Top ten unusual taxes

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Published: 25th March, 2019

Top ten unusual taxes

At LCF we pride ourselves on being experts in advising you on modern day taxes but in this blog I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of the strange taxes of years gone by.

Top ten

  1. The Romans at one point taxed men for being single. This was apparently designed to discourage “immoral behaviour”. A moral judgement of the past? Well it is interesting to note that the American State of Missouri still levies a 1 dollar a year tax on single men.
  2. A tax was introduced in England in 1535 on having a beard (again, presumably aimed primarily at men). This sounds like a tax you could choose to avoid but bizarrely it was introduced by the impressively bearded King Henry VIII.
  3. Playing cards were taxed in England in the 1600s and the ace of spades in each pack had to have a stamp to show that the tax had been paid. Forging an ace of spades was punishable by hanging. And I thought that losing the occasional game of snap to my granddaughter was bad enough!
  4. Another 17th century English tax was levied on hearths. This was on the basis that the Government at the time thought it would be easier to be certain about the number of hearths in a house than the number of occupants. It explains why in some very old houses hearths are still bricked up.
  5. Soap was taxed in England from 1711. The tax was not withdrawn until 124 years later in 1835, which is quite a long time to wait for a shower.
  6. For almost the same period (from 1712 to 1836) stained uncoloured wallpaper was taxed in England. This lead to a common practice of hanging plain wallpaper and stencilling on a pattern.
  7. Hats attracted a tax between 1784 and 1811 in England, which was designed to reduce the national debt after a costly war. Each hat had a stamp on the band inside to show that the tax had been paid and if forging an ace of spades had not already got you hanged hat forging was another offence that carried the death penalty.
  8. China introduced a tax on wooden chopsticks in 2006. This was designed to reduce the rate at which their forests were being destroyed.
  9. There is much talk at present about introducing a tax on sugary drinks but it is interesting to note that Denmark introduced such a tax as long ago as the 1930s. Equally interestingly, the tax was abolished in 2013 because Denmark found that almost as much was being lost in other taxes as the sugary drinks tax was raising due to people producing illegal sugary drinks to avoid the tax. So much for it being about public health then.
  10. Finally, a tax was introduced in France in 1667 which still exists which is payable by people who use a lawyer to go to court. Obviously, I could not be in favour of this one.

For further advice about taxes you might still have to pay, contact Mark Jones.


Mark Jones - Wills & Probate Solicitor - HarrogateThis article was written by Mark Jones. Mark is a Partner in our Personal Law Department and is based in Harrogate.

Mark specialises in the creation and administration of trusts, tax planning and wills as well as probate work, particularly those where the family has fallen out and contentious issues have arisen.

You can contact Mark on 01423 502211 or