Stamp duties are the oldest of inland revenue taxes, and were formerly the most important. They are charged at various rates on a wide range of commercial, legal and financial documents (including conveyances on transfers, leases, companies' share capital and, until 1971, mortgages and cheques), and also on a variety of licences and certificates, apprentices' indentures and newspapers.
Duties on legal proceedings and other formal documents were first imposed by the Duties on Law Proceedings Act 1671 for nine years. The duties were not re-imposed when the Act lapsed in 1680. Although these impositions are often referred to as stamp duties no stamps were used and settlement was made directly in money.
The Stamps Act 1694 re-imposed charges on a list of legal instruments written or engrossed on paper, vellum or parchment, and authorised the appointment of a Board of Commissioners of Stamps to manage these impositions which were to take the form of stamp duties. A central staff of slightly over sixty was directly employed in the Stamp Office in London to stamp the blank sheets for distribution. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the duties were widely extended, and were also levied on a wide range of licences. With the gradual extension of its duties the Board printed its own stamps for affixing to dutiable articles. It was also possible for private individuals to bring their own paper and other material to be stamped. The stamps and stamped sheets were sold locally by based in the main towns of England and Wales, appointed by the Board, and paid by poundage. They were able to appoint sub-distributors who were paid a lesser poundage out of the distributors' poundage and were not regarded as employees of the Board. In 1832 the Board of Stamps absorbed the Board of Hackney Coach Commissioners, and was also made responsible for the newly introduced railway passenger duties.
In 1834, the Board of Stamps and Taxes inherited the responsibility for administering the wide range of stamp duties, although in 1838 its licensing powers and management of licence duties in respect of hackney carriages passed to a Registrar of Metropolitan Public Carriages, under the authority of the Home Secretary. From 1839, the Board had responsibility for the manufacture, sale and distribution of postage stamps, and also for the income tax revived in 1842. In 1847 charge of the licence duties was passed to the Board of Excise, together with responsibility for the collection of the railway passenger duty and the duties on stage coaches.
In 1849, the Board of Inland Revenue inherited from the Board of Stamps and Taxes responsibility for stamp duties and the manufacture, distribution and sale of postage stamps. To administer the duties the Board maintained stamp offices in London and other large cities each under a Distributor of Stamps. Among the London offices was the Stock Exchange stamp office, whose work was transferred to the Board in 1891. Most of these offices were managed jointly by the board's two stamp branches: the Office of Controller of Stamps (responsible for assessing stamp duty and for providing various ready-made forms and adhesive stamps); and the Office of Director of Stamping (responsible for stamping of documents and other mechanical work connected with stamp duties). General oversight of the work of the Board's stamp branches was exercised by the Board's Stamps and Taxes Division.
The Office of Director of Stamping was formerly known as the Stamping Department and was the oldest of the Board's branches. The Director of Stamping was responsible for the administration of many duties and fees payable in the form of stamps or labels and was also responsible for controlling the manufacture by contractors of all postage stamps and postal stationery used in this country from 1840 until this duty was transferred to the Post Office in 1922. The department was in charge of all adhesive fiscal stamps until the Stationery Office took over that function in 1934. Formerly the department printed excise licences and medicine duty labels until the Board of Customs and Excise took over those duties, and from 1914 supervised the manufacture of the first Treasury notes until this function passed to the Bank of England in 1928. It was also responsible for the manufacture of the early health insurance stamps of higher values, and as agent for the Post Office was responsible for the embossing of postage stamps on private stationery. The manufacture of stamps (e.g. unemployment and national health insurance stamps) was undertaken on behalf of other government departments, while postage and other stamps were produced for Colonial or Commonwealth governments.
The Office of Controller of Stamps was formed by the amalgamation of a number of smaller departments. The Offices of Registrar of Bank Returns, Registrar of Licences, and Distributor of Stamps at Chief Office were in 1859 combined into a single licence department and this, in turn, was united in July 1871 with the Warehousing Department to form an Storekeeper General's Department. In 1877, this was reorganised and renamed the Office of Controller of Stamps and Stores. Later it absorbed the Cancelled or Spoiled Stamps Office which had dealt with allowances for spoiled and useless stamps. Its work at this period was mainly concerned with the warehousing and issue of all stores, including postage stamps. The Post Office had drawn on the Board for its supplies and subsequently distributed the stamps, until in 1879 the Controller of Stamps and Stores took over their direct distribution to the various postmasters and established a postal branch for that purpose. This function returned to the Post Office on 1 April 1914 (except for Scottish Offices for which the Board continued to perform this service until 1925). Its functions in regard to stamp distribution became limited to that of impressed revenue stamps, and the head of the Office was titled Controller of Stamps. Its former responsibilities in relation to distribution of old age pension orders to customs and excise officers and medicine duty labels passed to the Board of Customs and Excise in 1915 and 1935 respectively. It stored currency notes and issued them to the Bank of England between 1914 and 1924. The Controller of Stamps was also registrar of newspapers (under the Newspaper Libel and Registration Act 1881), moneylenders (from 1900 until this duty passed to the Board of Customs and Excise in 1927), joint stock companies( from 1876 until this function returned to the Board of Trade in 1948), business names (a duty acquired from the Board of Trade in 1923 after previously performing the work as its agent and which returned to that department in 1947), and bank returns.
In 1975, the Office of the Director of Stamping was merged with the Office of the Controller of Stamps, and the Stamps and Taxes Division was re-organised into Policy and Technical Divisions.