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Boomers Journal: A Drawer Full of …

In the early 1960s, more S&H Green Stamps were printed annually than postage stamps. Contributed photo

Every kitchen has one…that notorious junk drawer filled with dead AA batteries, pencils with broken lead, pens with no ink, scribbled notes that have no meaning, stick pins, broken rubber bands, telephone books, bread bag ties, miscellaneous bent nails, rusty safety pins, etc…etc…

Back in the day, your junk drawer, just like the one I grew up with, most likely also held a cache of treasures. Where else but the junk drawer would you keep a stash of valuable trading stamps?

I remember with fondness…searching for, and finding, those precious single S & H Green Stamps in the junk drawer. I remember pondering over the redemption catalogs and dreaming of what I might be able to talk mother into buying. Ahhh, those good old days of collecting S & H Green Stamps (and Gold Bond Stamps).

The “history in a nutshell” of S & H is interesting and fun trivia. The Sperry and Hutchinson Company was created in 1896 as an independent trading stamp company in the United States. Popularity might have grown with the spread of chain gasoline stations in the early 1910s and the then new industry of chain supermarkets in the 1920s. Following World War II the use of trading stamps expanded when supermarkets began issuing them as a customer incentive. By 1957 it was estimated that nearly 250,000 retail outlets were issuing trading stamps, with nearly two thirds of American households saving them. In the early 1960s, the S & H Green Stamps company boasted that it printed more stamps annually than the number of postage stamps printed by the U.S. government. In 1968 it was reported that more than $900 million in stamps were sold in the United States. (According to Wikipedia.)

Mom collected S & H Green Stamps when she shopped at the participating retailers, supermarkets, grocery stores or gas stations that gave her 10 stamps for each dollar spent; 1,200 stamps were needed to fill a redemption book. These redemption books were, of course, kept in the junk drawer. It was our job to fill the pages of the books with the accumulated stamps. This could take what seemed like years.

As a new year rolled in, we’d realize that helping mother rummage through our junk drawer produced stamps. It was almost like a printing press right there in our very own kitchen. It was an exciting time as we dreamed of what those stamps could “buy” us. Yup, the junk drawer was our treasure chest.

It was funny; we didn’t take time to lick and stick those stamps, and fill the pages of the book, as mother brought them home throughout the year(s). No, instead, the stamps piled up in the junk drawer until mother motivated us to search…and told us to start licking.

Our dreams of “buying” something we wanted, but didn’t necessarily need, seemed more attainable as our licking paid off, and books started to fill up with stamps. We would lick and lick and paste those stamps into the book, one after another, filling one page at a time. As we licked, we studied the catalog to see what we might be licking our stamps for and continue to collect and collect and collect. We begged mother to go to stores that “gave” S & H or Gold Bond stamps and anticipated the trip to Alexandria to the outlet store that would redeem our stamps (and our hard work).

Although I am confident that mom and dad found ways to redeem their trading stamps, the very first purchase I remember is when mother got a new vacuum cleaner. After that, I helped my sister lick stamps for a transistor radio, which she allowed me to listen to while in her presence, (and while licking more stamps), but I never did earn enough to buy my very own (transistor radio).

S & H stamps were losing their luster.

Beginning in the early 1970s the use of trading stamps began to decline. Gas stations stopped offering them due to the energy crisis, and many supermarkets started spending more money to advertise lower prices rather than issue stamps. The role of stamps was replaced by coupons. Through the ‘90s and early 2000s the majority of any remaining trading stamp companies either ceased operations or converted to an online format, according to Wikipedia.

At any rate, those S & H Green Stamps hold a fondness in my memory bank as I think about digging through our junk drawer and sitting around the kitchen table licking each and every single one that we could find.

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