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