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  • Writer's pictureHistory Revealed

A Different Kind of Bag Tax

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

More and more communities today are applying a plastic bag tax on the use of plastic bags at stores, whether as a surcharge applied to the consumer at check-out or mandating stores no longer use plastic bags at all. But have you ever heard of renting bags?

Bags account from the Hooe, Stone & Company Ledger, 1770-1773.
Account of Bags, folio 59. Hooe, Stone & Company Alexandria Ledger 1770-1773.

In looking at the Hooe, Stone & Company Alexandria Ledger (1770-1773), we found the "Account of Bags" where the store included the rental of bags as part of its services! From 1771-1772, they rented bags by the day to 11 different accounts. The longest rental was 18 bags to James Kirk for 10 days; the most bags rented was 60 for just a half day to a cash paying customer, name not noted. The daily cost for renting bags was only 1 pence/day; however, the cost for not returning them? Two pounds, 17 shillings, and 6 pence as Townley Bruce discovered the hard way when he didn't return 23 bags to the store and owed 2 shillings, 6 pence/bag. Talk about an incentive to return them!

While we don't know exactly what the bags looked like or always what they were used for (in one instance it was for "Indian Corn"), the Account of Bags does tell us they were made of wrapper (a generic term for fabric used to "wrap" parcels) or osnaburg (a coarse linen cloth, originally made in Germany, and commonly used for enslaved clothing and for bags) and it took roughly 2 yards to make a single bag. Unfortunately, given the functional nature of these containers, very few have survived to the present. As we continue to transcribe the ledger, perhaps we'll be able to determine what the customers carried home?

Unlike today, shopping in the 18th century was always a BYOB experience. If you didn't bring your own, you had to buy - or rent - the packaging to take your parcels home. Makes those plastic bag taxes seem a little less onerous!

Please consider helping us transcribe this ledger on From the Page. Maybe you'll be the one to discover what James Kirk transported using bags rented from Hooe, Stone & Company!


Image credit: Hooe, Stone & Company Alexandria Ledger, 1770-1773, Folio 59. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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