A sad end to a colourful, dearly loved travelling companion
by Bill Blackmore

I must admit to having felt a tinge of sadness when I heard, back in 2014, that the Government of the day had decided to kill off the humble tax disc. But it was true.

From the 1st of November that year that iconic piece of coloured paper, that little gem that had been snugly tucked into the corners of our windscreens for over ninety years, was to be unceremoniously axed and sent to the great scrap yard in the sky, possibly never to return.

Vehicle excise duty was introduced in 1889, but it wasn't until January 1921 that it became compulsory to display a tax disc. The early, single-colour discs, were made from plain paper and had no perforations. The outer part (the selvedge) was either cut, or folded, to give it a circular shape. Initially, they were issued either quarterly, or annually

Tax disc 1921-1956.jpg

Colour printing appeared in 1923. Experiments with advertising on the back of the discs with adverts from companies like Shell Oil were tried, but this was short lived and the experiment ended in 1926.

The back was then generally used to provide information on what to do if a refund was due for an unexpired period if the license.

Perforations appeared in 1938, but went missing from 1942 to 1952. Nobody knows precisely why, but it was likely due to damage to the equipment during the war. A design change took place in 1957, but it was 1961 that saw the biggest change. There was a complete rethink about the design and a new system of monthly issuing was introduced. The new protocol was much fairer and you no longer had to pay out for unused months.

Tax discs 1961-1977.jpg

Another couple of design changes hit with to onset of the digital age, with the final major change taking place in 2001. Silver foil had already been added, but now watermarking and embossing were included. By this time, though, the humble tax disc had turned into quite an expensive piece of paper, so forgery was very attractive. Holograms were finally added as the ultimate deterrent.

Adding colour back in the ‘20s was done for practical reasons. The local bobby could see the discs from a distance and could tell easily if they had expired. (This made it much easier for him to grasp the collars of those nefarious criminals who were wickedly trying to avoid paying their just dues ;)

Gone are those halcyon days though. It’s now electronic widgets in police cars, or invisible detector beams scanning every passing vehicle. It's all very “Star Trek” these days.

Adding colour way back when certainly gave a whole new aesthetic dimension to the discs. Those from the ‘30’s and ’40’s are my favourites. Once all the cleverness came in - wavy lines, embossing and all the fancy holographic magic - something else was lost. The age of innocence perhaps? Maybe that’s why I enjoy producing discs from these earlier periods more than the more recent ones. Being able to recreate a little bubble of time from a bygone era gives me a warm glow. Maybe that’s it. Maybe they simply remind me of my youth.

Hey-ho… nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, is it?

Anyway, the humble tax disc is now dead and buried? Is it? Well, it’s not over till the fat lady sings, as they say. Just because it’s no longer mandatory, or even necessary to display a tax disc, that doesn’t stop you from having one if you jolly well want one.


In reality it can be the icing on the cake for that classic vehicle you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into and that you are justly proud of.

For this purpose I formed Creative Tax Discs. For a very modest price, you can have your own reproduction tax disc commissioned. It can be from any era, in any style and any colour. Even the rubber stamp and vehicle details can be personalised and added for you for that extra touch of originality.

So, whether it’s classic cars, vintage motorbikes, commercial vehicles, or even agricultural vehicles, they can all be enhanced by sporting an authentic looking tax disc. You can even be creative with new vehicles.


Imagine a 1930’s style disc sat snugly in the corner of your windscreen, in a colour that perfectly matches your new car?

It may be a whimsical notion (and I can’t guarantee you a place in heaven for it) but, if you do decide to treat your vehicle to its very own personalised disc, I’m sure it will love you for ever!

So, is it “Rest in Peace” for the humble tax disc?

Never! Not whilst there's breath in my body!

Tax disc 1987-1992.jpg

Bill Blackmore

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