In Christian III's time, import duties were charged on the beer that was imported in large quantities from Germany. Simultaneously, the export duty on cattle and horses was increased from 2 to 20 skillings. These duty increases led to a massive surge in smuggling. This prompted the king to command that smuggling should be punished as second theft.
If smuggled goods was involved with a greater value than a half mark, such as cattle, it meant hanging. A gallows was erected at the border with a cowhide with horns nailed to it, so it was plain for everyone to see what would happen to those who smuggled cattle across the border.
There were lots of illegal fords where smuggling could take place. The other places where it was possible to get over the river Kongeå were the crossings that people were allowed to have if they had houses on both sides of the river as well as the crossings that the eel trap farmers had limited rights to use.
The smuggling was not easy to stop. Right up until the Reunification in 1920 when the customs border was moved south, a considerable amount of smuggling went on over the old border.
In the years 1764-66, approximately 56,500 cattle were reported for being housed in stalls in Jutland. Only 25,800 of them were registered as being completed and cleared through customs. Since virtually all the cattle housed in stalls were exported, more than half of them must have been smuggled south and bypassed the customs posts. In addition to cattle, many horses were also smuggled south.
Smuggling on a big scale
From south to north commodity smuggling took place on a large scale. Many different products were involved. Some were products that were seeking to be manufactured in Denmark, like various manufactured goods, and which were not even allowed to be established, as well as everything else under the sun that people wanted to avoid paying customs duties for.
Stimulants were popular contraband goods. A prefect who lived in the late 1700s, reported that wine, French brandy, tobacco and coffee were hardly mentioned in the customs books, as almost all of these stimulants, and it was a large quantity of them, were smuggled into the Kingdom.
Author: Peter Munch Jensen, former museum curator, Sønderskov Museum