For years we’ve been fascinated with the design and packaging of playing cards. One of our favorite details though is the tax stamp. Up until 1965, a tax stamp on playing cards was mandatory in the United States. Although most playing cards still incorporate a stamp or seal of some kind, it does not entirely serve the same purpose. When in circulation, a tax stamp was legal proof of taxation and therefore made difficult to reproduce, like currency. In fact, a tax stamp was issued by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the same government agency that designs our currency.
Although some say it’s an extra security measure to ensure cards have not been opened and tampered with, the seal mostly continues to be used by tradition. Recently, we began producing cards without a seal as it’s unnecessary for our craft and is rather a nuisance to remove in our opinion.
This exhibition however focuses on vintage tax stamps used on playing cards sold from 1862 to 1965. For more information on the tax stamps featured in this showcase, we recommend Kristin Patterson’s article, Dating Playing Cards from the Tax Stamp.