A History of the World in a Dozen Objects: Number 7 - Death and Taxes
Most governments try to have as broad a range of taxes as they can. Whilst to the ordinary citizen it may seem a pain than there are so many taxes, it is actually a very prudent thing for the government to do. The more different taxes there are, the easier it is to forecast how much revenue will be collected because it lowers the risk of fluctuations and non-collection.
Historically, the UK (like many other governments) has had an array of taxes that seem quite weird to us today. A tax on fireplaces for example (hearth tax). This was replaced by the easier to enforce Window tax. If you look at old buildings in the UK you can often see where the windows have been blocked up as an early form of tax avoidance.
Another tax, introduced by King James, was on playing cards. Or more specifically, a playing card: The Ace of Spades. Licences were granted to certain companies allowing them to print copies of the ace of of spades. These had to bear the name of the printer and had to be taxed. The penalty for forgery was death, hence the Ace of Spades became known as The Death Card.
This tax was phased out in 1960, although by then forging an ace was no longer a capital crime. The association between this card and death has continued however. In the Vietnam war US soldiers placed copies of the ace on dead members of the Viet Cong, believing that it would demoralise their comrades, as they were noted for being keen card players and very superstitious. In reality though, there is no evidence that this worked.
More recently in 2006, The US military developed a limited edition set of playing cards displaying the faces of the most wanted members of the Iraqi government. There are no prizes for guessing which card Saddam Hussein represented.