The Way It Was – Tax stamps


Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.

In the late 1930s and early ‘40s, Ohio had a 3 percent sales tax. When shoppers paid that tax, they received tax stamps as a receipt from the merchant. The revenue was used to finance schools. Individual schools could earn an additional amount by having their students collect the used tax stamps and return them to the state. I think that was done primarily to create a demand for the used stamps, to make sure merchants collected the tax on each sale.
Collecting the used stamps became a big deal for all the boys and girls in the West Elementary School. Kids brought tax stamps to school and put them in a box in their classroom. Once a week teachers set aside time for the students to count and bundle the stamps. When a class accumulated $100 worth of tax stamps, that class got out of school half an hour early on Friday afternoon. All the kids looked forward to that.
There was a lot of competition to see who could bring in the highest dollar amount of stamps. Each week, a list of the top stamp collectors was posted on a bulletin board in the hallway. Boy, did I want to get my name on that list. I had my parents give me all the tax stamps they received, but that was never enough to get me any recognition, certainly not like a boy named Bob Martin, who was one year ahead of me in school. I think Bob was born to collect tax stamps. He was the top collector in the whole school. Week after week his name was at, or near, the top of the list. Collecting tax stamps wasn’t just a sideline for him. I think it was his passion.
Every day, after school, Bob walked through the downtown area, going from store to store. A lot of shoppers left their tax stamps in the stores. Some businesses even placed a box near the cash register, and customers put their stamps inside. Bob simply went from store to store collecting those stamps. Heck, I could do that. But whenever I tried, I got sidetracked. Maybe I would see some kids climbing on the big cannon in the courthouse yard. I just couldn’t resist that, so while Bob was picking up all those stamps, I was climbing on that cannon. I guess Bob was just more disciplined then I was.
Occasionally, when I was in Butler’s Restaurant, I would check the cigar box near their cash register. That’s where customers often left their stamps. But the stamps in that box we’re always small denominations. I mean, you could have a nice lunch there, for maybe 50 cents. The tax on that was only pennies. How much recognition would I get for a few cents?
Then One day, my mother told me she was buying a refrigerator to replace the wooden icebox in our kitchen. It would be our very first refrigerator. I didn’t know how much it would cost, but I figured it would be a lot. I felt confident it would be enough to put me on the list, maybe even near the top.
When the refrigerator was delivered, we were all thrilled. Everything would now be kept nice and cold without all the hassles of dealing with a 50-pound block of ice. And to top it off, my mother gave me the tax stamps that were stapled to the receipt. I knew it wouldn’t be enough to put me in the “stamp collecting hall of fame,” but I should be near the top of the list in our hallway.
On Monday morning I took the tax stamps to school, and gave them to my teacher. I felt confident that I would be somewhere on the list. But sometime during the week, a boy named Fred Way took the wind out of my sails. His dad had just bought a new car, a Buick, which cost some where around $900. That gave Fred $27 worth of tax stamps. It not only ruined my chances of being high on the list, it even beat Bob Martin.
The next week, however, Bob was right back in first place. That kid was really good at collecting sales tax stamps.
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