Revisited Myth # 30: Mirrors were usually made of two or more pieces to avoid the tax levied on large pieces.

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The dreaded mirror tax, like the closet tax, the second story tax, and other mythological excise taxes never existed. The reason large mirrors were made in two or more pieces was because it was extremely difficult to manufacture large, flat pieces of glass, and even harder to transport them without breaking, and therefore they were much more expensive.

parliament ny assemb actThe legend may have its origin in the Townshend Revenue Acts of 1767 (left), which mandated duties on certain imported items coming from England to the American colonies, including glass. “For every hundred weight avoirdupois of crown, plate, flint, and white glass, four shillings and eight pence,” it reads. The term “plate glass” refers to a thin, polished glass containing few impurities that was used for both mirrors and large windows.

But after vigorous protest, Parliament repealed the Townshend duties in 1770 (famously, all except the one on tea), so any duties on glass were short-lived and never collected. There was no excise tax in the thirteen colonies on mirrors.

4 Responses to Revisited Myth # 30: Mirrors were usually made of two or more pieces to avoid the tax levied on large pieces.

  1. Joanne G Miley says:

    Very interesting. I did not know that about the tax on tea being the only one left to be enforced. Bully for those patriots!

  2. Melissa says:

    I have recently had visitors to our museum INSISTING that the dreaded closet tax did indeed exist in Louisiana–and supposedly still does. Any validity to that for anyone who knows more about LA tax laws than I do?

    • Melissa says:

      I only ask because Louisiana laws are sometimes very different from the rest of the country.

      • Mary Miley says:

        Yes, they are, based as they were on French rather than English law. In cases like this, you might ask the person to show you the law. (I realize that doesn’t work with visitors, but it should with museum docents or employees.) If a closet tax law existed in the past, it will be on the books.

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