Credit card points, fuel perks and discount cards are all known as retail loyalty programs in the marketing world and are designed as a way for businesses to retain customers, but they are nothing new. In 1896, the Sperry & Hutchinson company began offering S&H Green stamps in one of the country’s first retail loyalty programs.
Retailers purchased the trading stamps from S&H and then gave them away to customers at a specified rate when they made a purchase. From the 1930s until the late 1980s, shoppers collected stamps from primarily grocery stores and gas stations in various values and pasted them in booklets provided for free by the merchants. Typically, the booklets had 24 pages and a page required 50 points in stamps, making each booklet contain 1,200 points. The stamp booklets could then be redeemed for merchandise either from the Green stamps store or from its catalog. At one time, the S&H rewards catalog was the largest publication in the nation.
Green stamps weren’t the only game in Pittsburgh. A&P grocery stores awarded customers Plaid stamps, and Kroger issued Top Value stamps. Remember the consternation if the stamps were put into your grocery bag with the ice cream and the stamps became glued to your groceries?
A rocking chair my late grandmother gave me for my second Christmas she redeemed with Green stamps, and it is still going strong nearly 60 years later. It has been painted and given new life and now resides with my three little granddaughters.
I’m hazy on exactly where it was located, but I believe there was a stamp redemption center located somewhere on McKnight Road in the North Hills when I was a kid. Maybe someone can tell me where, or if they had one in their community, but I do remember going into one in the 1960s with my mom and her books of stamps and perusing the merchandise, things like clock radios, lamps, toasters and bathroom scales.
Collecting trading stamps was so popular, that it was estimated that 80% of households in the country collected them. In fact, trading stamps were so popular that a 1970 episode of The Brady Bunch dealt with a battle between the Brady girls and the Brady boys over who would get to redeem the family’s 94 books of “Checker” trading stamps. The teams engaged in contest building a house of cards for the coveted stamp books. The girls won the competition but decide to be magnanimous and buy a color television for the whole family to enjoy.
The economic downturn and the oil crisis in the 1970s, made offering trading stamps less profitable for retailers, and there were legal troubles for S&H Green stamps in 1972 that led to the decline of retailers issuing Green stamps. Eventually, the catalog ceased publication and the redemption centers closed, but until October 4, 2020, you could redeem Green stamps online.
So, if you now find some wayward Green stamps in a drawer hiding with your old Heinz pickle pin or your Pirates Green Weenie, you can’t get anything of value for them except anymore except for the good memories associated with bygone days.