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Collecting Antique Dog Tags
Small treasures
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In 1888, a stray Terrier mix named Owney was informally adopted by the U.S. Railway Mail Service. Owney’s travels began in Albany, New York; riding on mail sacks, he journeyed all over the U.S. As he traveled, employees of the Railway Mail Service would attach tokens and dog licenses to his custom-made harness and jacket. After his death in 1897, his body was preserved, along with his special harness and numerous dog tags, and is still proudly displayed at the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

Because of his history of “collecting” tags, Owney is also the unofficial mascot of the International Society of Animal License Collecting, a small but fiercely devoted club dedicated to preserving the history of dog tags and generating interest in this unique hobby.

Though they were originally made to be disposable, vintage dog license tags are lovely little artifacts that exhibit a touching amount of care in their design and craftsmanship. It is easy to see why they were so often kept by families for sentimental or ornamental reasons, and why they still appeal to collectors. Finding a century-old tag is an extraordinary experience, especially if it is still attached to an old leather or metal collar. Keeping them as they were found honors these sentimental keepsakes, and also preserves the historical evidence that allows more accurate dating of the items.

Dog licenses and the practice of taxing tags have a long and international history. Dog licenses were documented in Utrecht, Holland, as early as 1446, and there is evidence that dogs were taxed in Germany by 1598. One of the oldest known surviving dog licenses dates from 1775 and is from Rostock, Germany. The oldest known American dog license tag is an 1853 Corporation of Fredericksburg (Virginia) medallion.

With the rise of middle-class pet ownership in the nineteenth century, the bureaucracy involved with dog licensing expanded and the appearance and design of the tags and licenses themselves became more involved. The earliest form was paper dog licenses. They came in a variety of colors, with details of the dog being licensed on the front; sometimes a printed image of a dog appeared as well. Paper licenses (from Massachusetts) were issued as early as the late 1840s. An 1899 Southborough, Mass., paper license fee was a whopping two dollars for one dog—a very high price for that era, and evidence of the value people placed on their pets.

The next step, toward the end of the 19th century, was metal license tags, those familiar collar accessories that so often announce a dog’s presence with a cheery clink. At least 16 countries are known to have issued metal tags before 1900, but these are extremely rare; the most commonly found tags date from the 1940s on. Brass, copper, tin and aluminum were popular for tags, and many old metal tags have acquired handsome, well-worn patinas. Humorous, quaint, elegant or naïve, these metal miniatures are incredibly varied.

It’s intriguing to imagine the process by which these strictly functional items, indicating payment of a tax, came to be designed. Some are simple round or oval disks, but popular shapes also include acorns and bells, as well as thematic forms like doghouses, dog bones and dog-head silhouettes. More unusual forms can also be found: six-pointed stars, three-leaf clovers, locks, keystones and butterflies. Some U.S. states used the shape of their capitol building and, in 1896, the city of Chicago issued an unusual and ornate beehive-shaped license.

Foreign tags often incorporated a coat of arms, an embossed dog or particular breed on their tags, sometimes in amazingly fine detail. Austria used highly ornate images of dogs on their brass and copper pre-1900 tags. It’s interesting to see how history, in the larger sense, has had an impact on the small history of dog tags. For example, during WWII, compressed fiber and plastic tags were created in order to spare the metal that was needed by the military. In 1976, many states issued Liberty Bell-shaped tags to honor America’s bicentennial; they were either red, white and blue or a single-color anodized aluminum.

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Submitted by mike r | September 29 2010 |

i have a 1926 rabies vaccination tag from la county # 1 on it i guess it is the first one issued then anybody know aqnything about it?

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | September 29 2010 |

Mike, I suggest you contact Diane Bandy at http://www.doglicense.org/. We'd love to hear what you find out.

Submitted by Tracy | March 12 2011 |

Where can you research tags? Is there a way to find out the value? I just started collecting and it is so much fun. I have found some on ebay but is there other places to find them for sale? I started collecting my home state Maryland and would love to know when the first tags were sold here. So far I am finding very little on the subject. Any help or direction would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you!

Submitted by Ed | October 19 2013 |

Mike, I have found some old Allegany Co. Maryland Dog Tax Tags !923,1925. Would like to know when they started also.

Submitted by Carolyn | March 14 2011 |

When we moved to Belize many years ago, our old girl Suki came with us. I had a special tag made for her new address which was pretty much the middle of nowhere. She lived to be 15 and went to the Bridge long ago. I totally get the interest in old tags as I've kept hers as a fond remembrance of a much loved companion. I had no idea collecting tags was a hobby though -- very cool!

Submitted by Norskeyenta2 | March 29 2011 |

Searching through an old barn we found this 1949 Dog Tag from Tipton(Cedar County) Iowa. It has a number on it and I wonder if it has any value other then sentimental . I would like to find out who owned it. They might be deceased by now. 62 years ago. I know the animal is gone by now. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

Submitted by Anonymous | January 18 2012 |

are antique dog tags have any worth?
i have one from 1939...i use it on my keychain lol
should i not?

Submitted by Anonymous | January 20 2012 |

i found a 1916 richmond is it worth anything

Submitted by pmcoins | February 16 2012 |

As a coin dealer for the last 37 years, I have found everybody collects something, sometimes not even aware of it till the flash of brillance or you find a page like this. Dog tags could be a lot of fun as it has not been worked to death YET! I am guessing the guys and girls with metal detectors will turn up the most, but you can root around in junk bins at the local flea markets and find all kinds of neat stuff.As they say in the coin business,"GOOD HUNTING"

Submitted by Bob | February 22 2012 |

I am one of those that you mention that do metal detecting. I have found quite a few nice tags from Redlands and San Bernardino CA. The earliest is 1897 Redlands, They range from 1903 to 1922, One 1918 San Bernardino and 1918 Redlands both are shaped like dog houses. all in all I have dug around 30 tags. I don't know if they have any worth but are fun to look at. Thanks for your time Bob

Submitted by Anonymous | April 18 2012 |

I have found a 1890 - 1891 dog tag I would like to know more information about the history of dog tags. It has a district number and registered number on the tag. I have cleaned it with Brasso and it is shining beautifully.

Submitted by dave | January 6 2013 |

I like your site. i sent a membership fee to you.i am looking forward to talking to your members about old dog tags, maybe doing some trading with members, mainly trying to find out as much about my collt. as i can!!! Also i happen to love dogs a whole lot, & think people should think alot more before getting one or giving one up. after all there aint no such thing as a free puppy, it all cost money &time!!!! YOUR FREIND DAVE!!!

Submitted by Anonymous | February 19 2013 |

Hi My name is James, my dad and I used to look for burried treasure with his metal detector. We found a dog tag dated JULY 1893 TO June 1894 district no 87 reg no 66 ( Victoria Australia ) Its mine now. I was wondering what it may be worth. Or if the original owner may have decendants who may want to give me alot of money for it. cheers James

Submitted by Scottie | June 16 2013 |

We found 3 dos tags - one is 1897 Lake Mills, WI
one is 1920 Jefferson County, WI
the third is a 1924 Jefferson County, WI
Is there any value to these?

Submitted by Tagguy | August 16 2013 |

The 1897 tag would sell on ebay for between $200 to $300. The jefferson County tag ( shape of WI) between $15 and $25. the 1924 tag ca. $5 to $10. Are you interested in selling the 1897 tag?

Submitted by Jo | July 12 2013 |

we have a dog tag dated July 1 1896 to June 30 1896 South Australian district 3 registration no. 52 found in the NT in approx. 1996.
Any info please?

Submitted by john | July 13 2013 |

I just unearthed a 1928 #11 dog license from keyport nj. Anyone know the monetary value of sed item thankyou

Submitted by Barb Sweigart | October 5 2013 |

I just received a 1965 dog license that belonged to my dad. I am a dog walker and can't think of anything more fun to collect. :)

Submitted by Terri | November 14 2013 |

My old homestead is being renovated by a nephew...his mom(my sister) found an old Elk County, Pennsylvania "dog tax" tag...1908...the house has been in the family for several generations...my great grandfather lived there at the time but we can't seem to find any local history of the dog tag's....where can I find some information on this?..thanks

Submitted by John | February 24 2014 |

I have municipal dog tags/licenses from across canada cities,municipality's etc any idea on wear I could buy or look up for sale so I may be able to add to my collection of Vancouver bc dog tags/licenses.

Submitted by super_sonnentag | March 29 2014 |

i found a 1900 evansville, wi dog tax license while metal detecting any clue on the value?

Submitted by Chris Whitney | April 29 2014 |

I found a group of vintage Dog Tax Tags from the 40s and 50s from Grass Valley Ca. They all differ but the one that intrigues me is the 1944 tag that's made out of wood was that due to saving medal during the war and does that make it more desirable to a collector?

Submitted by Hardo Baker | July 7 2014 |

have 3 licenses (2) from Pacific GROVE, CALIF. 1947 #12; 1948 #396; and (1) from Monterey Calif. 1938 Dog license #262. Can u tell me their value and where I might be able to sell them?

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