1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Stamp
STAMP (from " to stamp," to strike or tread heavily, hence to impress, O. Eng. stempen, Du. stampen, Ger. stampfen, whence, O. Fr. estamper, mod. Hamper), an instrument for crushing or pounding or for making impressions or marks on other bodies; thus, in mining, the stamp is that part of the machinery of a mill which crushes the ore to the fineness necessary for the separation of the valuable portions; in coining, &c, it is an engraved block or die by which the mark is impressed, hence in the most general sense of the word an impression or mark made with a "stamp," and particularly such a mark impressed on a document for purposes of certification, validity and the like, or as showing that certain duties or charges have been paid. For the first class, viz., stamps for purposes of taxation, see Stamp Duties below; For the second class, of which the most familiar are the small adhesive pieces of paper used as the sign that postal charges have been duly paid on letters, parcels, &c, transmitted by the postal service of a country, see Post and Postal Service and Philately.
Stamp Duties.—The stamp duty is a tax imposed upon a great variety of legal and other documents, and forms a branch of the national revenue. The stamp is a cheap and convenient mode of certifying that the revenue regulations have been com- plied with. Stamp duties appear to have been invented by the Dutch in 1624. They were first imposed in England by an act of 1694 as a temporary means of raising funds for carrying on the war with France. Stamp duties in the United Kingdom form part of the inland revenue, and are placed under the control of the commissioner of inland revenue. The principal acts in force on the subject are the Stamp Act 1891 and the Stamp Duties Management Act 1891. Amendments of the law are also included in the Customs and Inland Revenue Act 1893, the Finance Acts of subsequent years, and the Revenue Act 1898. The death duties, the corporation duty, the duties on patent medicines and playing cards, and postage duties, are also technically "stamp duties"; but in ordinary use the expression is limited to those imposed on the various classes of legal instruments, such as conveyances, leases, transfers, mortgages, bonds, &c, on bills of exchange, promissory notes, contract notes, bank notes and bankers' drafts, receipts, insurance policies, bills of lading, and a few other documents. Stamps are either adhesive or impressed. The adhesive stamps, which can only be used for certain documents, can be obtained at inland revenue offices throughout the United Kingdom, and at all post offices which are money order offices. Stamps can only be impressed at the inland revenue offices in certain of the larger towns. For duties not exceeding 2s. 6d. the adhesive inland revenue or postage stamps may (in most cases) be used indiscriminately. This arrangement was first introduced in 1881, when it was applied to the penny stamp, and it has since been extended to other denominations. The commissioners of inland revenue are authorized to make allowance under certain conditions for stamps which have been inadvertently spoiled or rendered useless for their intended purposes. In order to obtain such allowance the parties must present the stamps within two years from the time when they became useless. The commissioners may be required by any person to express their opinion as to the amount of duty, if any, which is chargeable on any instrument; and such person, if dissatisfied with the assessment made, may appeal to the courts.
The stamp duty on the transfer of certain kinds of securities can be commuted by the payment of a lump sum or (in some cases) an annual composition, and the transfers then become exempt from duty.
Stamp duties are either fixed, such as the duty of one penny on every cheque irrespective of its amount, or ad valorem, as the duty on a conveyance, which varies according to the amount of the purchase money. The duty is denoted generally by an impressed, less frequently by an adhesive, stamp, sometimes by either at the option of the person stamping. Thus an inland bill of exchange (unless payable on demand) must have an impressed stamp, a foreign bill of exchange an adhesive stamp, while an agreement or receipt stamp may be of either kind. It should be noticed that certain documents falling within a class which as a rule is subject to stamp duty are for reasons of public policy or encouragement of trade exempted from the duty by special legislation. Examples of such documents are Bank of England notes, agreements within § 17 (but not those within § 4) of the Statute of Frauds (see Fraud), agreements between a master of a ship and his crew, transfers of ships or shares in ships, indentures of apprenticeship for the sea service, petitions forwarded by post to the Crown or a House of Parliament and most instruments relating to the business of building and friendly societies.
As a general rule a document must be stamped at the time of execution, or a penalty (remissible by the commissioners of inland revenue) is incurred. The penalty is in most cases £10, sometimes much more; in the case of policies of marine insurance it is £100. Some instruments cannot be stamped at all after execution, even with payment of the penalty. Such are bills of exchange and promissory notes (where an impressed stamp is necessary), bills of lading, proxies for voting at meetings of proprietors of joint-stock companies and receipts after a month from date. An unstamped instrument cannot be pleaded or given in evidence except in criminal proceedings or for a collateral purpose. If an instrument chargeable with duty be produced as evidence in a court, the officer whose duty it is to read the instrument is to call the attention of the judge to any omission or insufficiency of the stamp, and if the instrument is one which may legally be stamped after execution, it may, on payment of the amount of the unpaid duty and the penalty payable by law, and a further sum of £1, be received in evidence, saving all just exceptions on other grounds. The rules of the supreme court, 1883 (Ord. xxxix. r. 8, re-enacting a provision of the Common Law Procedure Act), provide that a new trial is not to be granted by reason of the ruling of a judge that the stamp upon any document is sufficient or that the document does not require a stamp. The stamp upon a document subject to the stamp laws of a foreign state is usually admissible in evidence in a court of the United Kingdom if it conform in other respects to the rules governing the admissibility of such documents, even though it be improperly stamped according to the law of the foreign country. The admissibility of documents belongs to the ordinatoria litis rather than the decisoria litis, and is governed by the lex fori rather than the lex loci contractus, unless indeed that law makes a stamp necessary to the validity of the instrument. Certain offences, such as forging a die or stamp, selling or using a forged stamp, &c., are made felonies punishable with penal servitude for life as a maximum.
United States.—The subject of stamp duties is of unusual historical interest, as the passing of Grenville’s Stamp Act of 1765 (see United States: History) directly led to the American War of Independence. The act was, indeed, repealed the next year as a matter of expediency, but an act of the same year dealing with the dependency of American colonies declared the right of the British legislature to bind the colonies by its acts. The actual yield of the stamp duties under the act of 1765 was, owing to the opposition in the American colonies, only £4000—less than the expenses of putting the act into force. The stamp duties of the United States are now under the superintendence of the commissioner of internal revenue.