints struck hundreds of trade tokens, often with imaginative designs, to meet the English public’s need. The legend PRO BONO PUBLICO appears on many Condor tokens, meaning that they were struck for the public good. Lady Godiva’s ride, too, was for the public good.

    The other side of the Godiva token shows Coventry’s symbol – an elephant with a castle turret in place of a saddle – and the legend COVENTRY HALFPENNY. The edge says where it was payable and by whom.

    Circulated examples are common and generally sell for $50 or less.

    The public grew tired of the collectible tokens in 1795 as supply exceeded demand. The need for the unofficial coinage ended in 1797 when Great Britain started striking copper half pennies and pennies.

    The token series takes its name from James Condor (1761–1823) who cataloged the pieces in his 1798 book, An arrangement of Provincial Coins, tokens, and medalets issued in Great Britain, Ireland, and the colonies, within the last twenty years, from the farthing to the penny size.

    Next: Trimming the hirsute