The use of tax stamps in America started with the British during colonial America, when they required a special stamp to be used on certain goods to show that the taxes had been paid or to add an additional tax to goods and services. United States based its laws upon British Common Law, so it is only natural that tax stamps were used here for the same purposes. Playing cards, tobacco products and spirits all have had tax stamps at one time in the United States.
For spirits, it started with the creation of Bonded Warehouses during the American Civil War. Barrels of whiskey could be placed in these bonded warehouses for a year before the taxes had to be paid. When the taxes were paid, a tax stamp was placed upon the barrel to show that taxes had been paid. The barrel was the primary package for distillers to sell their whiskey to customers for most of the 19th century. It is not until the 1880s that bottles became cheap enough to make it profitable for distilleries to bottle their own whiskey. The Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 created the tax stamp for bottled whiskey.
The tax stamp served several different purposes. First of all, it was evidence the tax was paid by the distiller. The stamp was a strip stamp that was glued over the cork and doubled as a seal on the bottle. If the stamp was intact, the consumer could assume the bottle had not been opened or tampered with in any manner.
The stamp also gave the season and year the whiskey had been made and entered the bonded warehouse and the season and year that the whiskey had been bottled. The stamp also showed the DSP number of the distillery that made the whiskey. The green government tax stamp became a seal of authenticity and quality. Barrels still received tax stamps before Prohibition since liquor dealers and saloons could still buy full barrels and sell to the customers from those barrels. There was no requirement that the distiller bottle its whiskey for sale. Prohibition changed the laws.
With the repeal of Prohibition, the United States government required all spirits to be sold by the bottle. There were limitations as to what size bottle the distillers could use and the tax stamps reflected these sizes. All bottles were required to have a tax stamp.
Bonded whiskey still used the green tax stamp with all of the required information as before Prohibition, but the government also created a red strip tax stamp for whiskey and other spirits that were not bonded products. This red stamp simply showed that the taxes were paid. No other information was required. The distilleries purchased these stamps from the government and they had a government serial number on them, but this number was only used by the government, not the distilleries. It did not tell the consumer anything other than what block of stamps the distillery had purchased. Some states also required their own tax stamps on bottles of spirits to show that the taxes had been paid, but these were not strip stamps like those used by the Federal Government. They often were stamps that looked like the state issuing them and were applied to the bottle, usually on the shoulder of the bottle near the neck.
Tax stamps went out of use after the government deregulated the industry in 1984. For bonded whiskey, the only information from the stamp that was still required to be put on the label was the DSP number of the distillery that made the whiskey.
Some distilleries continued to use “fake tax stamps” as seals for their bottles for a couple of years to show the whiskey was not tampered with, but that practice ended with improvements to bottle seals. Federal Government Tax stamps for spirits are a thing of the past, but some distilleries are bringing back a strip stamp for bottled whiskey, once again showing when the whiskey was made and when it was bottled. I applaud this action because it is important information that the consumer should be able to find on the bottle.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller
January 6, 2020 at 11:35 am
tax stamps were actually phased out in 19 79. H e u b l e i n canned cocktails cocktails had the tax stamp on them which was placed over pull tab. They petition the government that paper over the pull tab was unsanitary as the customer would have to put their mouth over the paper labels. And the broken pull tab would show that the product has been tampered with or opened . 2 years later they allowed bottles that can show that they had been not tampered with by using tamper-evident or t e caps were permitted as a substitute 4 the tax stamp. The official permission came in 1984 with the all-in bond concept and the government inspectors left the plants.
January 9, 2020 at 7:33 pm
Thanks for the information Steve.
January 6, 2020 at 2:05 pm
Michael, your posts are invaluable to anyone interested in Whiskeys of any make and I often print them out so I can refer to them when conducting bourbon tastings at my home. I have also purchased many of the books you review in your column to expand my understanding of the industry. When using abbreviations such as DSP numbers, it would be helpful to clarify that abbreviation (in this case Distilled Spirits Plant) for those of us just beginning our education in this field. Many thanks for all that you are doing to expand our knowledge of this most American product. My wife and I hope to join you on one of your celebrated tours.
January 9, 2020 at 7:35 pm
I am glad you like the blog on tax stamps and enjoy the book reviews. There are times I wonder if people read the book reviews but I think they are necessary information for those wanting to research Distilling history. Thank you for your kind words.
January 6, 2020 at 6:59 pm
Thank you for your informative posts, Michael. I enjoy reading them.
It’s funny to see this article. Just last month I donated unused tax strip paper rolls to the Oscar Getz Museum. A former employee at the Continental (Kinsey) Distilling Co. in Philadelphia had given them to me.
Among the rolls were the green and pink strips. But there were grey strips that were unfamiliar to me. They were the same size as the bonded, but said “alcohol warehousing stamp.” How were these used?
January 9, 2020 at 7:37 pm
I have seen grey tax stamps used on bottles sold overseas and I always assumed that was their purpose. Maybe someone will read this that has better information and share it with us.
August 2, 2021 at 4:10 pm
I have a sealed bottle of whiskey, still sealed with a green Bottled in bond tax stamp featuring Carlisle on the top. The bottle label has deteriorated but the bond stamp is still in tact however some portions – like the date of bottling – have eroded over time. Is there a way to lookup the tax number stamped on there to see what dates it was bottled?
August 8, 2021 at 4:23 pm
No. Most f the distilleries have not kept those records.