A Book of Green Stamps

Sometimes I find myself in the research rabbit hole. It is where my curiosity ramps up reading and taking in what some might feel is useless information. So be it. It is who I am.

Yesterday I started thinking back to a time when I helped my grandmother paste endless stacks of S&H Green Stamps into small paper books, set aside for a purchase at a later date.

Wandering Magpie from Surf City, CA, USA, Sheet of S&H Green Stamps, CC BY 2.0

Sperry and Hutchinson was not the only company in the trading stamp business although they were arguably the largest. There were others like Top Value, Blue Chip, King Korn, Gold Bond and Plaid. S&H issued Pink Stamps in the UK because another company had already capitalized on trading stamps with Green Shield stamps there.

Various types of stamps were given away with purchases of food or gas as a way to incentivIze customer loyalty. Stamps were given, on average, at a rate of ten stamps for every dollar spent. There were stamps printed in values of one, ten, or fifty points. Stamps were pasted in a book which could then be redeemed at either a storefront or by choosing something out of the Idea Book.

Troubles began when merchants decided to give away more stamps than their competitors or allowed the purchase of merchandise with green stamps or even allowed customers to trade one type of stamp for another. You see, merchants had to purchase stamps from S&H (this was something I never considered). Instead of looking for sale prices, customers would flock to the merchant that offered the most green stamps.

The history is fascinating. From the stamp companies, to the companies that printed the stamps, to the court cases that went all the way to the Supreme Court, this was big business – some $300 million annually. The stamp books themselves had verbiage printed in the front of the book notifying consumers they did not ‘own’ the stamps. Such fascinating rabbit holes – but back to my grandmother!

My grandmother was frugal, so every stamp was important. It took 1200 stamps to fill one book. My siblings and I often helped glue the stamps to the book. You could fill each page with single stamps, or 10 point stamps or 50 point stamps (each page required 50 stamps). The trading stamps had value – they were a currency of sorts and that is in part why the Federal Trade Commission once filed suit against them.

The stamps were printed with glue on the back that required moistening in order to stick to the page of the book. We often sat at the dining room table with wet sponges or envelope moisteners – both of which were much more desirable than licking all those stamps. When a book was completed, it was time for a celebration. 

We lived in a very rural area. There were no redeeming storefronts near us, so we shopped from the Idea Book. There were many things we would have enjoyed splurging on, but times were tough so there would be no purchase of frivolous things. You could buy almost anything – IF you had enough books filled to do so.

Eventually, my grandmother redeemed her books for two pieces of furniture – a small rocking chair and a small circular table with a lamp built into it.  I found one reference in which a woman said she had redeemed 39 books for a small rocking chair. That’s 46,800 stamps and a whole lot of lickin’! 

Here are a few links that are fun to browse through if you grew up in the trading stamp era.

Great walk down memory lane, showing pages of a catalog from 1975.

Livin’ the Dream with Green Stamps: a 1975 Catalog

Lots of comments from readers about purchases they made with green stamps.

Green Stamp Memories

An interview with a gentleman who worked in a printing company who printed S&H stamps and catalogs.

Voices of Oklahoma – S&H Green Stamps

Just reading all of the history here made me realize this was the start of so many reward programs and membership programs we have seen throughout our lives. Such a rich and interesting walk through history.