Looking Back
July 5, 2018

The days of trading stamps

In today’s world you can save money by downloading coupons to your phone and save money as you shop. Of course, if you follow my column on a regular basis you know that I don’t do that from my 2003 Tracfone!

LookingBack_R_CMYKBack in the 50s and 60s when I was growing up, my parents didn’t have cards in their wallets that were issued by the various stores where they shopped. They also didn’t have a phone they could carry around with them. We had only one phone and it was hardwired to our living room wall.

So was there a motivation back then to save money as you shopped? You bet! It was called “trading stamps”. The more money you spent, the more stamps you got!

It was actually quite a colorful process in our house. We had “green” stamps, “blue” stamps, “gold” bond stamps and “plaid” stamps.

They were about the size of postage stamps and were given out by the merchants as an incentive for paying cash and not buying items on credit.

The stamps were placed in a booklet and each page was worth 50 points. A 24 page book equaled 1,200 points. The stamp stores provided you with a catalog that told you the number of books you needed to buy the various items within.

The stamps were not self-sticking. In order for them to adhere to the pages you had to wet them. In our house we had a small plastic water bottle with a sponge on top and we ran that over the stamps. It certainly beat licking them!

You could buy small items, large items and everything in between. For young people starting their married life, popular items to save for were pots and pans, sheets, pillow cases and blankets.  For those who had already established their homes the goal might have been furniture or a television. Children were not forgotten in this world of stamps as the catalogs had a toy section with choices of small items as well as bicycles.

I live in my family home and a couple of years ago I found a package of pillowcases tucked way on the top shelf of a cedar closet. Stuck to the front of the package was a sticker from the Triple-S Blue Stamp Store that said 2 ½ books!  There is a sentimental connection to this package as my mother, who passed away almost 40 years ago, apparently put it there. I have never stored anything on that shelf because of its depth and the fact that it can only be reached from the top part of a stepladder. Obviously, there has never been a need to search for anything on that shelf either. Finding the package was a nice surprise and it took me on a trip down memory lane.  The pillowcases are now on one of the beds and “the old” is now “the new”!

Where did people shop to get stamps? The more popular places were grocery stores, gas stations and department stores. Because different stores handed out different types of stamps you had multiple booklets going at the same time. I remember my mother trading stamps with a neighbor when one of them bought something at a store where their “regular” stamps were not handed out. Doing that was a “win-win” for both women.

If a mother came home from the grocery store with a lot of stamps she could keep a child busy for quite awhile putting them in a book. I always wanted that “job” and it was happily given to me.

Once you had enough books to buy the items you wanted, how did you get them? In Rutland there was a green stamp redemption store at 110 Merchants Row and a blue stamp redemption store at 10 Terrill Street. The latter was in a building with blue siding which seemed totally appropriate! All you had to do was bring in the books that you had filled with stamps, place an order for the items you wanted and wait to be notified when they came in.

Trading stamps were at their peak of popularity in Rutland during the 60s and 70s. However, trading stamps had their beginning in 1891 at a department store in Milwaukee. They were exchanged for goods in the store. In 1896 the Sperry and Hutchinson Company began issuing S&H Green stamps as an independent business. The company provided stamps and books to merchants in a community. They opened their own stores where you traded stamps for merchandise.

Judging how popular these stamps were with my mother I would say that women, in particular, liked the option of shopping without having to pay cash for items. Many women were stay-at-home mothers in that era so stamps probably felt like the adult equivalent of a kid having “spending money”.

The world has certainly changed since my youth. The closest thing to getting trading stamps today is when Tops Market has their annual Monopoly game. You attach “tickets” to the paper game board and try to match them to various items for a prize.

You know what they say, “What goes round, comes round.” This is pretty close!

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