If you really hate taxes, then may we suggest not getting your bagels sliced in New York City and not wearing a beard in Tsar Peter the Great's Russia.
Recently, we’ve been offering all sorts of dreary, serious tax advice articles for everyone in the throes of tax season. Shouldn’t there be at least one article to cut loose and look at the lighter side of taxes?
There is! And you’re reading it, buddy. It’s time to find the funny in your financial responsibility to society. The wacka wackas in the W2 forms. The quirks of quarterly filings!
But it turns out there aren’t that many funny taxes. So we settled for weird ones instead.
Make sure you’ve got all your deductions available, because we’re counting down the Top Ten Weirdest Taxes from Around the World and Throughout History (In No Particular Order)! (Okay, maybe we’ll just go with Ten Weirdest Taxes.)
1. The British Hat Tax.
England is known for its hats. Or rather, England is known for its hat, singular. Specifically the tall furry one the Beefeater guards who stand outside of the palace wear.
Yet those are far from the only hats in England; these days they’re worn all across the whole United Kingdom. But there was a time when hats were considered a mark of luxury and were taxed as such.
In 1784, a hat tax was introduced. Hat sellers were required to pay the government for “hat stamps” which were inserted into the inside of their wares. The penalty for forging these stamps? Death.
Hat sellers tried to dodge the tax by renaming their goods, requiring the tax to be amended. It was eventually repealed in 1811, and English heads were free once more.
2. The New York Sliced Bagel Tax.
New York is known for its bagels. Or rather, New York is known for its bagel, singular. Specifically the tall furry one the Beefeater guards who stand outside the palace wear.
Wouldn’t it be funny if we just started every entry that way? No? It wouldn’t be? Ah, well never mind then.
But New York is actually known for its bagels. What’s less known is that there’s an eight-cent tax throughout the state for getting your bagel sliced, whether or not a schmear is subsequently added. That’s because when the person behind the counter slices the bagel, it’s transformed from a food item you might be planning to bring home to a meal you’re eating in a restaurant.
It’s enough to make you say “eh, I’m slicin’ ova he-ah!”
3. The Russian Beard Tax.
In 1697, Tsar Peter the Great took a trip through Western Europe in disguise. He wanted to study the more “advanced” nations that were currently colonizing and projecting power around the world.
When he returned from his trip, he used the knowledge he had gained to reform the Russian military, economy, and general society in ways that allowed Russia to expand its influence. He also came out hard against beards.
At the party celebrating his return, Peter opted to shave the faces of all of his guests. Beards were not fashionable in Western Europe, and the Tsar saw clean-shaved faces as a sign of modernity. He ruled that beards were no longer allowed.
Many throughout Russia objected, however, especially among the Russian Orthodox Church, for whom beards were required. Peter the Great opted for a compromise, charging everyone who desired a beard a progressive tax that was many times pricier for those who could afford to pay more for their facial fuzz.
“What about mutton chops?” you ask. We simply don’t know.
4. The New Mexico “Being Under The Age of 100” Tax.
Most US states charge an income tax of their own, separate from the federal income tax. New Mexico offers a major deduction once you’re over 65 and wipes out your state income tax burden entirely once you turn 100.
But is it actually accurate to describe this as a “tax on being under 100?”
Yes. Let’s move on.
5. The Texas Belt Buckle Tax.
Remember when we said that most states in the US levy an income tax? Well, Texas is one of the few that does not! Which means they need to generate revenue through other taxes, like sales tax.
And while most clothing items are exempt from sales tax, belt buckles are considered accessories. Cowboy boots are exempt, however. So you can still dress like a cowboy tax-free, albeit with a significantly less shiny midsection.
6. The French Salt Tax.
You’ve heard about “Let Them Eat Cake” but what about “Let Them Lick Salt?!”
The gabelle was a French tax instituted in 1360. It was taxed on various consumer goods, but it came to apply to salt specifically. The clergy and aristocracy were, however, exempt from paying it.
Which may be one reason why it showed up on the “Top TK List of Grievances” presented to the Estates-General shortly before the onset of the French Revolution. Then some other things happened. Then the gabelle was repealed.
A happy ending for everyone!
7. The Colorado Coffee Lid Tax.
Getting your caffeine fix in the “very tall” state may require you to choose between risking a hot spill or paying a couple extra cents. Because coffee lids are considered “non-essential” in Colorado, they face a tax should you opt to use one. Given that burn treatments are significantly more expensive, it’s probably worth getting the lid.
8. The Egyptian Cooking Oil Tax.
Some ancient Egyptian Pharaohs levied a tax on cooking oil. Their subjects were also not allowed to use substitute materials for cooking. The Pharaohs also owned the cooking oil that the subjects had to purchase. Seems a little like an unfair monopoly to us, but we aren’t oil experts.
9. The English Window Tax
Another English tax? Yes. But this one wasn’t on hats. It was on windows, the hats of the house.
Wait, aren’t roofs the hats of the house?
That’s a common misconception, but no. It’s windows. Don’t ask us why; we didn’t make the rules.
In 1696 the Window Tax was instituted. Like the Hat Tax, it was intended to be progressive, as it was only a tax on homes with more than ten windows. However, because these homes were often multi-family homes owned by landlords, the landlords would often board up multiple windows so that they wouldn’t have to pay the tax. This had a negative health effect on the poor families living within the building, in addition to being, one assumes, very depressing.
10. The Tennessee Illegal Drug Tax.
More and more states are choosing to legalize marijuana, partially so that they can tax it. Tennessee tried to do the latter with harder drugs without doing the former. A bold move indeed.
In 2005, Tennessee passed a law requiring drug dealers to anonymously pay taxes on the illegal drugs they sold. They would receive a stamp from the state revenue office, and then if they were arrested and did not have the stamp, they would be hit with tax avoidance penalties on top of their drug charges.
It was struck down by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2009. We can’t imagine why! It seemed foolproof to us.
Anyway, we hope this list was a fun diversion from tax time drudgery. Back to the forms you go!
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