When we went to the Capitol Movie Theatre in the 1940s, a ticket for kids under the age of twelve cost 10 cents and 2 mills. Without the 2 mills, Mr. Arnold Gould would not let us in. If we gave the ticket seller 11 cents, she gave us 8 mills in change. The 2 mills were for the sales tax that Mr. Gould had to remit to the state of Missouri.
A mill is one-tenth of a cent, or one-thousandth of a dollar (it’s from the Latin word mille, which means “thousand”). Missouri had a state sales tax of 2 percent and issued sales tax tokens to help collect the tax when it came to tenths of cents. If you wanted to buy some dress material at the Southside Dry Goods Store, and Mr. Schmidt’s price for it was $3.70, he would add on the state sales tax of 7.4 cents, so the total bill would be $3.77 and 4 mills. You either gave him the 4 mills, or you gave him another penny and he gave you back 6 mills change.
Beginning in August 1935, Missouri issued tokens in 1-mill and 5-mill values in order to collect the sales tax. They were made of thin cardboard and called “milk-cap tokens” because they looked like the cardboard caps that were used for glass milk bottles.
Then Missouri tried metal tokens, which were slightly larger than a nickel, but thinner. They were lightweight, dull, and ugly and would never be mistaken for a coin. The 5-mill token had a hole in the center. Boys tried to use them in pinball machines, but they jammed the coin slot.
When World War II came, all metal went for the war effort, so Missouri turned to plastic tokens. The 1-mill token was bright red, and the 5-mill token bright green. The plastic easily warped, even under slight heat like sitting out in the sun, but even if they were curled, Mr. Gould accepted them at the Capitol Theatre.
They were useless for pinball machines! We boys laid them on the Missouri Pacific railroad tracks when we heard a train coming and watched the train’s wheels flatten them into half-dollar size.
Inflation after the war caused prices to rise quickly, and separate tokens for tenths of cents fell out of favor. Merchants didn’t like to fool around with tenths of cents, which required doing long multiplication on a piece of paper, so they simply rounded the sales tax to the nearest whole penny. This is what is done today when you buy gas at the gas station. Shoppers were glad not to have to fool around with a separate set of coins in their pockets and purses.
Missouri finally got rid of its sales tax tokens in 1961. It was the last state to do so!
Are Missouri sales tax tokens worthy anything today? So many millions were produced, and they were made so cheaply, that their value is trivial today. Collectibles dealers often sell them in boxes with miscellaneous paraphernalia.
The mills (and the milk jug cap!) in the pictures are from my collection. Some of the information was taken from the website of the American Tax Token Society.
Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.
It’s not very taxing to join the Old Munichburg Association! New memberships cost just $25 (and no mills!)—click here for a membership form!