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"I may as well take one glass": Income, Profit, and Taxation

Income, Profit, and Taxation

THE economic importance of alcoholic products dates to the founding of the United States.  The 1791 Whiskey Excise Tax levied a federal tax on domestic and imported alcohol and was specifically earmarked to offset a portion of the federal government’s recent assumption of debts incurred by the states during the American Revolution. This unpopular excise tax, which led to the Whiskey Rebellion, ended in 1802. However, it did not end federal excise taxes on alcohol. Today the federal government, state, and some local jurisdictions levy excise taxes on alcohol.

OUR collection contains statistical government and trade publications that enumerate the amount of taxes collected at various points in history. We also collect revenue stamps, the artifacts that indicated the proper taxes were paid. On display are pre-Prohibition federal revenue stamps, as well as a post-Prohibition State of Tennessee stamp. Also on display is a gauger’s manual and form. Gaugers were empowered to ascertain the strength and amount of alcohol subject to taxation, as well as the amount of tax owed.

EXCISE taxes are just one aspect of illustrating the economic impact of alcoholic beverages. The collection contains two 19th century ledgers, one from a brewer in Pennsylvania and one from a distiller in Nashville. These ledgers provide a glimpse into the liquor business on a micro-level with their accounts and inventory.


The Civil War Tax Act of 1862 authorized a levy on businesses and occupations with annual gross receipts over $1,000.  It stipulated that these taxes were required to be paid by Special Tax stamps.  These large stamps were printed from 1873 to 1885 in booklets of ten.  They were generally printed on a different color of paper each year, though all years had the same vignette designs. 

There were 21 different types of businesses affected. Most of these stamps were remainders that were cancelled with either pie-shaped cancels or hole cancels by the Internal Revenue Service and sold in 1890 as scrap paper.  The stamps had three parts:  the stub, which was retained when the stamp was issued, the coupons (each had 12, one for each month), and the stamp itself.  Our copy is a remainder from 1878.

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