Sales tax token

Last updated
A 1935 Missouri 1 mill token, known in slang as a "milk top" owing to its similarity to milk bottle caps of the era. Missouri 1 Mill Tax Token.jpg
A 1935 Missouri 1 mill token, known in slang as a "milk top" owing to its similarity to milk bottle caps of the era.

Sales tax tokens are fractional cent devices that were used to pay sales tax on very small purchases in many American states during the years of the Great Depression. They were created as a means for consumers to avoid being "overcharged" by having to pay a full penny tax on purchases of 5 or 10 cents. Issued by private firms, by municipalities, and by twelve state governments, sales tax tokens were generally issued in multiples of 1 mill (110 cent). [1]




Prior to the coming of World War I in the summer of 1914, only two countries, Mexico and the Philippines, made use of a general sales tax for national finance. [2] Excise tax — a transaction tax on the sale of specific items — was broadly used, however, and the idea of a general sales tax was neither unknown nor obscure to political decision-makers in the United States.

Indeed, in 1921 there was a concerted effort to implement a 1% national sales tax in the USA by attaching it to the 1921 national revenue bill and 1922 legislation providing for a soldiers' bonus. [3] Although the proposals for a national sales tax were defeated by an alliance of farmer and labor interests, the state of West Virginia implemented a 1% sales tax of its own in that same year, using the revenue so generated as a replacement for a corporate income tax. [3] Improving economic conditions throughout that decade of the 1920s would leave West Virginia's use of a sales tax unique among the 48 American states. [3]

In October 1929 the global economic crisis struck the United States. As unemployment skyrocketed, income tax revenue plummeted and defaults on property taxes spiked. Meanwhile, calls for state spending on relief measures for the indigent and the unemployed expanded beyond the states' capabilities. [4] Georgia's early adoption of a sales tax in 1929 was followed by a wave of sales tax adoptions, spurred on by the deep financial crisis. [4] In 1933, 11 more states, including New York, Illinois, California, and Michigan, adopted sales taxes. [4]

Launch of sales tax tokens

An aluminum sales tax token from the state of Washington, valued at 2 mills (
1/5 cent) and good for the "tax on purchase of 10 cents or less" under the state's 2% retail sales tax law. Washington Tax Tokens From 1935.jpg
An aluminum sales tax token from the state of Washington, valued at 2 mills (15 cent) and good for the "tax on purchase of 10 cents or less" under the state's 2% retail sales tax law.

The twelve states that issued these sales tax tokens were Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Washington. [1]

In addition to the fractional cent tokens used elsewhere, a closely related system of state-issued paper sales tax stamps and punch cards was used in the state of Ohio. [5]

Sales tax tokens were generally regarded as a nuisance by consumers and were replaced in fairly short order by the bracket system of sales tax collection, which averaged out the tax on small sales. [6] By the end of the 1930s token use was eliminated in most of the issuing states, with sales tax tokens lingering in Missouri until late in the 1940s.[ citation needed ]


A number of states issued colorful plastic tax tokens made in quantities running into hundreds of millions. The denominations on the token are numbers of "mills" (tenths of one cent). Various plastic sales tax tokens from the United States.jpg
A number of states issued colorful plastic tax tokens made in quantities running into hundreds of millions. The denominations on the token are numbers of "mills" (tenths of one cent).
Square-shaped Illinois sales tax token Illinois Square Tax Token.jpg
Square-shaped Illinois sales tax token

Tax tokens were issued in a variety of materials, including cardboard, brass, bronze, aluminum, pressed cotton fiber, and plastic. The number of types issued is counted in the hundreds, with mintages of some of these types ranging upwards into the tens of millions. Consequently, tax tokens are regarded by numismatists as ubiquitous and often are of comparatively little value. On the other hand, certain types and varieties are extremely rare, with as few as one specimen known.[ citation needed ]

In 1971 collectors of sales tax tokens founded an organization called the American Tax Token Society, which has published a quarterly newsletter continuously since its foundation.[ citation needed ]


In addition to a number of early check-lists of available tokens, there have been two comprehensive catalogs published for collectors of sales tax tokens. [7] The first of these, Chits, Chiselers, and Funny Money, by Michael G. Pfefferkorn and Jerry F. Schimmel, was published in 1977 with a press run of just 500 copies. [7] A small number of bootleg copies were later photocopied and spiral-ring bound. [7]

The Pfefferkorn and Schimmel catalog was superseded in 1993 with the publication of United States Tax Tokens and Stamps: A History and Catalog, by Merlin K. Malehorn and Tim Davenport. [7] The books is colloquially known among collectors as “the M&D" based upon the surnames of the authors and the so-called "M&D" numbering system of that book remains in common use by tax token specialist collectors. [7] Additional types and varieties discovered after publication of this latter book, complete with "pseudo-M&D" numbers, have been described and illustrated in various issues of ATTS Newsletter.[ citation needed ]

Historical coverage in this latter book was supplemented in 2013 with the publication of Monte Dean's Sales Tax Tokens and Scrip: Histories, a massive one million word tome reproducing nearly 3,600 newspaper articles and monograph excerpts. [8]

See also


  1. 1 2 Brian Rxm, "Sales Tax Tokens: US State issues during the 1930s Depression," Brian Rxm website,
  2. National Industrial Conference Board, General Sales Tax or Turnover Tax. New York: National Industrial Conference Board, 1929; pg. 163.
  3. 1 2 3 Merllin K. Malehorn and Tim Davenport, United States Sales Tax Tokens and Stamps: A History and Catalog. Bryantown, MD: Jade House Publications, 1993; pg. 9.
  4. 1 2 3 Malehorn and Davenport, 'United States Sales Tax Tokens and Stamps, pg. 10.
  5. Monte C. Dean, Ohio Sales Tax Revenues: Stamps, Punch Cards, Tokens and Related Memorabilia. Spring Valley, MN: Monte Dean, 2012.
  6. Chester M. Edelmann, "Bracket Systems and Sales Under One Dollar," Proceedings of the Annual Conference on Taxation under the Auspices of the National Tax Association, vol. 43 (1950), pp. 307-314.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Monte Christo Dean, Sales Tax Tokens and Scrip: Histories. Spring Valley, MN: Monte Christo Dean, 2013; pg. 3.
  8. Dean, Sales Tax Tokens and Scrip, pg. 6.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Postage stamp</span> Small piece of paper that is displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment for postage

A postage stamp is a small piece of paper issued by a post office, postal administration, or other authorized vendors to customers who pay postage. Then the stamp is affixed to the face or address-side of any item of mail—an envelope or other postal cover —which they wish to send. The item is then processed by the postal system, where a postmark or cancellation mark—in modern usage indicating date and point of origin of mailing—is applied to the stamp and its left and right sides to prevent its reuse. Next the item is delivered to its addressee.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Postage stamps and postal history of the United States</span>

Postal service in the United States began with the delivery of stampless letters whose cost was borne by the receiving person, later encompassed pre-paid letters carried by private mail carriers and provisional post offices, and culminated in a system of universal prepayment that required all letters to bear nationally issued adhesive postage stamps.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Definitive stamp</span> Postage stamp that is part of the regular issue of a countrys stamps

A definitive stamp is a postage stamp that is part of the regular issue of a country's stamps, available for sale by the post office for an extended period of time and designed to serve the everyday postal needs of the country. The term is used in contrast to a "provisional stamp", one that is issued for a temporary period until regular stamps are available, or a "commemorative stamp", a stamp "issued to honor a person or mark a special event" available only for a limited time. Commonly, a definitive issue or series includes stamps in a range of denominations sufficient to cover current postal rates. An "issue" generally means a set that is put on sale all at the same time, while a "series" is spread out over several years, but the terms are not precise. Additional stamps in a series may be produced as needed by changes in postal rates; nevertheless some values may be permanently available, regardless of prevailing rates; examples include 1c or 1p and $1 or £1.

This is a list of philatelic topics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Exonumia</span> Numismatic items other than coins and paper money

Exonumia are numismatic items other than coins and paper money. This includes "Good For" tokens, badges, counterstamped coins, elongated coins, encased coins, souvenir medallions, tags, wooden nickels and other similar items. It is an aspect of numismatics and many coin collectors are also exonumists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scrip</span> Any substitute for legal tender or currency

A scrip is any substitute for legal tender. It is often a form of credit. Scrips have been created and used for a variety of reasons, including exploitative payment of employees under truck systems; or for use in local commerce at times when regular currency was unavailable, for example in remote coal towns, military bases, ships on long voyages, or occupied countries in wartime. Besides company scrip, other forms of scrip include land scrip, vouchers, token coins such as subway tokens, IOUs, arcade tokens and tickets, and points on some credit cards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Token coin</span> Trade token

In numismatics, token coins or trade tokens are coin-like objects used instead of coins. The field of token coins is part of exonumia and token coins are token money. Their denomination is shown or implied by size, color or shape. They are often made of cheaper metals like copper, pewter, aluminium, brass and tin, or non-metals like bakelite, leather and porcelain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Canadian pound</span> Currency used in Canada (1841–1858)

The pound was the currency of the Canadas until 1858. It was subdivided into 20 shillings (s), each of 12 pence (d). In Lower Canada, the sou was used, worth 12 penny. Although the £sd accounting system had its origins in sterling, the Canadian pound was never at par with sterling's pound.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">United Nations Postal Administration</span> Postal service agency of the United Nations

The United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) is the postal agency of the United Nations. It issues postage stamps and postal stationery, denominated in United States dollars for the office in New York, in Swiss francs for the office in Geneva and in euros for the office in Vienna. As such, UNPA is the only postal authority that issues stamps in three different currencies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wooden nickel</span> Style of token coin

In the United States, a wooden nickel is a wooden token coin, usually issued by a merchant or bank as a promotion, sometimes redeemable for a specific item such as a drink.

The Charlton Press is a book publishing company that produces pricing guides as well as other books on related topics, including collectibles and porcelain figures. The company's first title was Catalogue of Canadian Coins, Tokens & Fractional Currency, published in 1952, and contained all coins used as circulating tender in Canada from 1858 until present.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Civil War token</span> Privately minted token coins

Civil War tokens are token coins that were privately minted and distributed in the United States between 1861 and 1864. They were used mainly in the Northeast and Midwest. The widespread use of the tokens was a result of the scarcity of government-issued cents during the Civil War.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Company scrip</span> Scrip issued by a company to pay its employees

Company scrip is scrip issued by a company to pay its employees. It can only be exchanged in company stores owned by the employers. In the United Kingdom, such truck systems have long been formally outlawed under the Truck Acts. In the United States, payment in scrip became illegal in 1938 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fractional currency</span> Series of United States dollar banknotes

Fractional currency, also referred to as shinplasters, was introduced by the United States federal government following the outbreak of the Civil War. These low-denomination banknotes of the United States dollar were in use between 21 August 1862 and 15 February 1876, and issued in denominations of 3, 5, 10, 15, 25, and 50 cents across five issuing periods. The complete type set below is part of the National Numismatic Collection, housed at the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Admirals are a series of definitive stamps issued by three countries of the British Commonwealth that show King George V of Great Britain and the British Dominions. The stamps are referred to as the Admirals because King George is depicted in his Admiral of the Fleet uniform. The stamps were issued by Canada in 1911–1928, New Zealand in 1926, and Rhodesia in 1913–24.

1930 <i>Graf Zeppelin</i> stamps

The 1930 Graf Zeppelin stamps were a set of three airmail postage stamps, each depicting the image of the Graf Zeppelin, issued by the United States Post Office Department in 1930, exclusively for delivery of mail carried aboard that airship. Although the stamps were valid for postage on mail sent on the Zeppelin Pan American flight from Germany to the United States, via Brazil, the set was marketed to collectors and was largely intended to promote the route. 93.5% of the revenue generated by the sale of these stamps went to the Zeppelin Airship Works in Germany. The Graf Zepplin stamps were issued as a gesture of goodwill toward Germany. The three stamps were used briefly and then withdrawn from sale. The remainder of the stock was destroyed by the Post Office Department. Due to the high cost of the stamps during the Great Depression, most collectors and the general public could not afford them. Consequently, only about 227,000 of the stamps were sold, just 7% of the total printed, making them relatively scarce and prized by collectors.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Revenue stamps of the United States</span>

The first revenue stamps in the United States were used briefly during colonial times, among the most notable usage involved the Stamp Act. Long after independence, the first revenue stamps printed by the United States government were issued in the midst of the American Civil War, prompted by the urgent need to raise revenue to pay for the great costs it incurred. After the war ended however, revenue stamps and the taxes they represented still continued. Revenue stamps served to pay tax duties on items that came under two main categories, Proprietary and Documentary. Proprietary stamps paid tax duties on goods like alcohol and tobacco, and were also used for various services, while Documentary stamps paid duties on legal documents, mortgage deeds, stocks and a fair number of other legal dealings. Proprietary and Documentary stamps often bore these respective designations, while in several of the issues they shared the same designs, sometimes with minor variations. Beginning in 1862 the first revenue stamps were issued, and would continue to be used for another hundred years and more. For the first twelve years George Washington was the only subject featured on U.S. revenue stamps, when in 1875 an allegorical figure of Liberty finally appeared. Revenue stamps were printed in many varieties and denominations and are widely sought after by collectors and historians. Revenue stamps were finally discontinued on December 31, 1967.

The Australian state of Western Australia issued revenue stamps from 1881 to 1973. There were various types for different taxes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Revenue stamps of Hawaii</span>

Revenue stamps of Hawaii were first issued in late 1876 by the Kingdom of Hawaii to pay taxes according to the Stamp Duty Act of 1876, although embossed revenue stamps had been introduced decades earlier in around 1845. The stamps issued in 1876–79 were used for over three decades, remaining in use during the Provisional Government, the Republic and after Hawaii became a U.S. Territory. Some changes were made along the years: from rouletted to perforated, and some new values, colours, designs and overprints were added. Some postage stamps were briefly valid for fiscal use in 1886–88 to pay for a tax on opium imports, and a stamp in a new design was issued for customs duties in 1897. A liquor stamp was issued in 1905.

Revenue stamps of Guernsey refer to the various revenue or fiscal stamps, whether adhesive or directly embossed, which were issued by the States of Guernsey for use on the island of Guernsey, a British Crown dependency. There were general-duty revenues, along with issues for Entertainments Tax, Sales Tax, Income Tax and Insurance.