Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Trading Stamps

plaid_stamp_sign_at_cracker_barrel_lubbock_tx_img_4691

By Bill Hathorn – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11219825

Remember trading stamps? S&H Green Stamps, Plaid Stamps, Top Value Stamps, GeM Stamps, Eagle Stamps? These were a fixture of our growing up years. My wife can point to a guitar, an old blue suitcase, and a bowl we use for potato chips that were obtained by redeeming Green Stamps. I remember my folks getting a set of TV trays with theirs, and I have an HO slot car set buried somewhere in our house, the nucleus of which came from trading stamps redeemed for a Christmas gift.

Essentially, these functioned similar to customer loyalty cards and cash back rewards on our credit cards. It was a way by which retails stores, grocery stores, and gas stations encouraged repeat business. We received Plaid Stamps at A & P, Green Stamps at many businesses and gas stations, Top Value stamps at Kroger (when they still did business in Youngstown).

Both of the big downtown department stores gave out trading stamps. I know because one of my jobs in customer service at McKelvey’s (later Higbee’s) was to give out GeM stamps (from G.M. McKelvey) when customers would bring us their receipts. We also redeemed the pink savings books for store cash. Strouss’ had a similar program with Eagle Stamps, from their parent company, May. The challenge was how to tell customers that we could not redeem their Eagle Stamp books at McKelvey’s. And when Higbee’s management decided to discontinue the stamps, we got an earful!

S & H (short for Sperry & Hutchinson) Green Stamps had local “redemption centers”, showrooms where you could see available items and how many Green Stamp books it would take to “trade” for the item. It felt like you had gotten something for nothing when you walked out of a store with an item for which you had exchanged a bunch of stamps that the grocery stores and other businesses gave you automatically. I seem to recall that some of the trading stamp companies also had catalogs from which you could order, paying with your completed books.

One difference from today’s loyalty programs is that when you pasted your stamps into their books, you could immediately see your progress toward the goal of a completed book. These days, you have to check an app or go to a website–the feedback is more virtual than tangible, and carries with it all the data retailers are gaining about our shopping preferences and habits. The old way was far more private–no one knew what you had purchased to get those stamps. All I ever looked at on receipts was the amount someone had spent.

According to Wikipedia, at one time S & H Green Stamps boasted that they printed more stamps each year than the U.S. government. This changed during the recessions of the Seventies as gas stations stopped giving them out during the energy crisis, and stores cut prices rather than give out stamps, or turned more to couponing. Now trading stamps are among the ephemera of a by-gone era.

Do you still have any laying around your house, perhaps hidden away in a drawer? Would love to see your pictures.

One thought on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Trading Stamps

  1. Bob
    Loved the stamps–all of them. We were very excited to get the gifts. Crazy purchase–my husband used the Strous stamps from my engagement ring to buy under ware for our honeymoon.😀
    Loved all the stamps!!
    Michelle

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