A Tax on Light and Air

Like so many others, I’m working on my taxes, which takes me hours, because I save all my record-keeping for tax time and then have to find, organize, and record all my necessary information. And all this is just to take the stuff to the accountant.

I have no complaints about paying taxes. As a former public employee, married to a public employee, I have an acute sense of what taxes pay for in our society. In Regency times, however, some of the taxes seem pretty odd to us.

Window Tax.
In 1697 Parliament passed a tax on windows. The more windows in a dwelling, the higher the tax. At the time it seemed a fair way to levy taxes without requiring citizens to divulge personal financial information as they would need to do for income tax. It was assumed that the wealthier the person, the bigger the house and the more windows. The wealthy embraced this idea and began to use windows as a way to display status and success. On the other hand, landlords who owned buildings that housed the working classes, resented the tax and bricked up windows to avoid payment. The resulting lack of ventilation simply made bad living situations worse.

Glass Excise Tax.
First levied in 1745, the Glass Excise tax was initially levied on the raw materials that produced glass, but later became a tax on the glass products and was based on weight. Again, the rich embraced the use of glass in large and numerous windows as a way of showing the world how affluent they were. Glass green houses were further proof of wealth. The tax but a burden on glass manufacturere and over the years the law was tweaked, easing the tax on production houses manufacturing small glass products or those making optical glass. In 1845 it was appealed altogether. In 1851 so was the Window tax.

Have you come across any other strange taxes of the Regency period or of any historical period? Have you filed your taxes yet???

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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10 Responses to A Tax on Light and Air

  1. Aloha, Diane! The houses in Amsterdam are short along the canals but long from front to back door … because they were taxed based on the front fascade.

    Thorn, also in the Netherlands, is painted all white, including the brick buildings. Because it resides in Limburg near Belgium, the land has changed countries several times. I could not find the exact refernence on the internet, but if my memory serves me correct, the one time French rulers passed a tax on residences. The church was exempt and the church was painted white. Thus, the entire town painted itself white to associate with the church and be exempt from taxes.

  2. In 2006, Pennsylvania placed a tax on the compressed air used to vacuum one’s car or to place air in low tire. What next?

  3. Diane Gaston says:

    Kim! Those are great examples. Taxes changed the entire architecture, but, Regina, the 2006 Pennsylvania tax proves that strangeness still occurs.

  4. Regina, that is so bizarre!!

    Sigh on taxes. I certainly don’t mind paying, considering I do like libraries, roads, police, etc, but I don’t like organizing stuff for the CPA. Maybe it would help if I didn’t just stuff receipts in an envelope all year then try to organize it all in one day?

  5. Wow, Kim, I never knew that about the houses in Amsterdam! I wondered at the construction of those houses when I was strolling along the canals and now I know. Thanks!

    I do know that when we lived in England we had to pay taxes on the television, on the outside antenna, on every radio in the house and there was something about the coal shed too, if I remember correctly. Oh, and we had to pay a tax on the garden hose too. I remember hearing my Dad complain about it and I thought it very odd. Of course I was only nine years old at the time! Can you imagine if they taxed electronics like that here?

    I get a break on my property taxes because I actually live on the five acres I own. In my county if I didn’t live here my taxes on the land would be higher. It is called homesteading. It always makes me smile, as if I came here in a covered wagon!

  6. Oh and yes, I have filed my taxes and received my refund. I used it to register for Nationals!

  7. Susan/DC says:

    I think the tax on TVs in the UK was to support the BBC. I wouldn’t mind paying a little bit more on my taxes to support PBS and NPR, but that’s just me. I don’t like paying taxes, but I do like what they buy me — as Amanda said, the libraries, roads, and police, plus the Centers for Disease Control, NIH, air traffic controllers, National Parks, and all kinds of things I use and like.

    What I don’t like is when politicians try to achieve their goals through the tax code, as that leads to distortions in investment, not to mention much less scrutiny from voters. If Congress had to vote on giving certain industries money directly, it would never pass. But if they give XYZ Company a tax break, no one notices except the accountants and lawyers for XYZ Company, and the rest of us when we have to pay more to make up for the lost revenue (but we don’t know the specifics, so it’s hard to fight). Oh well, off my soapbox.

  8. Diane Gaston says:

    Louisa, I guess it is a philosophical difference whether it is better to tax certain items or simply do an income tax. I don’t know that there is a “right” way, though.

    Amanda, I do agree with you about liking libraries and roads and police. I’m also fond of sewers, firemen, teachers, social workers, mental health services, the courts, air traffic controllers, all our monuments and museums in DC, universities, etc etc.

  9. Estela NW says:

    In 1535 Henry VIII introduced the Beard Tax. The amount paid varied according to the social position of the person who sported a beard. Henry himself probably had to pay since he sported a beard as well…. but then again maybe not ;o)

  10. librarypat says:

    Haven’t done our taxes yet. Maybe this weekend.

    I don’t know if it is still the case, but growing up there were houses that remained unpainted or only had 3 sides painted. A fully painted house was taxed at a higher rate than an unpainted or partially painted house.

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