Denouncement by Domingo Castelo, 18 November 1766, Box 122, Folder 7, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Making it Official — Stamped Paper in Mexican Texas

At the General Land Office, the repository of Spanish and Mexican materials, commonly known as the Spanish Collection, contains thousands of documents that tell the story of the first one hundred years in the history of the issuance of land in Texas.

These documents include correspondence between authorities, character certificates on individuals immigrating to Texas, and, above all, titles. Each land title is unique to a specific location, to the particular authority — land commissioner, local official, or governor — who issued it, and to the life of the individual or family arriving in Texas. Titles, however, have one common trait: Mexican authorities, following old Spanish traditions of revenue making, ordered that the titles be issued on “stamped paper.”

The use of stamped paper had a long history in Spanish America. In 1638 Philip IV of Spain issued a proclamation[1] that enforced the use of stamped paper in the Americas in order to increase revenues during wartime.[2] The law created four different stamps that officials in the colonies needed to use depending on the type of document and instructed that all paper be produced and stamped in Madrid. The stamps, once validated or paid for, could be used within a two-year period. In one form or another, all of these stamps can be found in the documents of the Spanish Collection.

It took over one hundred years for the use of stamped paper to appear in the documents held at the Land Office. The earliest stamp in our collection, with the seal of Charles III, is validated for the years 1766–67 and is part of an accusation by Domingo Castelo of Béxar.[3] Even then, only two stamps appear in the entire ninety-page document. Other documents, like the famed “Blood Title,” include the seals of Charles IV and Ferdinand VII, the last of the Spanish Monarchs to rule Mexico. As shown in this example, smaller stamps were used to validate subsequent years after the initial stamp had been placed on the sheet.

Proclamation of Viceroy Joseph de Yturrigaray, 27 June 1807, Box 125, Folder 15, p. 187v, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

The Spanish stamps had two defining features. The first was the seal of the monarch, including his name, the initials D.G. (Dei Gratia, Latin for “by the grace of God”), and the years for which the stamp was validated. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, paper was also being produced and stamped in Mexico City. These seals are distinguished by an Ṁ (M with a small o on top) that stood for Mexico. The second feature was the class and price of the stamp, which varied from forty-eight reales (six pesos) for a first-class stamp to a quarter of a real for a half-sheet of the fourth stamp.

Proclamation of Viceroy Joseph de Yturrigaray, 27 June 1807, Box 125, Folder 15, p. 187v, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX

Mexican authorities continued the use of stamped paper, albeit with new symbols that denoted the independence of Mexico from Spain. In 1823, the new country passed a set of rules on the use of stamped paper.[4] The decree stated that stamps would include a detailed etching of the national arms — the seal of the eagle on a cactus devouring a snake — with the necessary precautions to prevent its falsification. It also required an inscription with small and clear letters, without numbers or abbreviations, which denoted the type of stamp, its value, and biennium of circulation. As before, the designation of the stamps for a particular type of document continued.

Mexican Land Title to William Pettus, 10 July 1824, Box 1, Folder 34, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

On June 22, 1824, José Antonio Saucedo, Political Chief of the Department of Texas, forwarded the new rules to Stephen F. Austin for use in his colony.[5] The lack of available pre-stamped paper, however, forced Saucedo to grant Austin the right to hand write the “stamp” in the following manner: “3rd Stamp. 4 reales. Validated by the Mexican Nation for the Year of 1824.” To validate the stamp, Austin had to sign it with his last-name only and have the interested party pay the required dues to the competent authority. Saucedo also asked that the authorities keep a log of all the stamped paper and that the amount collected be returned to the authorities at Béxar. The banner above demonstrates how Austin followed Saucedo’s instructions, and Sylvanus Castleman signed off on William Pettus’ payment of the four reales.

Copy of Benjamin Milam’s Letter of Citizenship, 1 August 1827, Box 127, Folder 1, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Eventually, the handwritten stamps were replaced with pre-printed stamped paper, the latter are more prevalent in the documents of the Land Office; all other empresarios followed Saucedo’s instructions on the use of stamped paper. The Spanish Collection also includes stamped paper for other documents, like this second-class stamp used on the copy of Benjamin Milam’s letter of citizenship.[6]

While they represent but a small detail, often overlooked by modern eyes in search of other information, these stamps served an important role at the time of the documents’ creation. They are preserved today as examples of revenue generation from a time long past, and as a link to the Spanish origins of Texas.


[1] Law 18, title 23, book 8 of the Recopilación de Leyes de los reinos de Indias (Madrid: Julián de Paredes, 1681), III: 107–110.

[2] By the mid-eighteenth century, the stamp tax had become a well-established and acceptable form of taxation. King George III of the United Kingdom passed similar legislation to extract revenues in the British American colonies following the French and Indian War. The short-lived 1765 “Stamp Act” called “for every skin or piece of vellum or parchment” to be taxed within “the British colonies and plantations in America.” The Act stipulated the various fees that the authorities would impose on the colonists and covered almost every type of document conceivable. The money collected, though part of the King’s royal coffers, was to be set aside to defray “the necessary expenses of defending, protecting, and securing, the said colonies and plantations.” To read the full text see “The Stamp Act,” USHistory.org, accessed 11/23/2015, http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/related/stampact.htm. Alden L. Powell, “National Stamp-Tax Laws and State Instrumentalities,” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 29, No. 2 (1935): 225; Lynne Oats and Pauline Sadler, “Accounting for the Stamp Act Crisis,” The Accounting Historian’s Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2 (2008): 108.

[3] Denouncement by Domingo Castelo, 18 November 1766, Box 122, Folder 7, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

[4] Leyes, decretos y órdenes que forman el derecho internacional mexicano (México, D.F.: Tipografía Literaria de Filomena Mata, 1879), 715–720.

[5] H.P.N. Gammel, Laws of Texas, 1822–1897 (Austin, TX: The Gammel Book Company, 1898), 1:36. A digital copy of Saucedo’s letter to Austin can be accessed through the Portal to Texas History.

[6] Copy of Benjamin Milam’s Letter of Citizenship, 1 August 1827, Box 127, Folder 1, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.