The Civil War popularized photography to a new degree. Demand for cheap portraits grew enormous as men marched off to war, wishing to leave portraits behind or to take one with them. Many studios also did a brisk trade supplying images of the scenes and heroes of the war.

This mass popularity did not escape the notice of the Treasury Department. Charged with raising as much money as possible for the war, its fledgling Office of Internal Revenue levied a stamp tax in August 1864 on what it quaintly referred to as "sun pictures".

Studios, already burdened by duties on their raw materials, an income tax and a license fee, petitioned Congress through trade organizations, arguing that their share of the National Debt was unfairly high and that the stamps were a nuisance that ruined their pictures.

After two years, their persistant efforts won out and the stamp tax was lifted August 1, 1866.


The stamp tax on photographs was only a very small area in the federal government's taxation schemes. Far more revenue was generated by the tobacco, cotton, banking and distilling industries to name a few.

Two broad categories of items were taxed by stamps: "documents" and "proprietary items" (items produced or sold by proprietors). Stamps are readily found on many types of documents, but proprietary usage is more elusive.

Photographs provide a reasonable means of studying early proprietary taxation in depth. Only photographs were exempt from the requirement that the stamp be placed so as to be destroyed in opening a package and they are also more likely to have been saved than product packaging.



This collection is the most definitive in its field and is the result of over ten years of passionate collecting and research, compiling information from philatelists, photographic historians and the I.R.S. Archives in order to better understand both studio and taxation practices of the time. While many items were discovered at flea markets, I have also acquired pieces from important philatelic collections as they have come to auction.

Through philately, a new window has been opened for photographic historians, and my research has yielded previously unknown information about a number of photographers. I have also found photographic research valuable in shedding light on many philatelic concerns.

I hope you will find this previously neglected area as interesting as I have.

1996 Bruce Baryla