What 11 Common Objects Would Cost in 2015 if Colonial Taxation Still Existed

It’s safe to say the American colonists were pretty upset about the taxes and tariffs imposed on imported goods in the 1760s and 1770s—upset enough to start a war. But at rates like ten shillings or a couple of pounds, the tariffs hardly sound oppressive to modern ears. That is, until you do the math to modernize the prices. Here is just how much 11 everyday items would cost if they were taxed today at the same levels they were in colonial America.

1. An Issue of mental_floss Magazine; $293.56 in taxes

Paper was among the most heavily taxed goods under the Stamp Act of 1765. For a pamphlet or newspaper larger than one whole sheet, the Stamp Act imposed a duty of one shilling per page and two shillings for every advertisement. That means a 35-page (printed on both sides) issue of a magazine with 10 advertisements would cost £186.98 today, or $293.56—on top of the newsstand price.

2. A Diploma; $234.84 in taxes

Nearly $300 for a magazine seems like a bargain considering colonists had to pay the equivalent of $234.84 for a single sheet of diploma paper under the Stamp Act. Any piece of paper, skin, piece of vellum, or parchment used for a certificate of degree taken at a university or academy incurred a stamp duty of two pounds (valued £149.58, or $234.84 today).

3. A Pair of Dice; $58.72 in taxes

Under the Stamp Act, a tariff of ten shillings was added to every pair of dice sold. In today’s economy, that would leave you paying over $58 for a pair of dice. Even more harrowing, the penalty for being caught selling an illegal pair of dice (and therein bypassing the tariff) would cost you ten pounds per die—or 20 for the pair. This penalty is equivalent to over $2300 today.

4. A Deck of Cards; $5.87 in taxes

Each deck of playing cards sold in the colonies was charged an extra shilling (or $5.87 today) under the Stamp Act. While that might not seem like much compared to the exorbitant duties on dice and paper, things are put into perspective when you consider that you can buy a deck of cards today for well under $5.00—that makes the duty in excess of 100 percent of the cards’ value. Also, much like dice, the penalty for selling counterfeit cards was 20 pounds (thousands of dollars).

5. A Calendar; $1.96 in taxes

A stamp duty of four pence (or $1.96—which now seems like a bargain!) was added to one-year calendars and almanacs printed in the colonies.

6. A Pound of Tea; $1.46

Under the Townshend Acts, a duty of three pence (approximately $1.46 today) was added to every pound of tea sold in the colonies. A common misconception is that the colonists protested the tax on tea because it was too high, when if fact, the Boston Tea Party was in response to cheap, rather than expensive, tea. In order to bail out the failing East India Company, England granted the company a monopoly on the sale of tea in the colonies and set a low tax on tea in order to undercut tea smuggling to the colonies. The colonists were angered by Britain’s attempt to restrict their trade as well as impose taxes (of any sort) against their will.

7. Foreign Coffee; $350.80 in taxes

The Sugar Act of 1764 imposed a duty of 2 pounds, 19 shillings, and 9 pence on every hundredweight of foreign coffee sold in the colonies. This is even more egregious when you consider that the tariff on British coffee was a mere 7 shillings ($41.10) per hundredweight. Foreign coffee was more than eight times more expensive than British coffee, nearly ensuring the British a monopoly on colonial coffee sales.

8. Foreign White Sugar; $129.16 in taxes

A hundredweight of foreign white sugar incurred an outrageous duty of 1 pound, 2 shillings—or nearly $130—under the Sugar Act.

9. Wine from Spain or Portugal; $58.72 in taxes

A ton of wine imported from Spain or Portugal was subject to a duty of 10 shillings (approximately $58.72 today). Not so bad, right? The crazy thing about this tariff is just how bonkers it makes the duty on wine imported from other places seem. Take, for instance…

10. Wine from Madeira; $821.94 in taxes

According to the Sugar Act, on “every ton of wine of the growth of the Madeiras, or of any other island or place from whence such wine may be lawfully imported” was placed a tariff of seven pounds. That’s 14 times more than wine from continental Europe!

11. License to Sell Wine; $469.68 in taxes

Under the Stamp Act, the paper on which you printed your license to sell wine—but, significantly, not wine and spirits—was stuck with a stamp duty of 4 pounds (or $469.68 dollars today). Much like the tariff on wine itself, the absurdity of this duty comes into focus when you compare it with other kinds of liquor licenses. The paper on which you printed your license to sell spirits—but not wine—had a duty of only one pound ($117.42). And the paper on which you printed your license to sell both wine and spirits had a duty of 4 pounds—the same as the duty on your license to sell wine alone. These tariffs seem to indicate that the Crown wanted to drive the sale of liquor (which was more often English-made) over wine (which was more often foreign-made).

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

1. Apple AirPods Pro; $219

Apple

You may not know it by looking at them, but these tiny earbuds by Apple offer HDR sound, 30 hours of noise cancellation, and powerful bass, all through Bluetooth connectivity. These trendy, sleek AirPods will even read your messages and allow you to share your audio with another set of AirPods nearby.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

2. Sony Zx220bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones (Open Box - Like New); $35

Sony

For the listener who likes a traditional over-the-ear headphone, this set by Sony will give you all the same hands-free calling, extended battery power, and Bluetooth connectivity as their tiny earbud counterparts. They have a swivel folding design to make stashing them easy, a built-in microphone for voice commands and calls, and quality 1.18-inch dome drivers for dynamic sound quality.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

3. Sony Xb650bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones; $46

Sony

This Sony headphone model stands out for its extra bass and the 30 hours of battery life you get with each charge. And in between your favorite tracks, you can take hands-free calls and go seamlessly back into the music.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

4. Martha Stewart 8-quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker; $65

Martha Stewart

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new pressure cooker, this 8-quart model from Martha Stewart comes with 14 presets, a wire rack, a spoon, and a rice measuring cup to make delicious dinners using just one appliance.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

5. Jashen V18 350w Cordless Vacuum Cleaner; $180

Jashen

If you're obsessive about cleanliness, it's time to lose the vacuum cord and opt for this untethered model from JASHEN. Touting a 4.3-star rating from Amazon, the JASHEN cordless vacuum features a brushless motor with strong suction, noise optimization, and a convenient wall mount for charging and storage.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

6. Evachill Ev-500 Personal Air Conditioner; $65

Evachill

This EvaChill personal air conditioner is an eco-friendly way to cool yourself down in any room of the house. You can set it up at your work desk at home, and in just a few minutes, this portable cooling unit can drop the temperature by 59º. All you need to do is fill the water tank and plug in the USB cord.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

7. Gourmia Gcm7800 Brewdini 5-Cup Cold Brew Coffee Maker; $120

Gourmia

The perfect cup of cold brew can take up to 12 hours to prepare, but this Gourmia Cold Brew Coffee Maker can do the job in just a couple of minutes. It has a strong suction that speeds up brew time while preserving flavor in up to five cups of delicious cold brew at a time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

8. Townew: The World's First Self-Sealing Trash Can; $90

Townew

Never deal with handling gross garbage again when you have this smart bin helping you in the kitchen. With one touch, the Townew will seal the full bag for easy removal. Once you grab the neatly sealed bag, the Townew will load in a new clean one on its own.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

9. Light Smart Solar Powered Parking Sensor (Two-Pack); $155

FenSens

Parking sensors are amazing, but a lot of cars require a high trim to access them. You can easily upgrade your car—and parking skills—with this solar-powered parking sensor. It will give you audio and visual alerts through your phone for the perfect parking job every time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

10. Liz: The Smart Self-Cleaning Bottle With UV Sterilization; $46

Noerden

Reusable water bottles are convenient and eco-friendly, but they’re super inconvenient to get inside to clean. This smart water bottle will clean itself with UV sterilization to eliminate 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria. That’s what makes it clean, but the single-tap lid for temperature, hydration reminders, and an anti-leak functionality are what make it smart.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

Absentee Ballot vs. Mail-In Ballot: What’s the Difference?

Liliboas/iStock via Getty Images
Liliboas/iStock via Getty Images

Since you mail in an absentee ballot, it seems like mail-in ballot is just a convenient alternative for people who always forget the word absentee. And though the terms are often used interchangeably, there is technically a difference.

Up until the Civil War, American voters were generally required to vote at their local polling stations in person. But when states realized this would prevent hundreds of thousands of soldiers from voting in the 1864 presidential election, they started passing laws to let them send in their ballots instead. As The Washington Post explains, state legislatures have since broadened these laws to include other citizens who can’t make it to the polls on Election Day: people who are traveling, people who have disabilities, people attending college away from home, etc. Because these voters are all physically absent from the polls for one reason or another, their ballots are known as absentee ballots.

Some states require you to meet certain criteria in order to qualify for an absentee ballot, while others don’t ask you to give a reason at all (which is known as “no-excuse absentee voting”). Since this year’s general election is happening during a pandemic, many states have temporarily adopted a no-excuse policy to encourage everyone to vote from home. But even if you don’t need to provide an excuse, you do usually need to request an absentee ballot.

According to Dictionary.com, mail-in ballot is a more general term that can refer to any ballot you send in. It’s often used when talking about all-mail voting, when states send a ballot to every registered voter—no request necessary. Oregon and a few other states actually conduct all elections like this, and several other states have decided to do it for the upcoming presidential election. But even though you don’t have to send in an application requesting a mail-in ballot in these situations, you do still have to be registered to vote.

Because voting processes are mostly left up to the states, there’s quite a bit of variation when it comes to what officials call ballots that you don’t cast in person. You could see the term mail-in ballot—or vote-by-mail ballot, or advanced ballot, or something similar—on an application for an absentee ballot, and you could hear absentee ballot used in a conversation about all-mail voting.

No matter what you call it, you should definitely mail one in for this election—here’s how to do that in your state.