Russian beard tax token from the reign of Peter the Great

This is a Russian beard tax token from the reign of Peter the Great, who set out to modernize Russia by getting everyone to shave. Anyone who wanted to keep a beard had to buy one of these tokens (which bore the legend "the beard is a superfluous burden"). Costs varied by profession -- nobles and officers paid 60 rubles, top merchants paid 100, and so on. Additionally, everyone passing into a city while wearing a beard had to pay a kopek's worth of face-fur-toll.

Update: You can buy replica beard tokens, too.

Beard Tax Token, 1705 (via Neatorama)


      1.  I stand corrected: shaving everything and leaving only a (hopefully) long queue has the hallmark of metrosexuality all over it and so, the Qing emperors were the real initiators of that greatest advance for mankind.

  1. Knowing how these things works, as soon as it was expensive to have a beard, it became fashionable to have one, am I right?

  2. Pictured is not the side that says ‘The beard is a superflous burden.’ It’s the side that says “Beard tax paid” (Literally, “Money taken”)

  3. Two things.

    1) If you wanted to modernize a society, I think there’s more relevant ways to exercise these attempts than facial hair control.

    2) If only the wealthy and popular can afford beards, then beards become the status symbol of the wealthy and popular. So the control actually achieves the reverse, it invigorates a robust facial hair culture where facial hair is a desirable attribute to show that you’ve made it.

    So in summary: facepalm.

      1.  In Turkey’s defense, they have a long history of having outside cultural influence forced upon them by various rulers. Banning a hat (or two) may seem extreme (or silly) but it was all part of finding their own cultural identity.

    1. Two other things.

      1) Although Peter I aimed to modernize the Russian society in general, beard tax was most of all meant for the 1% of that society, namely the Boyars and his courtiers.

      2) It’s one thing if you are already immensely rich, czar’s best buddy with an awesome beard. It’s a bit different, if it’s known that czar doesn’t dig bears and you’ve chosen to keep it anyway, after you paid a ridiculous tax and received a taunting token.

      1. Look I’ve made it, I can afford to piss of the Zar and I can afford it too! Woot, I pimped my beard. I’m now gonna hang the token of wealth off it to show off. Would go grand with my spinning wheel rims on my lorry.

    2. Flaunting a beard either you marked as an opponent of the Tsar’s policies or hopelessly unfashionable conservative Orthodox believer (or both). Considering that Peter the Great sister’s had twice tried to launch a coup d’etat (her powerful supporters were stringed up outside her window), positioning yourself as an opponent could be both dangerous and definitely harmful for your career at the court. The price for a beard was higher than just the tax. It certainly didn’t make you popular.

  4. I assume this tax applies to men only, so “everyone” jars a bit. If you think I’m being pedantic consider the sentence “Peter the Great required everyone with breasts over a C cup to wear a bra”.

  5. There once was a daycare center in Israel, and the owner grew tired of parents arriving late to pick up their little Israeli larvae.  So she (or perhaps he) instituted a small fine for lateness.  To everyone’s surprise, the frequency of lateness went way up.  It turns out, parents saw it not as a penalty, but as a fee.  If they could pay a few extra shekels and get an hour of free shopping time, it was a bargain.

    I wonder if the beard tax could have had the same effect? 

    1. Yeah, Freakonomics cited that day-care study. But isn’t the solution simply to find the amount of shekels that’s worth more than an hour of shopping time?

      In Russia the beard tax kind of worked (among other measures), resulting in a more “European”-looking court.
      In England the beard tax had been introduced 160 years before by Henry VIII, who later changed his mind, grew a beard and ended the tax. It was reintroduced by his daughter, though.

        1. That’s nice.
          So even if the incentive doesn’t work, the “astronomical fees” should be enough to reimburse the extra hours.

          1. The question is whether to go from an honor and responsibility model, to an economic model.   The first works in a community, but if you decide that what you are really running is a market for day care services and not a community, then, of course, the incentives have to be economically motivating.   The first can be more efficient, if you have buy in.  Once you throw it away though, you have to commit to incentives that actually work.

  6. The chin is indeed the window to the soul, so only the privelaged may afford to keep their black hearts hidden.

    Hang on, what about stubble? And ridiculous moustaches? And what if you shaved but then drew a fake beard on with felt tips? And what of the homeless? They might not be able to afford beard tokens OR razors, their predicament plunging them further into impossible debt.

    1. the Tax is based on your profession. So the rich had to pay far more for the right to own a bears then the peasant.

      That’s why Romney’s grand parents moved to Mexico.

  7. A tax wasn’t necessary, you should have just had to prove that you’d earned your beard through hardship, payin’ dues, and badassery. All the soft 18th century Russian hipsters would have to cut them off or pay the highest fee..

    1. Well. Those who wore their facial hair ironically were considered half a century ahead of their time in terms of style, and permitted to keep their beards for free.

  8. This is why Russia has declined – everything is bass-ackwards.

    Beards are normal. Shaving and its costly implements is unnatural. Plus, a nice beard always implies trustworthiness as we all know – yet another reason for us in the west to have them but a good reason why the Ruskies shouldn’t be allowed them.

    Bearded Brad
    Kraków, POLSKA

  9. A couple of things (related to me decades ago by the most excellent Dr. Marvin Thomas) that people haven’t already hit:

    Peter’s father taxed men without beards.  This wasn’t a new tax, it was a total reversal of the basis of beard taxation.

    Russian Jews, who were of course exempt from Christian prohibitions on usury (moneylending), were religiously required to wear facial hair.  The beard tax was a significant income generator for Peter, who (like most European monarchs) owed significant amounts of money to Jewish moneylenders.

    1. I wondered to what extent it was consciously antisemitic, and for that matter what the exposure of Jews was to this issue in that era…  up to 1725.

      1.  As I understand it, at the time it was intentionally targeted at Jews, although it’s arguable if that is really what “Anti-semitic” means.  Also confusing the issue, this was long before “anti semitic” was redefined to mean “anti Zionist”.

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