Saturday, December 23, 2023

October 31, 2023: reform of the stamp duty on cards

   In the 18th century and before, playing cards were treated rather like alcoholic beverages and cigarettes today, as a somewhat dangerous indulgence which nonetheless could be used as a source of revenue, the increased price justified as reducing consumption. In 1781 the old system, common throughout the Italian states, of a private contractor managing the duty on playing cards, was being replaced by something deemed more efficient and less subject to abuse (for which see Franco's essay of Nov. 21, 2023). In the current essay, Pratesi, in his fashion, tells the story through documents that he has found and transcribed. In the process we learn more about the system being retired - in itself a step toward the end result, being adopted only in 1751 - and that which replaces it.

   The principal characters in this docudrama are Domenico Aldini, Chief Minister of the duty stamp on playing cards, as he had been the entire time since 1751, and his superior, Counselor to the Grand Duke Giuseppi Gavard.

    The Grand Duke at this time is Peter Leopold, the 33-year-old son of Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa and the former Duke of Lorraine Francis Stephen, now Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, Peter, although born and raised in Vienna, had moved to Florence in 1765 to be its Grand Duke, although until 1770 most authority had been in the hands of counselors appointed from Vienna. 

   I am grateful to Franco for his very necessary (for me) help. His original of 31 October 2023 is at For additional information, see the next post in this series, of November 21, 2023.

Florence 1781: reform of stamp duty on cards

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction
    In Inventory N/83 of the section Miscellany of Finance A in the State Archives of Florence we read: “284 Playing Cards. Various papers concerning stamp duty [Bollo, term that mainly refers to the stamp itself] - 1766-86.” A search in this bundle of documents allowed me to find useful information to define the methods used by the Grand Duchy’s administration in Tuscany to control the production and trade of playing cards. As for stamped paper, controlled in parallel by the same offices of the Second Department of the General Administration, the system was based on the stamp [bollo], which allowed both the collection of the tax due and the exact control of the quality and quantity of playing cards produced and sold.

    The traditional procedure was not very different from what was occurring in other states and was based on a five-year and then ten-year contract with a contractor who supervised all the necessary operations. However, it was also an unusual contract, because the contractor Domenico Aldini had long since transferred the actual function to the General Contractor. Among the various reforms introduced in the administration by Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo was that of the concession of playing cards: at the beginning of 1781, immediately after the expiry of the contract, the situation changed substantially, insofar as the contract for the concession was not renewed, and control over playing cards was transferred directly to the General Administration, together with that over stamped paper.

    From the documentation found, important details are obtained, copied, or summarized below.

2. The previous situation
    After other similar contracts, the last one before the events in question was that in force for nine years from 1 January 1772. About this contract, a printed copy of the Notification of the Announcement can be found among the documents in the file studied. I reproduce it below, also to better define the role of Domenico Aldini, a key figure in the relevant administration.

    The Most Illustrious Signor Fiscal Lieutenant Ipolito Scaramucci in this part as Superintendent of the affairs of the Playing Cards Stamp, with approval and express commandment of His Royal Highness [S. A. R. – Sua Altezza Reale] as per his Benevolent Edict [Benigno Rescripto] dated 24 December 1771, lets be publicly announced and notified, as was confirmed to Domenico of the late Carl'Antonio Aldini of Florence, the Playing Cards Stamp Contract for nine years starting from the first of January 1772, in which time no one will be allowed to retain, transport, sell, or use playing cards unless stamped with the particular stamp of said Contractor, in the form that will be declared below.
    II. The Stamp to be affixed by the aforementioned Contractor will contain, as usual, a Cipher [Cifra] expressing the three letters A.D.A. with the legend around it of Bollo delle Carte di Toscana [Tuscany Cards Stamp], and in addition to said Stamp there will also be the Contractor's signature, which will say Domenico Aldini; and both the Stamp and the signature must be applied, as much to Minchiate on Card Twenty-One, as to the Cards of Spades and Clubs [i.e. French-style cards – trans.], on the Jack of Diamonds, as much the fine Cards of Swords and Batons, on the Page of Swords, as to the ordinary cards of Swords and Batons, on the Knight of Batons, and finally, as much to the Cards of Ombre called Spanish-style, on the King of Coins.
Arcangelo Cappucci under-Chancellor in the Fiscal Office [Fisco].
Published in Florence this 31st December 1771.
by me Giuseppe Vannucchi, Official Crier [i.e. maker of announcements – trans.]
3. Preparations for change
    The reform requested by the Grand Duke was not simple, and several communications were necessary between the offices involved and with the Grand Duke himself to clarify the conditions. It was a matter of explaining in every detail the functioning of the system and proposing the most appropriate ways to introduce the required changes. For us, these communications are very useful to let us know with

precision the procedures adopted, and even the traditional rewards given to the staff and managers.
General Administration
2nd Department
Playing cards

    Replying to the most revered Note of Your Excellency dated yesterday, with which you favor to ask me whether the 2nd Department of the General Administration can meet the task of conserving the Playing Cards Stamp, and of stamping said playing cards, to remove this interference to the Fiscal Office appointed up to now, I give myself the honor of telling Your Excellency that the aforementioned unification can be held without dismay. But, to account for the future security of the service on such article, I consider it my duty to identify below the method that is currently followed and what I think should be observed in the future.
The makers of playing cards, three in number, [note 1] each have their respective printing blocks for the figures [i.e. minchiate and the courts of “low cards”] of said cards.
These initial printing blocks are kept in the General Administration under the key of the respective manufacturer, who comes to print his cards under the eyes of the Keeper of the Warehouse of the Enterprise [Zienda = modern Azienda], where a register is kept of everything that is printed, to get validation if necessary.
    After this operation, said manufacturers take their cards back to their workshops to perfect their manufacture, and when they want to stamp them, they send them to the General Administration with a Policy, in which the respective quality and quantity is expressed.
Once the cards have been received by the Administration, Signore Domenico Aldini affixes his signature to one card of each deck in accordance with the Law. He then takes the register of said Policy, as made by the Enterprise’s accountant, to charge each card maker for the amount of the Stamp Duty (which is subsequently paid by them every three months).
Once the aforementioned operations have been completed in the Enterprise’s office, the cards are sent to the Fiscal Office, with the aforementioned card maker's Policy, accompanied by the Warehouse Keeper Francesco Fond, to be stamped in his presence by Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the Custodians of the Fiscal Office, where the Stamp is kept under two keys, one of which remains in the Fiscal Office itself, the other with the aforementioned Warehouse Keeper, or with the principal Minister [i.e. official] of the Office of the Enterprise.
When the cards are stamped, the stamp is put back under the keys, and the above-mentioned Policy of the card maker is kept in the Fiscal Office. The card maker takes back his cards and then sells them at his pleasure.
    Following the aforementioned unification with the General Administration, I would think of keeping the stamp under two different keys, one of which I would keep with me, and I would deliver the other to the Minister of the Enterprise. I would be willing to have the cards stamped in the room of the suppressed Office of Flours and Aggregate Items [Partite] and to rely on the responsibility of the Custodian Antonio Mari, who is honest and faithful, to have the cards stamped in the presence of Warehouse Keeper Fond, as there is no place in the Office of Stamped Paper for a similar operation, which otherwise is not suitable to be done by the Ministers of the Office itself.
    On this occasion, I still give myself the honor of submitting to Your Excellency the attached Note of Cash Bonuses and Cards in Kind, which this Enterprise distributes every year to various Ministers of the Fiscal Office, also including the provision paid to Custodian Brunelleschi, up to now the stamper of the cards, and this by virtue of the Sovereign Edicts mentioned in the same Note, reverently praying Your Excellency to deign to understand from His Royal Highness [S.A.R.] whether the aforementioned administrations must continue after the new Regulations given for the Ministers of said Fiscal Office, especially since Signore Fiscal Lieutenant Betti said he could not receive the 56 L[ire] bonus assigned to his deceased predecessor for Christmas without a new Sovereign order.
    And with the most distinct respect I claim myself
    Of Your Excellency,

    Most Devoted and Obedient Servant
    Giuseppe Gavard
    From the General Desk of the 2nd Department
    Of the Administration of the R. Incomes on 23 January 1778
The letter, as always on stamped paper, is addressed to His Excellency Counselor Angelo Tavanti and contains a separate sheet with "the required Note of Bonuses in Cash and Cards in Kind".
1. Zanobi Rossi, Pietro Molinelli and Salvatore Tognacci. (F. Pratesi, Playing-Card Production in Florence. Tricase 2018;

Note of Cash Bonuses and Provisions that are paid each year to the Ministers of the Fiscal Office in relation to the Concession of the Playing Cards Stamp

--------For Berlingaccio [last Thursday of Carnival]
To the Signore Fiscal Auditor------------------------------------------L.-----30.-.-
To the Tavolaccino [an errand-boy], and Boys
[Garzoni = young interns] of the Fiscal Office------------------------------4.13.4
---------For Easter of Resurrection
To the Signore Chancellor of the Fiscal Office-----------------------------8.-.-
To the Tavolaccino, and above-mentioned Boys--------------------------4.13.4
---------For Saint John’s
To the above-mentioned Chancellor------------------------------------------8.-.-
To the Tavolaccino, and above-mentioned Boys---------------------------4.13.4
-----------For Mid-August
To the Tavolaccino, and abovementioned Boys----------------------------4.13.4
-----------For All Saints
To the above-mentioned Signore Chancell----------------------------------6.-.-
To the Tavolaccino, and above-mentioned Boys---------------------------4.13.4
---------For Christmas
To the Signore Fiscal Lieutenant----------------------------------------------58.-.-
To the Tavolaccino, and above-mentioned Boys---------------------------4.13.4
To the Butler of the Signore Fiscal Auditor-----------------------------------3.-.-
To the Servant of the Signore Fiscal Lieutenant----------------------------3.-.-

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------L. 144.-.-
Annual provision to Filippo Brunelleschi
---------Stamper in the Rooms of the Fiscal Office------------------------53.6.8

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------L. 197.6.8

    The aforementioned Bonuses were approved by His Royal Highness [S.A.R.] with Benevolent Edict dated 11 January 1769.

    It should be noted that every year the Playing Card Stamp Office supplies the quantities described below free of charge to the following Ministers of the Fiscal Office by virtue of the  Benevolent Edicts of 19 October and 19 December 1768.
    To the Signore Fiscal Auditor the number of decks of both minchiate and low cards [i.e.    ordinary decks] that he needs for his consumption.
    To the Signore Fiscal Lieutenant: the same.
    To the Chancellor of the Fiscal Office: 8 decks of minchiate, and 8 decks of low cards.
    Perhaps this Note deserves a comment for those who are not familiar with the situation at the time. If one thinks with today's mentality, one will immediately be able to notice the clear disparity between the rewards given to employees and managers, but one must remember that back then trade union demands did not exist; indeed, trade unions themselves were . . . in a distant future. Confirmation of this situation is obtained by reading the numerous petitions on stamped paper (present in other files of the same archive unit) that the employees submit directly to the Grand Duke to obtain some gratification or reward for long service, always keeping in mind the situation of poverty and the hardship in which their family lived.

    When the contract deadline approaches, the exchange of official correspondence becomes more complete and detailed, with new data and proposals.
General Administration
2nd Department
Playing cards

Royal Highness
    Since 10 November, 1751, the income from the Playing Cards Stamp Duty was, at [the] favor of the Royal Fiscal Office, released for the annual fee of L. 11200 = =, and for five years, beginning on January 1, 1752, to Domenico Aldini, who on December 12th of the same year 1751, ceded his rights to General Contractor Masson.

    With Edict dated 2 June 1756, the same account [Partita] was granted to General Contractor Diodati under the name of the before-mentioned Aldini until the whole of December 1762, for the annual fee of L. 12,600 = = , and the same continued to be joined to the following General Concession of Almano, compliant with Art. 10 of the Contract signed and approved on 29 April 1762, which was to last until the end of December 1771.
Finally, with Edict dated 24 December of said year 1771, it was ordered that for another nine years the System practiced up to then be observed for the management or administration of said Account.
    On the occasion of each renewal of the Directive, the Fiscal Lieutenant had an Announcement published in his name, i.e. on 14 December 1751, 18 December 1756, 10 December 1762, and 31 December 1771, conforming to the copy of the last renewal, which I present here annexed to Your Royal Highness.
    In the first paragraph of the Edict of 26 August 1768, and in the first Article of the Regulation signed by Your Royal Majesty [R.A.V.] on the 7th of the following September, you were already pleased to order that all the income then gathered to the general Concession was to be administered in the subsequent section on behalf of the Royal Treasury. And in the Note of the Joint Accounts that was included in the aforementioned Regulation, the income from the Stamp Duty on Playing Cards was described by the annual sum of L. 12,600 = =, payable to the Fiscal Office.
    Since the management of said income, confirmed to Domenico Aldini in the aforementioned Notification dated 31 December 1771, must expire on 31 December 1771, I give myself the honor of humbling to the Supreme Intention of V.A R. my reverent sentiment regarding the variations, which, given the vigilant system of general administration of all the Royal Incomes [rendite], and of other Accounts already united to the same, I would believe that we can do something about the said Income from the Card Stamp Duty, if it pleases you to keep for the Royal Fiscal Office this Chapter of Income, and you do not wish to hand over its administration to the same Fiscal Office, and remove it from the department assigned to me [i.e. General Administration].
    I therefore find the name of a Contractor, who is not actually a Contractor, as useless as his signature on the stamped cards, and this is consistent with the method used for the stamped paper, which is much more important for all economic and political purposes than playing cards. Furthermore, by ceasing that hatred which the public commonly has against the Contractor, or whoever bears that name, due to the price and quality of the cards, even if neither one nor the other depends on him, and knowing that this account really belongs entirely to the Royal Treasury, greater respect will certainly result from part of the public, and perhaps a greater sale of said cards will follow.
    V.A.R. already deigned with Benevolent Edict of 7 March 1778 to order that the cards should no longer be stamped in the rooms of the Fiscal Office, but in one of those attached to this general desk of my department, with the precautions then prescribed, which was punctually carried out, and is still being carried out, without causing the slightest inconvenience.
    If the same system continues in the future, and when there is a fear that the card stamp, which is jealously guarded, could be counterfeited by some Particular, a risk however that is equally run for the Stamped Paper, one could rely on some minister [official] of this General Accounting Office, without giving him the title of Contractor, the duty to continually affix his signature to the aforementioned stamped cards, in place of Domenico Aldini, of whom we can no longer make an asset due to his continuous infirmities, which oblige him to rely on another hand for almost the entire year for said signature.
    When it pleases V.A.R. to approve these respectful Propositions of mine, it will be necessary for conformity to modify in some parts the provisions of the Announcement to be published, either by the Fiscal Auditor, since it concerns Fiscal Income, or by the Supreme Court of Justice, cognizant of the transgressions concerning the aforementioned Playing Card Duty Stamp, or rather by the Fiscal Lieutenant, if the method up to now adopted on this article seems to Your Highness be regular and of his best service, still having to warn that in said Announcement, there should be cited the Benevolent Edict of 18 August 1777, officially communicated by the Suppressed Grand Ducal Chamber on the 21st following, regarding the moderation of the punishment for transgressions of playing cards that do not go beyond two decks.
    Imploring the Supreme determinations of V.A.R. [Your Royal Highness] on the object of this reverent Participation of mine, so that the appropriate provisions can be given before the end of the present year, prostrate at the foot of the Royal Throne I claim myself
    Of Your Royal Highness
    Most Humble Servant and Subject
    Giuseppe Gavard
    Florence 16 November 1780
    Correspondence proceeds in one way, as outgoing mail is stored in this file and not incoming mail, but from the context, we can easily go back to the evidence coming in, directly or indirectly, from the Grand Duke himself, as in the secretary’s note cited in the following communication.

General Administration
2nd Department
Playing cards

Royal Highness
    Having been pleased to Your Royal Highness to order by means of a note from Secretary Francesco Antonio Bonfini, signed on the 25th of November last, that I reduce the new Announcement to be published on Playing Cards in the form I deem appropriate, I give myself the honor of presenting to you the attached Project, in which I have substantially followed the Order of the last Announcement of 31 December 1771 in those parts which did not appear to me to be susceptible to variation.
    And when Your Royal Highness deigns to approve the creation of the new stamp in the way proposed by me, it will be appropriate to quickly order its engraving by Luigi Siriès Engraver of the Dies of the Mint, and on January 1, 1781, I will defer to the Royal Secretariat of Finance the old stamps, which are kept under double lock in my office, where the one that is currently in use is taken as cards to be stamped arise, which happens almost every day.
For both the Principal Minister of said Enterprise, who has asked for his rest, and the Minister in charge of stamping the cards, I will humbly address to V.A.R. in another Participation [i.e. official note] of this day [i.e. today] my reverent sentiments as prescribed to me in the aforementioned note.

    And prostrate at the foot of the Royal Throne I claim myself
    Of Your Royal Highness
    Most humble Servant and subject
    Giuseppe Gavard
    Florence 4 December 1780.
4. The reformed system
    The conclusion of the negotiations between the offices was that the requested reform could be carried out and suitable conditions found, including new premises and new stamping staff. Thus, as a result, there was the new announcement with the following Notification, published in print, which came into force on January 1, 1781.
    The Most Illustrious Lord Auditor of Regalia and Royal Possessions, in execution of the Most Venerable Edict of His Royal Highness [S.A.R.] dated 19 December 1780, lets be publicly notified, as ending with this month of December, the Playing Cards Stamp Concession under name of Domenico Aldini. The R.A.S. desires that the Monopoly of the Stamp of the aforementioned cards, from the first of January 1781 onwards, must be held directly on behalf of, and in the name of, the General Administration of his Royal Incomes [Rendite] in the manner and with the conditions that follow.
    From the first day of January 1781 into the future, the stamp to be affixed to playing cards will contain a figure expressing the letters A. G., denoting General Administration, with the words around it Bollo delle Carte di Toscana [Tuscany Cards Stamp], which stamp will be affixed, as regards minchiate, on card 27, and with respect to spades and clubs [i.e. French-style cards], on the jack of hearts.
    From the Court of Regalia and Royal Possessions
    The 30. December 1780.
    Gaspero Domenico Paver Chancellor

5. Other information

    In the same file, there is also a loose sheet, without a date but clearly from those years (i.e., between the seventies and eighties of the eighteenth century), with the tariffs for entry, exit, and transit of playing cards in Tuscany. It should be noted that the outgoing ones do not pay duty, but we know from other documents that only minchiate cards could go out like this - with a specific license and confirmation of exit from the state within fifteen days - while the other cards could go out without paying duty, as they were exported only on the condition of being stamped already.
of the General Rates of Tuscan Tariffs relating to playing cards
---------Playing cards
---------------- One Hundred Pounds [Libbre, a unit of weight]
---------For introduction, sixteen Lire--------------------------- L 16.-.-

-----------For export, they do not pay tariff---------------------- -.-.-
-----------For Transit ten Soldi-------------------------------------- -.10.-

    Playing cards coming from outside the United Territory cannot be introduced without License even in case they are just passing through, in accordance with the Law of 31 December 1771. Except for the transit of playing cards coming from the lower Province [i.e. Siena] or destined for the same, which in this case will not need any License, in accordance with the Edict of 11 April 1778.
   In the same years as the changes mentioned above, there was also the new entrance of playing card manufacturers in addition to the three traditional ones. In one case it is just a factory changing its name. On 5 December 1776 Gavard communicated his opinion to the Grand Duke on the plea of the card maker Salvadore Tognacci. In 1772 Tognacci had obtained "the power to erect a playing card factory in Florence" and had started that business in partnership with Emanuelle Sacerdote, who had put up all the capital. Subsequently, the same Sacerdote also assumed management of the factory, and now Tognacci asks that the factory continue its activity under the sole name of Emanuelle Sacerdote. Gavard concludes "I don't see that there can be any difficulty in granting the requests of the petitioners, especially since Emmanuelle Sacerdote is capable of carrying out the manufacturing in question well." But we also find two other new factories. In particular, we read Gavard's favorable opinion, dated 22 April 1780, that a favorable response should be given to the plea of Niccolò Canonici "who asks for the Grace to open a New Playing Card Factory." On 9 August 1780, Gavard repeated himself in the same terms regarding a similar request from Domenico Falugi. In both cases, it is required that this occur "with the same obligations and burdens imposed on the current manufacturers of said cards." (In reality, in other documents from the following years, we will encounter the Falugi factory but not that of Canonici.)

6. Conclusion
    In the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, upon the expiry of the contract for the concession of the playing card stamp on 1 January 1781, a new system came into force whereby the concession was abolished and the entire procedure of taxation and control on playing cards passed under the direct supervision of the General Administration. The documentation preserved in the State Archives of Florence relating to this passage allows us to know in detail the offices involved, the procedures adopted, and the staff involved.

Florence, 31.10.2023

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