A Blast From the Past: Trading Stamps

From my work in progress:

As for trading stamps as we know them, they are a marketing tool that dates back to the late 19th and early 20th century. According to Jeff R. Lont’s three-part series, “The Trading Stamp Story,” from StudioZ.7Publishing, a department store in Milwaukee introduced the first trading stamps in 1891. Merchants would issue stamps to customers as an incentive to shop at their store. The gummed stamps were saved inside booklets that, when filled, could be exchanged for merchandise.

In 1896 the Sperry and Hutchinson Company became the first trading stamp company to operate as an independent business with their S& H Green Stamps. They provided stamps and booklets to merchants and even opened their own store where the only  type of payment accepted was their own S&H stamps. Other companies and merchants soon followed suit, reaping billions of dollars by the mid 20th century. Stores and service stations handed out S&H or other trading stamps to
entice customers. Names like Gold Bond, Triple-S, King Korn, Blue Chip and Top Value popped up on the scene. By playing on a housewife’s weakness for “free things” (sound familiar, avid couponers?) trading stamp books were one of the
hottest sales ideas of the post-war decade.

If you are a woman of a “certain age” (ie.older than me) you might have fond memories of the days when stores offered trading stamps as an incentive.

Okay, I’ll come clean. When I married my husband David exactly 32 years ago today, he did come with a dowry of several S&H green stamp booklets. Lest you think I was a gold-digger, I was from a very small town in Iowa and I’d never seen the likes of those booklets before. As a newlywed in Cedar Falls, Iowa, I soon discovered the fun and excitement of shopping at a store that offered trading stamps. I can remember trading in those first booklets for a wastebasket, of the tall kitchen variety. Yes, our first trading stamp purchase was something to hold our garbage in. (an omen of things to come?) The excitement of turning in those first half a dozen booklets was palpable . We waited with bated breath for the merchandise to arrive at the store and to receive the long-awaited phone call that we could come pick it up.  I have no recollection of what we used in our small student housing trailer until then. The monthly rent for the trailers was under $90 a month.  I imagine we used empty grocery sacks, from our twice-weekly trips to the grocery store where we picked up eggs, milk, bread, canned soup, ribs for barbecuing, and not much else.  (to the tune of about $13  a week) At that cost, I’m surprised we netted enough additional booklets to get a bathroom rug and eventually, a high chair for the baby that was born less than ten months after our wedding.

At a garage sale yesterday I found this unique vintage trading stamp booklet holder, in which a housewife could save her trading stamps. (and loose change in the little bottom drawer)  Of course, it makes the perfect display on my desk as I work on my book, but it will be even better with the stamps I found on eBay, and maybe a few vintage coupons poking out of the top.

One thought on “A Blast From the Past: Trading Stamps

  1. James Torgeson says:

    My grandmother worked at the S&H store that was either in Waterloo or Cedar Falls. She was quite excited when my mother took her to S&H HQ in New York City, during one of her visits east.

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