We’re at the height of Movember, a charitable movement raising money for men’s health issues like prostate cancer by encouraging men to grow their facial hair while people donate money in amounts appropriate to the growth accomplished. Sort of like Jump Rope For Heart, but with less panting and leg cramps. Beards have been used to raise money in the past as well, but in a much different way.
Peter the Great ascended to the tsarist throne of the Russian Empire in 1682, at only ten years old, and by the time he turned twenty he had seen Europe’s cultural and scientific growth and wished the same for Russia. From a purely superficial stance, one of Peter’s goals was to adopt the dress and style of 17th century Europe.
Until Peter’s modernization push, a thick, bushy Russian beard was a sign of status; when Peter shaved off his beard in the style of au courant European culture, he passed a resolution that encouraged everyone else to follow in kind.
A beard tax was instituted in 1705: men who wished to keep their beard could pay a tax, otherwise men would have to shave. Men who paid the tax were given a proof-of-payment token to show they had made their payment.
Members of the Boyards received silver beard tax tokens and the lower classes received copper tokens. A counterstrike indicated if additional years had been paid. On one side depicted the double-headed eagle of Russia and the words “payment received”, and the reverse showed a nose, mustache and beard with the words ” The beard is an unnecessary burden”.
The tokens are quite rare today and sell for thousands of dollars each. As one might expect, people interested in keeping their beards without paying the taxes made for a flourishing counterfeit beard token market, so fakes are somewhat common. Then, in later years, the Russian mints began producing “novodel” replica beard tax tokens, which are “official” as they came from the mint but are not original nor from the correct era. If you’d just like the pleasure of carrying one around in your pocket to prove your beardiness, you can buy pewter replicas here.