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THE MATCH TAX 1871

PROPOSAL – REACTION – RETREAT – MOCKERY - CELEBRATION


A PARLIAMENTARY PROPOSAL AND DEBATE


“. . a tax from matches. I do not mean matrimonial engagements. . . . (matches) are among the most splendid boons . . . they are among the greatest advantages we enjoy.” [1]


With this somewhat ill-judged attempt at humour on 20th April 1871, in the House of Commons, Chancellor Robert Lowe introduced his proposal to raise taxes from matches, an idea he said he’d got from America. He tried more humour by saying that he found his enquiries there “a rather combustible affair”.


His proposals were:

  • a halfpenny stamp on every box of 100 matches

  • a penny stamp on a box of 100 wax lights (considered “more aristocratic”)

  • a penny stamp on a box of 100 fusees (“instrumental in the consumption of tobacco”)

A SAMPLE OF THE STAMPS

He calculated that from the 600 million boxes made in a year, he would secure £550,000, which today would be £65m!


As you can see on the stamps above, he also proposed to use the now infamous motto ‘Ex Luce Lucellum’. This translates as ‘Out of Light. A Little Profit”. Lowe was known for his Latin classic quotations, a trait for which he would come to be ridiculed.


In the same speech, he also mocked the Bryant and May trademark - the Noah’s Ark emblem - used both on boxes and the factory buildings. He described it as “a rather watery idea”.