Medicine Stamp Duty was introduced in Great Britain on 11th July 1733 and continued until 2nd September 1941 when it was replaced by Purchase Tax which in turn was superseded by Value Added Tax.
The original aim of the duty was to raise revenue for the Government from the very large profits that were being made by the purveyors of quack remedies. The duty was collected in various values according to the price of the medicine. Medicines retailing at less than 1/- were taxed 1½d. From 1/- to 2/6 the tax was 3d. From 2/6 to 5/ the tax was 6d. Medicines costing over 5/ were taxed 1/.
To prevent fraud, Medicine Duty labels were printed in a long, thin format designed to be affixed to jars, bottles and packets of medicine and which were torn when opening. Most label types were either unappropriated (without manufacturer’s name) or appropriated (with manufacturer’s name).
examples of unappropriated medicine duty labels with 3d, 6d and 1/- values.
examples of appropriated medicine duty labels with 1½d, 3d and 6d values
From a collector’s point of view, it should therefore be unsurprising that the condition of the majority of surviving medicine duty labels is usually poor. Examples in mint condition may be proofs or from unused stock.
As a war time measure, medicine duty was increased in 1915. The basic tax of 1½d was doubled to 3d and the other tax increments were also doubled. To allow stocks of medicines already labelled at the old rates to be updated, a provisional issue of overprinted stamps was made :
1½d chestnut (2 million printed)
3d violet (1 million printed)
The stamps were affixed directly onto the medicine duty labels and were used until new labels showing the increased duty were printed later in the year. These overprinted stamps were widely collected at the time and today even appear in some collections of commercial overprints.
Additional Medicine Duty overprints : These stamps were normally left uncancelled but can occasionally be found postally used despite the “not available for postage” in the overprint legend.