What the R's Are

In the Scott Specialized Catalog of US Stamps and Covers the items with R prefixes are revenue issues. The numbering system runs from R, RB, RC to RZ, with a few gaps and a few insertions, such as RVB (the Federal boating stamps of the early 1960's). This website is an expanded version of one prepared for the eBay Users Stamp Club and is meant to provide a brief overview of each of the Scott-listed revenue categories as of the year 2000 Catalog.

The history of adhesive revenue stamps in the US essentially begins with the Revenue Act of 1862, when the North began to tax a vast number of items to finance the Civil War effort. Scott lists embossed revenues (plus several typographed and engraved items) from the colonial period and the early years of the country as well.

Numbers from R1 through R734 are almost all documentary revenues. However, R1 through R102, the solid-color revenues printed from 1862 to 1871 known as the First Issue, include proprietary stamps as well. Here are three First Issues, an imperforate, a part-perf pair and a perforated stamp. The imperforate, a one-cent express, was probably issued that way, as it has four wide margins and was used in 1863, an appropriate time. It was issued to pay a short-lived tax on express shipments. The telegraph stamps in the center were to be used on telegrams. The playing card stamp was one of the proprietary stamps included with the First Issues and could not legally have been used to pay any sort of documentary tax.

This document is a promissory note written at the office of the Quincy Mining Company in Michigan on February 13, 1863. The stamp is an imperforate sixty-cent Inland Exchange First Issue, one of a very small number known to exist on document. The tax rate from October 1, 1862 to March 3, 1863 was sixty cents on amounts over $1,000 to $1,500.

This is a precancelled one-cent First Issue proprietary stamp used on an Arnica Body Plaster by Wm Holloway & Co in 1871.

In 1871 the designs were changed to blue and black (or multi-colors, in the case of the $200 and $500 "Persian Rugs) to avoid rewashing and reuse. The uniform colors apparently confused lawyers, so some values were printed with frames in other colors fairly quickly thereafter. These are the Second and Third Issue stamps, R 103 - 150. The stamp at left is a Second Issue, and the one at right is a Third Issue. First Issue stamps continued to be valid after the Second and Third Issues were produced, and this document has an example of each. They pay the tax of five cents per hundred dollars on a promissory note, which was the rate in 1872.

There were several more Civil War documentary stamps before the taxes were repealed in 1883, but the next major period for stamp taxes was 1898-1902. When the Tax Act of 1898 was passed to help finance the Spanish American War there was not much time to put together the necessary stamps before its effective date, so provisional overprints on postage stamps were prepared, R 153 - 160. The series of low values of the regular issue bore the picture of a battleship, R161-172, while higher values featured Commerce and portraits, R173-194. These were used until 1902.

This bond to cover "honesty and fidelity in the position of motorman" was taxed fifty cents under the Tax Law of 1898, and as it was considered to be a form of insurance, the tax of one-half cent on each dollar of premium was collected as well. The fifty and the half-cent stamps are from the documentary series known as "battleships" and the one-cent is a postage stamp with a provisional IR overprint.

Documentary stamps of other designs were used from 1914 until 1967. Two of the most common designs are the workhorse 1917 low value and the "dated reds" that ran from 1940 to the end.

The following three documents illustrate uses of the later documentary stamps. This promissory note is an example of the 1914 issue as a first-day use. A ten-cent stamp of the 1917 issue was used to pay the proxy tax on this stock proxy of the Mother Lode Copper Mines of Alaska. A somewhat unusual use of "dated reds" (in this case without overprinted dates) is found on this 1959 reinsurance agreement between Lloyd's of London and the Marine Midland Corporation et al of Jersey City. The documentary taxes paid on the transaction were $3012.72.

The RB issues are Proprietary stamps, intended for use on matches, perfumes, patent medicines, playing cards, and other taxed proprietary items. Those from 1862 to 1871 are included under the First Issue R's, as mentioned, but the proprietary Second Issue is RB 1- 10. There was a return to solid colors for 1875-81. The Spanish American War RB's feature battleships, the 1914 issues are gray, and the 1919 ones are blue. There were no later issues.

It is much more difficult to find the earlier proprietary revenues "on piece" than it is to find the documentaries "on document" for obvious reasons. This is an example of a Third Issue proprietary stamp on part of a medicine wrapper. Note that the stamp has a printed cancel of the company name and location. This is a label from Professor Horsford's Remedy with a Spanish American War "battleship" proprietary stamp. Austin's Medicated Corn File and Foot Comfort came in a container so small that it barely had space for the battleship proprietary.

RC's are Future Delivery tax stamps used for contracts for future delivery of any merchandise. They are overprinted documentary issues, and were used from 1918-34. Here they are used on a card for purchasing grain futures. Note that the tax rate is spelled out at upper right. The stamps received perforated cancels after they were put on the document.

RD's are Stock Transfer stamps. The early issues were overprinted documentary stamps. The "dated greens" began to be issued in 1940. Stock transfer stamps of one sort or another were used from 1918-1952. This document was used to transfer ownership of 33,273 shares of Stutz Motor Car Company in 1929, incurring $665.46 in documentary taxes. This bill of sale of twenty-five shares of US Steel in 1943 was subject to $1.50 US documentary tax, paid by Series 1942 dated greens, and one dollar of New York State Tax, paid with a stamp as well.

RE's are mostly wine stamps, with the early issues including cordials. They are all green, and many are similar in design. They were used from 1914 through 1954, primarily on cartons or boxcars, not on individual bottles. The 1916-18 high values included a tablet at right for attaching lower value stamps. This copy has two stamps attached, and was cancelled in Hawaii. A wine stamp is on the back of this order for sacramental wine during Prohibition. Note the requirement that "the card must be posted on the package or secured with five tacks."

REA's are beer stamps. The stamp at left is from the Series of 1866 and the one at right is part of the Series of 1878. The stamps were used at the distribution level rather than at the consumer level for the most part. In 1916 the terminology "fermented liquor" was introduced, and in 1933 the term was "fermented malt liquor," as on this stamp, which has a Pennsylvania state revenue attached to it. The beer stamps are relatively new additions to the Scott Specialized Catalog and pages for them are not part of the Scott Revenue Album, at least not any version several years old.

RF's are playing card stamps printed after those of the First Issue, which have R designations. The one illustrated is RF14, from 1919. The law taxing cards was passed in 1894 and lasted in some form or other until 1965. The undisturbed stamp on this pack (RF23) has a partial plate number.

RG's are Silver Tax stamps, used to pay the 1934-63 tax on the profit on transfer of silver bullion. The early issues are overprinted documentary stamps, until the "dated silvers" of 1941 and 1942. There are no 1943 dates, and in 1944 dates were no longer put on them. This document from 1934 has $116.32 in stamps to collect the 50% gain tax.

RH stamps were used to pay the tax on hollow tubes of cigarette paper. There are only four of these - two overprinted documentaries and two special issues. Here is a pack of cigarette tubes with the stamp still attached.

RI's are Potato Tax stamps. The tax on excess production of potatoes was declared illegal five weeks after its enactment, so the Tax Paid stamps were never used. The Tax Exempt ones are priced used in Scott.

RJ's are stamps to pay the tax on excess tobacco production. This tax was also declared unconstitutional about a year and a half after it became effective, but there was enough time for the stamps to have been used. This Memorandum of Sale of Tobacco was executed during the brief period the tax was in effect. All RJ's are overprinted documentary issues.

RJA's are Narcotic tax stamps. The tax covered opium, coca leaves and their derivatives, and ran from 1918 until 1971. The first RJA's are overprints on the documentary issues, and the later ones are generally long strip stamps designed to run over stoppers and caps of medicine bottles, such as this one still tied to a cork vial top by a wax seal.

RK's are Consular Service fee stamps. There were six issues of these between 1906 and 1955. They were not supposed to be available to the public unused, though a small number have gotten into collectors' hands. Most are very poorly centered.

Even though the Consular Service fee stamp on this 1937 document had been replaced by issues bearing the wording "Foreign Service" in 1924 there must have been enough on hand at the embassy for the late usage.

RL's are stamps used in the New York Custom House to collect miscellaneous fees (not customs duties) from 1887 to 1918. This is an early use of a custom house stamp on an 1888 entry of merchandise form.

RM's are embossed revenue stamped paper, and all listed items pre-date the Civil War. The early issues date from the Colonial Period, and the later ones include the First through Third Federal Issues, 1797-1802 and 1813-17. Miscellaneous other embossed issues from the early part of the Nineteenth Century are in the section as well. This is a First Federal Issue item from Boston.

RN's are revenue stamped paper from either the Civil War or Spanish American War tax periods. There were a number of designs, only one of which is illustrated here. I have prepared a website where most of the Civil War two-cent varieties are shown. This one is an RN-J5, one of the six Joseph R. Carpenter designs.

RO, RP, RS, RT and RU are the Private Die Proprietaries, or the Match and Medicine stamps. The Tax Act of 1862 provided that companies being taxed under the proprietary schedules could propose stamp designs and submit them to the government, and when approved, pay to have the die made for producing them. In return, the company could advertise on them and buy them at a discount from the general issue ones.

RO issues were for the tax on matches. Some of these designs are beautiful, such as the Cannon Match Company stamp shown (RO57). Others show bearded gentlemen, probably the owners of the company. This stamp of the American Fusee Company is still on the matchbox, showing why many of these stamps are found in less than pristine condition. Note that American Fusee was among the early vendors of safety matches.

RP is the canned fruit tax stamp. The tax on canned goods didn't last long, and there was only one company which had a private stamp made. Few of these were used, and virtually all of them are in poor condition. On the other hand, if you make a collection of RP issues, you will only have to buy one stamp.

RS stamps were used for patent medicines. The stamp shown is RS73b, for Dalley's Horse Salve, and the one on this kid leather strengthening plaster is RS118d, Herrick's Pills and Plasters. This is the only category of private die proprietary stamps that was revived for the Spanish American War.

RT's are perfume stamps, and RU's are playing card stamps. These playing cards appear to have been imported from England by Andrew Dougherty and Company sometime before 1883 since the package bears a Dougherty stamp.

RV's are the Motor Vehicle Use revenue stamps used during the Second World War. They were pasted to the inside of windshields, so they had the gum on the face of the stamps. This one (RV30) was glued to a special protective shield which probably fell off the windshield when it was exposed to sunlight. Since the back of the stamp was not visible the automobile, a Studebaker, was listed on the back of the shield.

RVB's are the Boating Tax Stamps that were used in the early 1960's. This example is a plate single. There were only two values, a $1 for a replacement license and a $3 for an original. This is a first day use of the $3 stamp on a license issued in Nashville.

RVC's are Camp Stamps, used in National Forests from 1985 to 1988. An envelope used to transmit the stamps to the National Forest Service rangers is shown with the example, RVC5, which is from the series of 1986. (Example courtesy of Hermann Ivester.)

RVt's are Trailer Permit stamps, used when a house trailer was attached to a vehicle entering national parks or monuments. They were used from 1939 until sometime in the early 1950's. The example is on a 1947 permit for camping in Yellowstone. There are only two denominations: RVT1 for fifty cents and RVT2 for one dollar.

RW's are the Hunting Permit stamps, or "duck stamps." One has been issued each year since 1934. The one illustrated (RW30) was on my dad's 1963 hunting license and is signed by him. Here is one of his hunting licenses with a copy of the 1944 issue, RW11.

RX's are Distilled Spirit and Excise tax stamps, paying taxes on batches of distilled spirits.

RY's are the Firearms Transfer Tax stamps. The first is an overprint on a $1 documentary, and the rest are either $1, $5 or $200 in face value. The $200 is found on licenses for machine guns, and the $5 on permits for novelty guns, such as ones contained in a cane or deck of cards. The $1 shown here (RY3) is no longer issued, but I bought a $5 stamp directly from the ATF in the 1980's. I understand they will no longer sell to stamp collectors. Here is one of the later $200 issues used on an application to buy a machine gun. Identifying information has been erased from the scan.

RZ's are Rectification Tax stamps, used to pay a tax on distilled spirits when they were distilled again.

These are the R's - not the only revenues issued by the Federal Government by any means, and they do not include state and local revenues. Scott is trying to add a new category or two each year, so stay tuned.

Things that Aren't R's

Scott puts out pages for a fair number of items that aren't revenues as part of their revenue album. Here are a few of them.

Postal Note stamps , the PN's, are there. They were used for sending small amounts of money when it would not have been cost-effective to buy a money order. They were in use from 1945 into 1951.

Savings stamps of various sorts - Postal Savings, War Savings and Treasury Savings - are included. Not, however, S&H Green stamps and the like...

Official seals are included in the pages. They were used to re-seal envelopes that had come open, been opened by the Post Office, or been damaged in transit.

Another group of stamps that are often classed with the revenues are telegraph issues. Scott does not have pages for these in their revenue album, but the late Sherwood Springer produced some that have a comparable format. A page of the early Western Union stamps is very colorful.

This is a very brief look at some interesting issues, and perhaps in the future I can expand on this section.


There are a number of useful reference books for intermediate and advanced collectors, but the following two are recent and give a lot of information to a beginner as well as the more experienced student.

Friedberg, Richard, Introduction to United States Revenue Stamps, Linn's Stamp News, 1994

Castenholz, Bill J., An Introduction to Revenue Stamps, Castenholz and Sons, 1994

The premier organization for collectors of US revenue stamps is the American Revenue Association. The ARA publishes a magazine, The American Revenuer, quarterly. Membership information can be obtained from their website at this link.

This site was authored by Bob Hohertz. I can be reached using this e-mail link.