Thursday, March 17, 2011

An Export Bill of Lading from St. Louis

According to the War Revenue Law any shipping receipt, bill of lading, or manifest, for the carriage and transportation of any goods was to be taxed. The tax on domestic shipments was one cent, and shipments to any foreign destination were taxed ten cents. Domestic bills of lading are quite common, but examples of export bills of lading are surprisingly rare. More on that later, now let's consider the document at hand.

Louisville & Nashville Railroad Bill of Lading for Luedinghaus-Espenschild Wagon Company
St. Louis, Missouri to Havana, Cuba
September 28,1899

As one can see from the size of the stamp in relation to the form, this is an oversized document. It measures 17" x 13.5" and is replicated here by stitching four scans together, hence the minor misalignment at the bottom center. It details the shipment of 3,110 lbs. of wagon parts, (or perhaps the parts for one wagon) from the Luedinghaus-Espenschild Wagon Company of St. Louis to Havana, Cuba. Cuba, site of the start of the Spanish American War, was an American Suzerainty at this time and a likely target for increased American trade.

By the 1890s the Louisville & Nashville Railroad had become one of the premier Southern routes. Originally formed in the 1850s as a small local rail line from Louisville to Nashville (it took years to actually reach Nashville), the company outmaneuvered its competition and absorbed many of them in the process. In 1880 they gained control of the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railroad thus gaining entry to the important St. Louis market. They also gained access to the Gulf ports in the 1880s and stretched into Pensacola in 1893 setting the stage for this shipment. Service to Cuba via steamships was announced by the L&N in January 1899, just 9 months prior to this shipment.

initials of J. N. Chandler, Agent who signed the document

Luedinghaus-Espenschild Wagon @1894

The Luedinghaus-Espenschild Wagon Company can be traced back to the 1850s; in 1853 the Mormons bought 14 wagons from them for their trek West to the great Salt Lake area. The firm lasted into the 1930s by which time they also were producing trucks.

One can easily find taxed domestic bills of lading on eBay and elsewhere; but export bills of lading are exceeding difficult to find. It was years before I obtained this one and in more than 35 years of collecting I've seen less than 10 and most of those are to Canada (we'll blog about those sometime). One would expect bills to foreign destinations to be less prevalent than domestic bills, but why so rare?

The answer lies in Fairbank v. United States wherein the US Supreme Court ruled the 10-cent tax on foreign bills of lading to be unconstitutional; i.e. the tax was equivalent to a tax on the articles included in bills of lading, and therefore a tax on exports, in conflict with the constitutional prohibition against such taxes. The ruling confirms that the 10-cent tax was not on the document itself but the underlying transaction it represented. Subsequently, by Act of June 27, 1902 the Secretary of the Treasury was authorized and directed to refund sums paid for documentary stamps used on export bills of lading. On July 8, 1902 the Commissioner of Internal Revenue issued rules for making such refunds which required the submission of the taxed documents to the Internal Revenue Department along with refund claims. We'll likely never know how many such claims were made but certainly the decision to refund the tax for documents submitted to Internal Revenue has made them exceeding difficult to now find.

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