What are they?Referred to as the "tax stamp," images specially marked by these government seals are often quite desirable to collectors.
When were they first used?Faced with the financial demands of the Civil War, our Federal government issued the Revenue Act of 1862. This Act created ways to raise new revenue, as well as formed the Department of Internal Revenue. Nearly every kind of document was taxed (including deeds, insurance policies, telegrams, stock certificates, etc) and what were considered luxuries (such as playing cards, liquor, tobacco, matches, perfume.) Revenue stamps were designed to affix to these various items proving that the tax had been paid. Not enough!
An act of Congress passed on June 30, 1864 placed a new tax on "photographs, ambrotypes, daguerreotypes or any other sun-pictures." Photographers were required to affix a properly denominated revenue stamp on the back of the image and cancel it by initialing and dating it in pen. There was not a special stamp created for photography, thus you will see stamps on images for Bank Checks, Playing Cards, Certificates, Bill of Lading, etc. These were accepted by the Federal Government as long as the denomination was appropriate.
How much was the tax?The amount of tax paid was determined by the cost of the image.
Less than 25 cents: 2 cents stamps (blue/orange).
25 to 50 cents: 3 cents stamps (green).
50 cents to $1: 5 cents stamps (red).
More than $1: 5 cents for each additional dollar or fraction thereof
What about the writing or marks on the stamps?
When did the tax end?
The stamp tax on photographs was repealed on August 1, 1866 and revenue stamps no longer appeared on images after that date. Thus, you will not find tax stamps on cabinet card images, which became popular after this date.