Stamp duty and authenticity of legal documents

As this is the first post in the 50 Marriage Mondays series, I will start with a marriage for which I have original documentation with a good provenance.

Bride: Kate Emeline Witts
Groom: George Henry Adams
Date: 3 September 1904
Location: Christ Church, Sparkbrook, Birmingham
Type: established church by banns
Ended by:  death of George on 16 January 1951
Duration of marriage: 46 years, 4 months, 13 days

Marriage Certificate - George Henry Adams & Kate Emeline Witts 1904

Marriage Certificate – George Henry Adams & Kate Emeline Witts 1904

This original marriage certificate filled out by the officiating vicar on the day of the marriage.  It was passed down to the couple’s grandson (Eric), so there seems little doubt about it origins.  If that were not the case, how could you be sure that is a genuine document?  It bears no Royal Arms to represent the Crown’s authority, or the name any government body, and does not refer to any law.   None-the-less it is a valid legal document.

Extract of marriage certificate showing One Penny  King George V revenue stamp

Extract of marriage certificate showing One Penny King George V revenue stamp

The one penny stamp indicates that stamp duty was paid.  Stamp duty was a tax on documents, especially legal documents.   Stamp duties have been levied on many different kinds of documents, but were first levied on the registration of births, deaths and marriages in 1783[1].   The system of using an adhesive penny postage stamp, introduced in 1853, was both convenient and effective[2].  The Stamp Duties Management Act 1870 included a penny tax on ‘copies of registers of births & c.’[3]  Stamps marked ‘Postage and Revenue’ were introduced in 1881[4].  If you want an insight into how the system worked, take a look at the Stamp Duties Management Act 1891[5].  By the time of this marriage (1904) King George V was monarch, so it is his head that is depicted on the stamp.

Extract of marriage certificate showing the printers name, Waterlow & Sons

Extract of marriage certificate showing the printers name, Waterlow & Sons

A more subtle indication of the certificate’s authenticity is the name of the printers, ‘Waterlow and Sons’.  This large company’s portfolio included legal stationery, stamps and even bank notes[6].

[1] Transcript of Act for granting to his Majesty a Stamp-duty on the Registry of Burials, Marriages, Births, and Christenings. [1783]

[2] Dowell, Stephen (1888) A History of Taxation and Taxes in England from the Earliest Times to the Year 1885. Vol III.  Direct Taxes and Stamp Duties.  2nd ed.  London: Longmans Green & Co. Available online Accessed 20 August 2012.   p. 300.

[3] Dowell pp. 306-307

[4] Dowell pp. 305

[5] Stamp Duties Management Act 1891

[6] Grace’s Guide: British Industrial History. (3 December 2008). Waterlow_and_Sons:_1934_Review. Accessed 20 August 2012.


6 Comments on “Stamp duty and authenticity of legal documents”

  1. […] Stamp duty and authenticity of legal documents […]


  2. […] a bit of google research and this handy article on Sue Adams’ Family Folklore blog, I now know that these are actually examples of revenue stamps […]


    • Amy,
      Thanks for linking to this post and posing the question of when tax stamps ceased to be used on certificates.

      The practice would have ceased for one of two reasons: a change in the way the tax was collected, or the abolition of the tax. If the latter, the repeal is probably in a Finance Bill (that’s the usually annual bill passed after the budget). I don’t have a later stamped certificate than Amy’s dated 1948, and my earliest one without a stamp is an original birth certificate from 1956. So, that narrows the cessation of tax stamps down to between 1948 and 1956. Anyone have original certificates between these dates, with or without stamps to narrow the date range further?


  3. […] wrote a series on marriages in my family to celebrate my parent’s 50th anniversary, including Stamp duty and authenticity of legal documents.  I had identified the commencement of the use of revenue stamps, but Amy Sell’s blog asked […]


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