The Newspaper Stamp, abolished on Friday, September 30, 1870, had an existence of one hundred and fifty-eight years. In the year 1712, Queen Anne sent a message to the House of Commons complaining of the publication of seditious papers and factious rumours, by which designing men bad been able to sink credit, and the innocent had suffered. On the 12th of February in that year, a Committee of the whole House was appointed, to consider the best means for stopping the then existing abuse of the liberty of the press. The evil referred to had existence in the political pamphlets of the period. A tax on the press was suggested as the best means of remedying the evil, and for the purpose of avoiding a storm of opposition the impost was tacked on to a Bill for taxing soaps, parchment, linens, silks, calicoes, &c.
The result of the tax was the discontinuance of many of the favourite papers of the period, and the amalgamation or others into one publication. The Act passed in June, 1712, came into operation in the month of August following, and continued for thirty-two years. The stamp was red, and the design consisted of the rose, shamrock, and thistle, surmounted with a crown. In the Spectator of June 10, 1712, Addison makes reference to this subject, and predicts great mortality among &ldqo;our weekly historians.” He also mentions that a facetious friend had described the said mortality as “the fall of the leaf.“ The witty Dean Swift, in his Journal to Stella, under date of August 7, speaks of Grub-street as being dead and gone. According to his report, the new stamps had made sad havoc with the Observator, the Flying Post, the Examiner, and the Medley.
Twelve years afterwards—namely 1724—the House of Commons had under consideration the practices of certain printers, who had evaded the operations of the Stamp Act by printing the news upon paper between the two sizes mentioned by the law, and entering them as pamphlets, on which the duty to be paid was 3s. for each edition. Its deliberations culminated in a resolution to charge 1d. for every sheet of paper “on which any journal, mercury, or any other newspaper whatever shall be printed, and for every half-sheet thereof the sum of one half-penny sterling.”
In 1761, the Stamp Duty upon newspapers was made 1d., or £4 1s. 8d. for one thousand sheets. The next change in the Stump Duty was effected on the 28th of May, 1776, when Lord North advanced the price from 1d. to l½d. Another alteration was effected on the 12th of August, 1789. On this occasion the Stamp was increased from l½d. to 2d. In 1794, the Stamp was up to 2½d, and in May, 1797, to 3½d. The highest rate of the Stamp was obtained in 1815, when the amount was 4d. After this date a period of decline ensued.
In the reign of William IV. an Act was passed for the reduction of Stamp Duty upon Newspapers from 4d. to 1d., and ½d on any supplement. This Act came into operation on the 15th of September, 1836, from which date the rise of the cheap paper era may be dated. The next improvement occurred in 1855, when the compulsory use of the stamp was abolished, save and except as a means of passing the paper through the post. It was decided, in 1870, to determine the operation of the old Act, and to inaugurate a new order of things more in accordance with the liberal spirit of the age.