To be honest, when we first heard the term “beard tax,” we hoped that it would be some new measure to control this odd “hipster beard” phenomenon. However, despite our hopes, the “beard tax” actually goes back to the 16th Century in England.
In 1535, King Henry VIII, who sported a beard himself, introduced a tax on beards.
It was a graduated tax depending on the beard wearer’s social position; the higher was the wearer’s standing in society, the larger amount of money he had to pay, making facial hair a symbol of status.
After the beard tax was dropped, Henry’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I of England, re-introduced it again and began taxing every beard of more than two week’s growth.
In 1698, Emperor Peter I of Russia, as part of his efforts to modernize Russian society following European models, instituted a beard tax for everyone who sported a beard or mustache.
In Russia, the bearded men who would the pay the beard tax were required to carry a “beard token.”
The beard token was usually silver or copper coin, embossed with a Rusian Eagle on one side, while on the other, the lower part of a face with nose, mouth, whiskers, and beard.
The token was inscribed with two phrases “the beard tax has been taken” (lit: “Money taken”) and “the beard is a superfluous burden”.
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The “rebels” who would resist paying the tax on their facial hair were punished by being forcibly and publicly shaved. The beard tax was eventually abolished in 1772.