This was originally published as a sidebar to the article "Stamps Where You Sleep: Tag — You’re It!" To read the original article please click here.
So why do we have law tags?
As collectors, we tend to call tags with bedding stamps on them “mattress tags,” but this is technically incorrect. They are “law tags,” and their existence dates back about a century.
Near the end of the 19th and dawning of the 20th centuries, concern over consumer protection swept across the country, beginning with the Sherman Act of 1890 that was intended to prevent monopolies and price-fixing. Congress passed the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 specifically to outlaw various unfair methods of competition in business, as well as to outlaw unfair or deceptive acts or practices that affect commerce negatively.
For our specific interest, manufacturers of various bedding materials were required to list all filler materials on labels attached to the product, and whether they were new or reused. To cut costs, some manufacturers were stuffing mattresses and other forms of bedding with animal hair, old rags, corn husks, newspapers and even some forms of food waste. Of more serious concern was the belief that some were using recycled and unwashed bedding from hospitals. Some of these materials were obviously unsafe, attracting pests such as lice and cockroaches, as well as potentially spreading communicable diseases.
Thus, if a tag was properly affixed, consumers could decide what was in their own best interests in terms of its contents vs. price. To keep unscrupulous retailers from removing tags from bedding, the specific wording “DO NOT REMOVE THIS TAG Under Penalty of Law” was added. Unfortunately, no one told consumers this did not mean them until the wording was finally changed sometime during the 1990s.
Although I’ve been unable to locate law tags with used stuffing materials, I have found tags, such as the one shown nearby (circa 1941), listing “all-new” materials including moss, goose down, curled horse tail hair, rubberized hair, hog hair, horse mane, “fibre wood” and more. Most even list the percentages of these materials.
Beginning in 1925, Pennsylvania used orange tags to denote previously used (recycled) materials.
It didn’t take long, of course, for the revenue stamps to follow. They not only provided additional revenue for states with these regulations (which helped with enforcement costs), but also provided some “teeth” for enforcement (evasion of taxes and nes for scofflaws).
Over the course of about 80 years, a total of 19 states and the city of Detroit had law tag revenue stamps. The first was Maryland, which used them from about 1923 through sometime in the 1950s. The last was Oklahoma, which used stamps from 1945 until sometime around the year 2000. Connecticut was likely the state with the shortest period of use — just three years, from 1937 to 1940.
States with law tag stamps
Nineteen states and Detroit used bedding stamps on law tags at various times. Dates, in most cases, are somewhat approximate, as few states recorded exactly when stamps were started or discontinued. Where a precise date is uncertain in this list, a question mark has been inserted. Much is still unknown about these stamps and their uses.