Redeeming memories at the trading stamp store

“What is economy for you? When you buy quality merchandise at consistently low prices and get S&H Green stamps on your cash discount.” —S&H Green Stamps ad slogan

“You keeping that old trash can,” asked someone as we disassembled the household my parents spent 62 years putting together.

“You mean this little black trash can with the poodle holding a parasol painted on it,” I asked? “Reminds me of Mom. I was just a kid the day she got this at the S&H Green Stamp store.”

Memories are a facet of harboring everything from old cars to small remnants of life past. The garage housing my trio of old cars is adorned with reminders of an era celebrating the same one the cars represent, the one during which I grew up. There’s the standard complement of automotive signs hawking cars and products long gone, but not forgotten. But, there are also a few recalling snippets of every day life that have unceremoniously slipped into extinction.Blue chip-sm

Things like trading stamps, once a boon to generations of families, that were dealt a blow from a changing retail economy ushered in by big-box stores and finished off by the Internet.

They originated almost 100 years earlier when merchants in the 1890s reportedly devised trading stamps as a bonus enticing customers to pay cash instead of carrying credit with the store: a common practice many years ago. Gas stations followed suit about 20 years later with chain supermarkets were on board by the 1920s.

Filled books of stamps were originally taken in trade for merchandise in the store giving away the stamps. In 1896, the Sperry & Hutchinson company became the first to offer them to different types of merchants and opened redemption centers where books of stamps could be exchanged for household items, furniture, jewelry, toys, and many other items.

S&H Green stamps became the most popular brand alongside names like Blue Chip, Gold Bond, Plaid and others employing the connotation of value, savings and “something for free.”

Traveling from Mount Pleasant, Texas, to the Green Stamp redemption center on South High Street in Longview with Mom and Granny was a big deal. The expectation was that Mom might have enough left over for something fun. That seldom happened, I suspect because she already had her books budgeted toward household needs before making the trip.

A little budgeting today will be in order among collectors seeking an original sign identifying the brand of stamp a merchant offered for doing business with them.

Inquiring about the price of one S&H Green Stamp sign at a car swap meet down close to Houston a few years ago very nearly required a dose of oxygen for me to recover and continue the quest. The search did continue however, and a couple of years later I happened up on one priced within my budget in an antique shop in Jefferson, albeit one with a little more “patina.”

A companion for it was adopted last weekend from a car swap meet in Fort Worth when a blue and yellow sign bearing “Blue Chip Stamps,” almost covered up by other items, caught my eye.

“Blue Chip Stamps” was a competitor to S&H Green Stamps, but research yielded little history about them other than their demise amid lawsuits and acquisitions.

They did have cool looking signs, however. A deal was made for the one I stumbled onto last weekend, and it has been added to my garage wall collection.

As I counted out money for the agreed on price, I briefly considered the humor in asking the vendor if he gave trading stamps with a purchase. That is until that other old stamp memory crossed my mind. You know the one .. about Mom making the kids lick stamps to stick in the books. That part wasn’t so funny.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion (http://www.lightandchampion.com) and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers (http://www.tribnow.com).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s