Beard Tax

If you’ve been working at home or not getting out that much during the pandemic, it may have seemed like the perfect time to grow a beard.
The Russian beard token from 1705, was carried to show that the owner had paid the beard tax imposed by Peter the Great.

The token was usually silver or copper coin, embossed with a Russian Eagle on one side, while on the other, the lower part of a face with nose, mouth, whiskers, and beard and inscribed with two phrases “the beard tax has been taken” (lit: “Money taken”) and “the beard is a superfluous burden”.

Have YOU found a Russian token like the one below?

I have sported a beard for around 60 years and after watching an awards ceremony on television the other day, realised that at last I was really ‘with it’. The beard has become something of a fashion accessory, sported by almost every male celebrity on the catwalk and hirsute hero on the high street. But storm clouds are looming.

Despite their current popularity, beards remain deeply divisive. One British barber and businessman has floated a radical proposal to discourage bearded faces, or at least make some money off the men who refuse to renounce them. He proposed a tax on the bushiest of beards and presented his proposal to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. Thank goodness, he’s now gone. I can imagine him implementing the new tax in his next budget speech. He’s not the first one to have had taken up this crazy idea.

If you’ve been working at home or not getting out that much during the pandemic, it may have seemed like the perfect time to grow a beard. Why go through the bother of shaving if you don’t have to, right?

Having time on my hands and with a beard I’ve nurtured since the early 60’s, I had to think of something equally outrageous to do during the lockdown (for an octogenarian) … so I dyed my beard pink and raised over £450 for the Florence Nightingale Charity.

Experts say, however, that your added facial hair might just be increasing your risk for developing COVID-19. It’s all about getting a good seal between the mask and your face.

Claims that Henry VIII introduced a beard tax in 1535 (despite possessing his own set of well-groomed whiskers) have found their way into numerous books, blog posts, and (of course) Wikipedia, but the tale seems to be apocryphal.

So brilliant was Henry’s idea that it was followed on by his daughter Elizabeth I, who ordered anyone who had grown a beard for longer than two weeks had to pay a duty and cough up to the government. The tax was in place as a means of status. Henry VIII had a long beard and it was a sign of high social class that you could afford the luxury of paying for your facial hair.

Peter I, the Great, 1689-1725, Beard Token

A similar tax was in place in Russia but for opposite reasons. In 1705, the Tsar saw beards as uncultured, so administered for a levy to encourage citizens not to grow them. If they resisted, they had to carry at all times a silver or copper coin saying ‘the beard tax has been taken’ on one side, and ‘the beard is a superfluous burden’ on the other. The beard tax was eventually abolished in 1772. Free haircuts for a year to the first detectorist to discover one of these tokens … only joking!

Although many of Peter I’s reforms aren’t routinely recalled today, the beard tax has gone down as one of history’s quirkier moments. But one thing is for sure—Peter changed Russia forever.

Read more at Smart News
Peter the Great didn’t wear a beard, but he did sport a groovy ‘stache. (Wikimedia Commons)




Threepenny Bit = Thrifty Childhood

I used to detect on a piece of land that had served the local village as
a venue for fairs, church events and car boot sales. Although the finds were not overtly spectacular, they were often interesting and worthy of comment. Amongst the pipe tampers, barrel tap keys and such-like, I found many different kinds of English money. Such a coin find evoked memories of my early days living in a Durham pit village – and it was dated for the year in which I was born! Here’s the coin:

© JW – Threepenny Bit showing my birthdate.

At the time it was introduced – in 1937 – it was a radically new design having twelve sides, struck in nickel-brass, and planned for the new coinage of Edward VII, who abdicated, having been uncrowned king for most of 1936.

This was a time when we still spent pounds and pence (not pee) in the shops. Mobiles were things attached to ceilings, twittering was something done by birds and Neil Armstrong had yet to step on the lunar surface. In the middle of all this was the beautiful coin and one of my all-time favourites – the ‘thruppenny bit’. 

The design on the reverse of this coin is a hardy tufted Thrift plant, a flower able to survive on coastal cliffs, mountains and salt marshes as it is wind, drought and salt-tolerant, thus able to survive on rather poor soil.

Continue reading “Threepenny Bit = Thrifty Childhood”

Weird Taxes

Pissing off the Romans: Vespasian’s Urine Tax

The Romans Taxed Urine

Governments have always found creative ways to collect cash. From the end of this month I am asked to pay the BBC £159.00 for watching television. I’m holding out on this one. Future blogs are likely to be from one of Her Majesty’s Prisons.

Every night, instead of using the bathroom, I piddle in what I call a ‘Champagne’ bottle. Rose, my carer, flushes away the liquid gold without a second thought.

But it wasn’t always like that. In ancient times urine was considered a valuable commodity. Pee contains a wide array of important minerals and chemicals such as phosphorus and potassium and the Romans took advantage of that, believing it would make their teeth whiter and stop them decaying. So, mixed with pumice they produced toothpaste and mouthwash.

Money does not Stink

When entrepreneurial types-think of Branson or Musk-began collecting the waste matter, both Emperors Nero and Vespasian noticed. They levied a tax on the acquisition of wee, which led to the popular Latin phrase Pecunia non oletor, ‘money does not stink’.

Roman Sestertius coin depicting the emperor Vespasian, brass, 71 C.E.

When Vespasian imposed a Urine Tax on the distribution of urine from public urinals in Rome’s great sewer system, the Roman lower classes urinated into pots which were emptied into cesspools. The urine collected from public urinals was sold as an ingredient for several chemical processes. It was used in tanning, and also as a source of ammonia to clean and whiten togas. The buyers of the urine paid the tax. It is said that when Vespasian’s son Titus complained about the disgusting nature of the tax, his father held up a gold coin and asked whether he felt offended by its smell . When Titus said “No”, Vespasian replied, “Yet it comes from urine” The phrase ‘Pecunia non olet’  is still used today to say that the value of money is not tainted by its origins.

Politics for the People
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Continued … from previous post

Maundy Money has remained much the same since 1670, the coins used for the Maundy ceremony traditionally being struck in sterling silver. A Maundy set still consists of four small silver coins, but in 1971, at the time of decimalisation, the face values of the coins were changed from old to new pence.

Maundy Thursday 28th March 2013

Maundy Money consists of specially minted silver coins distributed by the British sovereign on Maundy Thursday. The number of recipients and the face value in pence of the amount they each receive traditionally correspond to the number of years in the sovereign’s age . Oxford Ceremony.

Graham Aylett and his wife Anne © JW

The coins shown by David were a total surprise and ones I hadn’t seen (in the flesh) before.

I’m sure that many of you know that every year on Maundy Thursday, the Queen attends a Royal Maundy service in one of the many cathedrals throughout the country. Maundy money is distributed to male and female pensioners from local communities near the Cathedral where the service takes place. Maundy Thursday 2013 was in Oxford and as usual the Queen presented the traditional coins to those pensioners who have worked tirelessly for their communities. Within the ancient Christ Church Cathedral, the Queen handed out the famous red and white purses of money to 87 women and 87 men – she was then in her 87th year.

Also celebrating his 87th birthday that year, and a recipient of the money, was Graham Aylett, a well-known figure in Aylesbury. He proudly showed me the red purse containing a £5 coin and 50p coin commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation in 1953. The white purse carried the famous Maundy money, silver 1p, 2p, 3p and 4p pieces – equal to 87p, again marking the Queen’s 87th year.

I had never seen modern Maundy money and was thrilled when Graham allowed me to take photographs to show you.

Maundy Money – Different Eras – Courtesy of The Royal Mint
Continue reading “Continued … from previous post”