Beer Stamps 

US #REA3 from the first issue of Beer stamps in 1866.

On September 1, 1866, the first US Beer stamps were issued.

While duties, tariffs, and state taxes on beer had been instituted decades earlier, the first large-scale federal tax on beer was created on September 1, 1862.  The tax was created to help fund the Union Army for the Civil War.  During those four years, officials would collect the $1 per barrel tax in cash.

When the war came to an end, the government decided to keep the tax but also decided to start producing stamps to help account for paid taxes.  The tax of $1 per barrel remained the same.  The new stamps were produced for various barrel sizes between 1/8th of a barrel up to 1 hogshead.  A hogshead was a 63-gallon container, equal to two 31.5 gallon barrels.  These first stamps were issued on September 1, 1866, making them the first stamps issued for use on alcoholic beverages, though they didn’t appear in Scott Catalogue until 1994.

Brewers received Beer Tax Revenue stamps in imperforate sheets and were required to attach the stamps to the spigot of the beer barrel before it left the brewery.  In most cases, this meant the stamps were destroyed when the barrels were opened.  However, some people carefully removed the stamps and preserved them.

US #REA9 from the 1867 issue.

The first two issues of Beer stamps (1866 and 1867) had ornate circular designs.  The stamps of 1870 had a square format with an open rectangular area in the center for the cancellation.  Each stamp had different colored security lines in the cancellation area.

US #REA22b from the 1871 issue.

Up until 1870, each set of beer stamps was produced in six different denominations.  In 1871, a new series was produced featuring seven denominations.  The new set included a 33 1/3¢ for 1/3 of a barrel.  These new stamps had a very different design too, they pictured historical figures – Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Webster, David Farragut, William T. Sherman, Hugh McCulloch, and Alexander Hamilton.  They also featured intricate scrollwork similar to that found on paper money and other security printing.

US #REA30 from the 1875 issue.

In 1875, another series of Beer stamps was produced.  Once again it included seven denominations, but this time they all had the same central vignette, which was called “Bacchus Serving the First Fermented Brew to Man.”

US #REA41d – from the 1878 issue.

A new series in 1878 returned to featuring portraits of notable Americans, though this set featured a different group – George Washington, Thomas Corwin, Thomas Hart Benton, George Thomas, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Johnson, and Silas Wright.

US #REA60 from the 1898 issue.

Twenty years later, the stamps of 1878 were surcharged to reflect an increase in the tax rate to $2 per barrel.  The increase was put in place to help fund the Spanish-American War.  Later in 1898, the stamps were reprinted with the new increased values.

US #REA67 from the 1901 issue.

In 1901, the federal beer tax was reduced to $1.60 per barrel and new stamps featuring the same portraits from the previous issue were produced.  Then in 1902, the tax rate was reduced to $1, so some stamps were surcharged and then all the stamps were again reissued at the new rate.

US #REA109 from the 1914 issue.

In 1909, the design with the historical figures was abandoned and new stamps were issued with large denominations in the center.  In 1914, these stamps were surcharged to a new rate of $1.50 per barrel and overprinted “Emergency Tax Under Act of 1914.”  New stamps were produced later that year to reflect the new rate.

US #REA124c from the 1917 issue.

The outbreak of World War I saw the beer tax increase to $3 per barrel in 1917 and $6 per barrel in 1918.  As with previous issues, existing stamps were surcharged to reflect the new tax.  No Beer stamps were produced or used after January 17, 1920, when prohibition went into effect.

US #REA173 from the 1933 issue.

New Beer stamps wouldn’t appear until after prohibition was repealed in 1933.  The stamps of this era were smaller and the word beer was replaced with “Fermented Liquor” or “Fermented Malt Liquor.”  The stamps were also no longer denominated in monetary values, but simply in barrels.  The tax rate over the next few years would vary from $5 in 1933 up to $9 in 1951, after which their use was discontinued.

US #REA197a from the 1947 issue.

Click here for lots more Beer stamps.

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  1. Ahh for the good old days when drinking beer was an act of patriotism! Contrasts with the short sighted policy of the Russian government in 1914 when they banned the production, sale, and consumption of vodka. Since the whole process had been a government monopoly, at one fell stroke they wiped out the largest single source of government revenue, thereby bankrupting themselves and opening the door to revolution. We all know how well that worked out for them. And of course, no Russian ever dreamed of bootlegging the stuff.

  2. I’m in the US, and I have to say that, since the 80s, when I was becoming familiar with the workings of OUR government, and the “existence” of the Federal Deficit… that if Congress would legalize marijuana and retail & tax it like cigarettes, pretty soon there would be no deficit!

    Alas, given their penchant for spending… $750 ashtrays and $1,200 hammers (note: figures may not be accurate, as they are based on my memory and may be mildly, though doubtfully grossly, exaggerated due to my penchant for biased sarcasm regarding the issue as a whole… I’ll stop there rather than step up on my soapbox! ???) and recent legislative activity, not that I oppose the notion, but rather the reality of their unconscionable greed, stinginess, and deceptive tactics, behind the “Stimulus” checks— carefully organized to provide substantial perks for “them” [the RICH; specifically the grossly overcompensated elected officials for whom allocating tax dollars— the majority of which are leeched out of what little ol’ Larry & Lucy average American are dramatically underpaid for their back-breaking 60-70+ week of hard-labor work while they live paycheck to paycheck and roll pennies for a pack of cigarettes after paying all their bills and buying food & clothes for the kids each month… knowing, sadly, that they will be the next generation of the POOR, because they can’t save any money to put them through college in order to push them up the ladder in life— resembles more a marathon game of Monopoly than responsible financial management] and allow them away from the actual workplace even more than they already are! Oops! I appear to have stepped up— but my point is that, sure, $1,200 to help you pay your mortgage, so you don’t lose your home to the RICH… this month… will actually cost you an extra $6,400 in taxes— which you won’t be able to afford because you were laid off or lost your business due to a dramatic diversion directing your attention away from the daily grind and national election events… I do apologize; I have a tendency to run on at the mouth, but, it would be safe to conclude that the disappearance of the federal deficit is not likely to happen before H$!! freezes over! ‘Nough said.

    Time for me to “get back to work! ⌛️??‍??

    1. But…..but…..this is an article for stamps and their history. If you cant handle that why dont you move on. Take a chill pill

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