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Revenue Stamps on Ancestor Photograph

Collectors of cartes-de-visite often have one or more prized Civil War photographs that have revenue stamps affixed on the reverse side. Because these stamps were required on photographs only from 1864 to 1866, their presence (or their absence) gives us the approximate dates of ancestor photographs of the Civil War era. Often the photographer dated the revenue stamp which gives us an exact date the photograph was taken.
An act of Congress passed on June 30, 1864 added a new tax on all "photographs, ambrotypes, daguerreotypes or any other sun-pictures" to be paid for by attaching a revenue stamp on the back of the photograph. The tax was set at 2c for a photograph "with a retail value of not over 25c, 3c for a photo costing over 25c but not over 50c; 5c for photos costing over 50c but not over a dollar; and for each additional dollar or fraction of a dollar, another 5c.

The majority of stamped photographs found today are cartes-de-visite. Cartes usually cost around a quarter, although they sometimes went six for a dollar, and later ten or twelve for a dollar. Two cent or three cent stamps seem to be the most common values affixed to cartes-de-visite.

Revenue stamps found on photographs had similar designs - a portrait of George Washington surrounded by an ornate frame. The stamps most often seen on photographs are the one, two, and three cent values. They were printed in red, blue, orange, or green.
2 cent orange George Washington revenue stamp 2 cent green revenue stamp George Washington cancelled with date 1865 3 cent George Washington Revenue Stamp cancelled with X
2 cent orange George Washington revenue stamp, cancelled with photographer initials 2 cent green George Washington revenue stamp cancelled with date 1865 3 cent George Washington Revenue Stamp cancelled with X
Photographers were supposed to cancel each stamp and record the date of the photograph on the stamp. Some used a handstamp similar to a postmark, some just used a pen. Stamped photographs are sometimes found canceled with the initials of the photographer, with or without a date, or sometimes canceled with a slash or an "x". Some have uncanceled stamps on them. Federal law called for a $10.00 penalty for failure to affix a required tax stamp on a photograph.

The stamp tax on photographs was repealed 1 August 1866

View Ancestor Photo Albums | Identify Ancestor Photos: Types of Early Photographs | Hints for Dating Old Photographs | Dating Old Photographs through Clothing & Hairstyle | How Revenue Stamps Can Date Ancestor Photos

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