Britain was struggling financially and so, needless to say, the government looked for ways to raise much needed revenue to balance the books. If it could be taxed, it probably was! In a previous post we looked at the various taxes that existed around this time so for this blog we thought we would take a closer look at the tax placed on gloves.
In 1784 a tax on hats had apparently proved lucrative so in the budget the following year William Pitt the Younger decided to add a tax to gloves, much to the mild amusement of the committee apparently.
He felt that it would be difficult to lay the burden of the tax on the consumer so Pitt proposed that a mark should be put on the gloves and that the duty should be paid by the retail trader. In his opinion the sale of gloves would be extremely high and that one pair of gloves would be sold to every individual, and therefore 9,000,000 pairs would be purchased each year. As such he proposed a tiered system of taxation:
One penny duty should be added to all gloves up to the value of ten pence
Two pence to gloves costing between ten pence and fifteen pence
Three pence for all gloves costing over fifteen pence
He estimated that this would raise a revenue of some £50,000. Mr Fox held no strong objection to this tax, but felt that Pitt was over estimating the amount of revenue it would generate as there were ‘children, labourers and other inferior classes of mankind who never consumed this article’, but nevertheless he sincerely hoped that this tax might be as productive as the minister wished.
26th July 1785, The Stamp Office declared that:
Anyone selling gloves without this tax would be liable for a fine of £20.
Every licensed retailer selling gloves and mittens without the words ‘Dealer in Gloves’ painted or written in the front of his shop shall be forfeits for each pair of gloves or mittens sold £5.
A stamp ticket denoting the particular rate of duty to be paid on every pair of gloves or mittens is to be affixed upon the right hand of each and every person (except those dealing with each other) who shall sell, buy or exchange any gloves or mittens without having such a stamp affixed as foresaid, forfeits for every pair sold, bought or exchanged £20.
In less than one year the newspapers began to report that the glove tax was not proving to be the great success it was expected to be, but that there was no good reason as yet to conclude that it should be repealed, despite many people trying to evade it. So it remained in place.
By the September however it was becoming clear that it was generating nowhere near the revenue expected, in fact it was achieving less than one eighth of anticipated revenue.
Despite its poor income generation, the tax was to remain in place for several years, generating only a fraction of its expected revenue.
A letter in the St James’s Chronicle, 1790, addressed to Mr Pitt read as follows.
My purpose is not to censure your system of taxation, to inveigh against you on the extension of the Excise, or to express my displeasure at the means you have pursued, to prevent our snuffing up the coffins and dried juices of our ancestors … I turn your attention to the Glove tax, which is generally hated. The gloves and stamp are tendered to the customer in such a manner, that he can purchase the one without the other, and in nine instances out of ten the stamp is left unpaid for. If you wish to make this tax productive, you must stamp the gloves, and contrive so to unite the tax with the price, such that the commodity cannot be purchased without paying it. At present none but the conscientious submit to it.
An article in the Public Advertiser, Wednesday, September 14, 1791, on the subject of the glove tax reported on an accident which they directly attributed to it.
Friday afternoon, a melancholy accident happened in St James’s Street; a modern young man, whose pockets were his gloves and his hands in them, coming briskly up the street, trod on the peeling of an apple which tripped up his heels, threw him against a lady following him, knocked her down, by which she was much bruised and he broke both his elbows – Wearing hands in pockets, says our correspondent is to subvert Mr. Pitt’s Glove Tax, but a penalty should be inflicted on any person or persons throwing parings of apples or oranges on the footpath, or his Majesty may lose some of his most valuable subjects.
By this time, it was reported that the tax was generating a maximum of just over £6,000 per annum rather than the anticipated £50,000 and so in March 1794 the government finally conceded that the glove tax was not workable and was not generating anything like the amount anticipated and the act was repealed – common sense finally prevailed.
We will leave The Right Honourable Richard Brinsley Sheridan to have the final words on the subject of the glove tax.
The inefficacy of the glove tax, might prove the futility of every one of the same sort, which could never be made productive but by means so arbitrary that the house ought not to agree to them. At present, the glove duty was so generally evaded, that almost every man who purchased a pair of gloves, would consider it as a species of shoplifting to take the stamp out of the shop with him. The system of extending taxation by stamps, to such articles as the principle of a stamp duty would not apply to, was absurd in the extreme. Stamping law proceedings and other documents, was a good idea; the stamp gave a weight, a sanction, and authority, where so applied; but could that be said of gloves, or of all the trumpery of a perfumer’s shop, to which they were now about to extend stamp duties? Would a stamp legalize pomatum, or give validity to lavender-water?
(Speeches of the Right Honourable RB Sheridan, volume 1, 1842)
St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, July 30, 1785
Public Advertiser, Saturday, May 20, 1786
General Advertiser, Saturday, September 30, 1786
St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post (London, England), April 1, 1790