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Andrew Laisby
Caption: Andrew Laisby

March's Budget has seen more than a fair share of comments regarding the fairness of the various tax raising measures, which I will not go into today, one being the so called ‘Sugar Tax’.

This got me thinking about other obscure and perhaps bizarre forms of taxation over the years since tax had its origins in what is believed to be the first tax, which was a tax on cooking oil, imposed by the Egyptian Pharaohs.

  • There was a taxation on playing cards since as early as the 16th century, however, in 1710, the English government significantly raised taxes on playing cards and dice which led to widespread forgeries of playing cards in order to avoid paying taxes. This tax wasn't removed until as recently as 1960.
  • In 1660, England imposed a tax on fireplaces which led to people covering their fireplaces with bricks to conceal them to avoid paying the tax. This tax was repealed in 1689.
  • Throughout the 16th century, producing speckled soap was banned in Britain as it depleted the country’s supply of tallow trees. As speckled soap was significantly easier and cheaper to produce than coarse and sweet soaps, the government introduced a tax to try and halt production. However, all this did was ensure that soap became a preserve of the rich and wealthy and it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution in 1853 that the tax was finally revoked.
  • In 1712, England imposed a tax on printed wallpaper. Decorators avoided the tax by hanging plain wallpaper and then painting patterns on the walls.
  • In the 1700’s, England imposed a tax on bricks. However, resourceful builders soon realised that they could use larger bricks (and therefore fewer bricks) so that they could pay less tax. Shortly after, the government realised their error and placed a higher tax on larger bricks. Brick taxes were finally repealed in 1850.
  • Towards the end of the 17th century, Russian Emperor Peter the Great introduced a tax on men’s facial hair in an attempt to force men to adopt the clean shaven look that was common in Western Europe, therefore ‘he hoped’, modernising society. All bearded men were forced to the pay the charge and carry around a copper or bronze token to show they had paid the tax.

So, perhaps a ‘Sugar Tax’ is not as off the wall as first thought.

In closing, I came across a suggested motto for HMRC, "We have what it takes, to take what you have" - (anonymous).

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