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Awful Historical Taxes That Make Yours Seem Not So Bad!

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By , dealnews Media Editor

On April 16, at 11:50, as you scramble to complete your tax forms in time, take a moment to reflect on how once upon a time taxes were WAY crazier. Here's a short list of five taxes that make what you're going to have to pay Uncle Sam seem a bit more reasonable:

Beard Tax
Hairless faces were all the rage in Europe in 1705, so, wanting to make his country more "fashionable," Peter I of Russia decided to tax the beard. The fee for being follicular could be as much as 100 rubles for nobility, but as little as 1 kopek for the "lesser classes." The law was later changed to tax only beards with two or more week's growth. Think being an accountant is boring these days? Back then you had to watch beards grow.

Wallpaper Tax
Britain (The Original Home of Weird TaxesTM) had a tax on the painted, printed, and patterned wallpaper from 1712 to 1836. Wallpaper was taxed up to 1 shilling per square yard of wallpaper. Adjusted for inflation and converted to real money, that's about $4.52 in today's currency. Per square yard. We're guessing that a lot of people at that moment realized that painted walls didn't look that bad, all things considered.

Soap Tax
England (yes, again!) started taxing soap in 1711. By the time the tax was repealed in 1853, it was raking in around $125 million in today's money! People were already interested in getting clean, but the tax repeal made soap even more popular. If it would mean an end to the inane Axe Body Wash ads, we might be all for its reinstatement.

Tea Tax
In 1773, Colonial America was seen as a great way to unload a huge surplus of tea that the British East India Company found themselves with. The Tea Act was going to ensure that colonials bought the tea and submitted to England's taxation rules in one fell swoop. (Two birds with one Earl Grey, if you would.) Of course, young Americans balked at it, dressed up, and threw some of that tea into Boston Harbor. And because of that, we now have a Starbucks on every corner. Thanks, early colonists!

Pee Tax
In ancient Rome (c. 69-79), urine was a necessity in both tanneries (where they made leather) and in laundries (yes, where they cleaned your clothes with it). It's worth noting, though, that the government taxed those who bought the urine, not those that *ahem* produced it.

OK, you may now resume hastily filling out those 1040EZ forms. Just remember, no matter how much you claim to love it, the government will never agree that your car is a dependent. And if you need some actually useful information about Tax Day — from tax freebies and software deals, to ideas for how to spend your refund — keep an eye on the Tax Day page.

Front page photo credit: Benzinga


Jeff Somogyi is the dealnews Media Editor. He did his taxes months ago, but keeps forgetting that fact and freaking out when he hears other people talk about them. #ComplainBrag. See more of his taxing tips on Twitter or on his blog.

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1 comment
RW_in_DC
Unhappy that you omitted the Telephone tax (aka, on phone calls to fund the Spanish American War) repealed after a hundred years or so .... An example of a luxury tax that 'trickles down'
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