A History of Inventions and Discoveries: Stamped paper.
A History of Inventions and Discoveries.
By John Beckmann,
Public professor of economy in the University of Gottingen.
Translated from the German, by William Johnston.
Third edition, carefully corrected, enlarged by the addition of several new articles.
In four volumes.
Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown; Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy; R. Priestley; R. Scholey; T. Hamilton; W. Otridge; J. Walker; R. Fenner; J. Bell; J. Booker; E. Edwards; and J. Harding.
Paper stamped with a certain mark by Government, and which in many countries must be used for all judicial acts, public deeda, and private contracts, in order to give them validity, is one of those numerous modes of taxation invented after the other means of raising money for the service of states, or rather of their rulers, became exhausted. It is not of great antiquity; for before the invention of our paper it would not have been a very productive source of finance. When parchment and other substances employed for writing on were dear; when greater simplicity of manners produced more honesty and more confidence among mankind; and when tallies supplied the place of notes, bonds, and receipts, writing of that kind were very little in use.
* An account of this book may be found in Anecdotes secretes sur divers sujects de litterat. 1734, p. 573. and in the preface to Etat de la France, de M. de Boulainvilliers, fol. p. 12.
*2 An extract from it is inserted also in the Paris edition of the Encyclopédie, vol. xi. p. 862.
*3 Illud quoque præsenti adjicimus legi, ut tabelliones non in alia charta pura scribant documenta, nisi in illa quæ in initio (quod vocatur protocollum) per tempora gloriorissimi comitis sacranum nostrarum largionum habeat appellationem, et tempus quo chartsa facta est, et quæcunque in talibus scribuntur; et ut protocollum non incidant, sed insertum reliquant; novimus enim multas falsitates ex talibus chartis ostensas et prius et nunc; ideoque, licet aliqua sit charta (nam et hoc sancimus) habens protocollum non ita conscriptum, sed aliam quandam scripturam gerens, neque illam suscipiant, tanquam adulteram, et ad talia non opportunam, sed in sla tali charta qualem dudum diximus documenta scribant. Hæc itaque quæ de qualitate talium chartarum a nobis decreta sunt, et de incisione corum quæ vocantur protocolla, valcre in hac felicissima solum civitate volumus, ubi plurima quidem contrahentium multitudo, multa quoque chartarum abundantia est, et licet legali modo intresse negotiis, et hon dare occasionem quibusdam falsiatem committere, cui se obnoxios existere demonstrabunt qui præter falsitatem committere, cui se obnoxios existere demonstrabunt qui præter hæc aliquid agere præsumpseringt. Novell. coll. iv. tit. 23. cap. 2. nov. 44.
*4 Such is the idea of Stryk in Continual´. altera usus moderni oandectarum, lib. xxii. tit. 4. p. 856: Chartaæ signatæ hodiarnæ est longe alius finis, et potissimum ad augendum fiscum inventa est.
*5 The States of Holland having laid sufficiently heavy duties on merchandise of every kind, and these not being equal to the expenditure, which was daily increasing, began to think of imposing new ones. For that purpose they issued an edict, inviting the ingenious to turn their thoughts towards that subject, and offering a very ample rewards to whoever should invent a new tax, that might be as little burdensome as possible, and yet productive to the republic. Some shrewd, deep-thinking person, at length, devised one on stamped paper (called de impost van bezegelde brieven), to be paid for all paper impressed with the seal of the States. The inventor proposed, that it should be enacted by public authority, that no petitions from the states, r from the magistrates of any city or district, or any public bodies, should be received; that no documents should be admitted in court of justice; that no receipts should be legal, and that no acts signed by notaries, secretaries, or other persons in office, and, in short, no contracts should be valid, except such as were written upon paper to which the seal of the States had been affixed, in the manner above mentioned. It was proposed, also, that this paper should be sold by the clerks of the different towns, and courts, at the following rate: paper impressed with the great seal of the States for sixpence, and that with the less seal for twopence per sheet: for according to the importance of the business it was necessary that the great or less seal should be used - - - - The States approved this plan, and it was immediately put in execution. Boxhornii Disquisitiones politic. casus 59. These Disquisitiones politicæ were printed by the author only for the use of his scholars, and published at first, without his name. They are to be found, however, in Boxhornii Varii tractatus politici. Amstelodami 1663, 12mo. In this collection there is also Bozhornii Reip. Bataviæ brevis et accurata descriptio, in the eight chapter of which the author gives the following account of the origin of stamped paper: "A very ingenious methods has lately been invented of raising large sums of money for the use of republic. As there are many rich people who have entrusted a considerable share of their property to the public treasury, the interest of which they receive annually on giving receipts; as many law-suits are carried on which are generally entered into by the wealthy, and which cannot be brought to a conclusion until a variety of instruments, as they are called, have been executed on each side; and as, on account of the flourishing state of trade, many contracts are made, which for the sake of security, must be mutually signed, the States thought proper to enact, by a public edict, that no receipts, law-papers, contracts, or instruments, of the like kind, should be legal or valid, unless written on paper impressed with the great or small seal of the States. A price was also fixed on the paper, to be paid by those who had occasion for it; so that a sheet which before could be purchased for a halfpenny, was raised to several pence; and it is incredible how great a revenue these sheets bring to the public, by so many of them being used. The poor, however, and those of small fortune, feel little of this burden, as the rich principally are concerned in the transactions above mentioned."
*6 Mylii Corpus constitut. MArch. p. iv. sect. 5. cap. 3. Von Dreyhaupts Beschreibung des Saal-Kreises, im auszuge, ii. p. 591. G. F. Mullers Stempel-recht. Halle 1778. 8vo. p. 9.
*7 Fr. Jac. Barholdi Diss. de charta signata; resp. P. Kolhart. Francof. ad. Viadr. 1690. ca. 2. § 16. p. 36. De Basville or Baville, however, in his Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de Languedoc, affirms that stamped paper was introduced so early as the year 537, by the emperor Justinian. This book, written by the author, intendant of that province in 1697, for the use of the duke of Burgundy, was printed, in octavo, at Marseilles in 1734, and not at Amsterdam, as announced in the title; but it was carefully suppressed by the Government, and on that account is very scarce even in France.* I have never seen it; but I know the author's ideas respecting stamped paper, from an extract in Varietés historiques, physiques, et litteraires printed at Paris in the year 1752.*2 The author of this work supports the opinion of his countryman: but it is undoubtedly false; for the law quoted as a proof requires only that documents should be written on such paper as had marked at the top (which was called the protocoll) the name of the intendant of the finances, and the time when the paper was made; and this regulation was established merely with a view to prevent the forging and altering of acts or deeds.*3 A kind of stamped paper therefore was brought into use, though different from what we have at present, the principal intention of which is not to render writings more secure, but by imposing a certain duty on the stamps, proportioned to the importance of the purpose it is employed for, to make a considerable addition to the public revenue.*4 The stamps serve as a receipt to show that the tax has been paid; and, though many law papers must be stamped, the burthen has tended as little to prevent law-suits as the stamping of cards has to lessen gaming: though some think differently. In both too much is risked and too much expected for taxes to deter mankind from engaging in either.
If tin this historical research, we look only to the antiquity of stamping, we shall find that both the Greeks and the Romans had soldiers marked in that manner; and, if we may be allowed to bring together things so different, we might include under the like head those run-away slaves who were marked by being branded; but I allude here only to the stamped paper now in use, which was certainly invented in Holland, a country where every necessary of life is subjected to taxation. The States of the United Provinces having promised a reward to any one who should invent a new impost, that might at the same time bear light on the people and be productive to the government, some person proposed that of bezegelde brieven, or stamped paper, which was approved; and which Boxhorn, to whom we are indebted for this information, considers as a very proper tax. He is of opinion also that it might with great advantage be adopted in other countries;*5 and this was rally the case soon after his death, which happened in 1653.
Stamped paper was introduced in Holland on the 13th of August 1624, by an ordinance which represented the necessity and great benefit of this new tax. Among other things advanced in its favour, it was said, that it would tend to lessen lawsuits, and, on that acount, would soon recommend itself to neighbouring nations. What we are told, therefore, by the author of an extract in Varietés historiques, before quoted, that stamped paper began to be used in Holland and Spain so early as the year 1555, is certainly false. The Spaniards may, indeed, have been the first people who followed the example of the Dutch; for the author above mentioned asserts, that he saw an act, executed by a notary at Brussels, in 1668, which was written on stamped paper.
This tax was introduced in the electorate of Saxony by an ordinance of the 22d of March 1682; and into that of Brandenburg on the 15th of July the same year. *6 Bartholdus however says, but without producing any proof,*7 that stamped paper was used before that period in Denmark, Florence, and Silesia. In Hanover it was first introduced, as I think, on the 20th February 1709.