Hair Powder Tax

Hair Powder Tax

One of the more obscure sources of information for family historians that are looking specifically at the 18th century are the hair powder certificates. William Pitt the Younger was responsible for a whole series of taxes at the end of the 18th century, including the first income tax, either directly or indirectly to help fund the expensive war with Napoleonic France. The introduction of a tax on hair powder was one such measure.

leaving-off-powder
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library – Leaving off Powder

Individuals who used hair powder were required to purchase a certificate from their local Justice of the Peace for which they were charged one guinea.  The list of those that had paid was lodged at the local Quarter Session court and a copy of the list affixed to the door of the parish church by the parish constable. It was common practice also, to fine those who did not pay this tax.

The information included in the list will provide a date, a parish, a list of names and a description being usually the relationship to the head of the household or another role such as servant. So, like a census return it is possible to piece together some familial relationships.

The lists however will of course be much less complete than a census because most people were not of a status to wear wigs or hair powder and there were also many exemptions such as clergymen with an income of under £100 a year, non-commissioned officers, militia, mariners, officers in the navy below commander and many others. One payment was acceptable for a group of servants in one household.

Marie Antoinette wearing the distinctive pouf style coiffure: her own natural hair is extended on the top with an artificial hairpiece.
Marie Antoinette wearing the distinctive pouf style coiffure: her own natural hair is extended on the top with an artificial hairpiece.

Contrary to popular belief women did not wear wigs, but simply had the equivalent of today’s hair extensions added to their existing hair. Women mainly powdered their hair grey, or blue-ish grey and from the 1770’s it was never bright white like men. Wig powder itself was made from finely ground starch to which was added lavender, jasmine, roses and scented with orange flower and was occasionally colored violet, blue, pink or yellow, but was most often used as off-white.

Wigs BM
Courtesy of the British Museum

In 1869 the Act was repealed as less than 1,000 people were by that time wearing wigs – maybe it was the cost of paying such a large amount of duty that led people to change their appearance. Certainly a more natural hairstyle was adopted by fashionable young gentlemen in Regency England.

It is still possible today to find records around the country of hair powder certificates if you contact the relevant archives.

An example of a certificate
An example of a certificate
The town before you, or, Welch wigs, or, Whimsicallities, or, How to save the tax on hair powder. (Lewis Walpole Library)
The town before you, or, Welch wigs, or, Whimsicallities, or, How to save the tax on hair powder.
(Lewis Walpole Library)
Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Hair Powder Tax

    • Unfortunately we really couldn’t comment as to their financial value you would need to ask someone who specializes in antiques. In terms of social history they are of immense value; so if they have limited financial value it might be worth giving them on loan to your local archives. Let us know how you get on as we and our readers would love to know. Hope this helps

      Like

  1. Next summer, 2015, we are doing an exhibition called “Tithes, Taxes and Old Southam Town” and have a list of the persons who paid their wig tax in 1795 in Southam, Warwickshire. We would love to have permission to include some of your information in the exhibition under your name.

    Like

    • Permission granted with pleasure; how exciting, please let us know nearer the time and we’d be more than happy to help publicize the exhibition. 🙂

      Like

  2. […] 英國出台過不少古怪稅項,包括向護理假髮用的香粉徵稅,初期目的為支援政府與拿破崙的戰事。用髮粉者需到當地法院購買證書,費用 1 鎊,已繳稅人士會記錄在案,名單公告貼於教堂之外。18 世紀末稅項出台之時,假髮是流行飾物,在 1812 年,假髮粉稅網觸及 46,684 人之多,不過由於豁免人士眾多,包括皇室及其僕人、軍人、低級神職人員等,加上稅制打擊佩戴假髮意欲,至 1855 年只有 997 人仍然賦稅。1869 年,髮粉稅比假髮早一步踏入歷史。 […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s