Notes from the Past

Massachusetts Stamp Act of 1755

Even before the infamous and unwise British revenues of 1765, stamps were employed to impose taxes in America.  Similar devices had first been used nearly 4000 years earlier.  In 1755, George II was King of England and William Shirley was colonial governor of Massachusetts.  England was engaged in the seven years' war with France.  The war extended to the American colonies and Canada.  The French made alliances with Indians to create diversions in the Colonies.  Massachusetts was a particular target for Indian attacks.

Massachusetts passed the Massachusetts Stamp Act to raise funds "for the defense of the frontiers" against Indians in 1755 with taxes effective May 1.  The terms of the act ended the taxes after two years.

Four taxes were imposed.  A ½d. rate was imposed on newspapers.  A 2d. rate was required for deeds or mortgages of real estate less than than 20 pounds and for certain legal papers issued by justices of the peace.  A 3d. rate was applied to various legal papers issued from courts of record and to bills of sale for servants.  A 4d. rate was required on deed or mortgages of real estate involving more than 20 pounds, bills of sale of ships or vessels, and certain contracts and other legal papers.

The ½d. stamp was a surface printed stamp applied to newspapers.  There are two dies.  The stamps are very rare.  An inventory in 1941 found only three copies held privately!  The other stamps were applied by embossing blank sheets of paper which were then sold to those who prepared such papers.  It was also possible to have one's own paper embossed with the revenue stamp.

The Scott Specialized Catalogue of U.S. Stamps & Covers assigns RM1-RM4 to these stamps and provides illustrations.

Posted September 19, 2000

Editor's Note:  More can be learned about these stamps in "Stamped Revenue Paper Issued by the Province of Massachusetts, the Colony of New York and by Great Britain for use in America" by Leland Powers in The Stamp Specialist Mahogany Book published in 1947 by H. L. Lindquist.

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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