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Trading stamps are small paper coupons given to customers by merchants in loyalty marketing programs that predate the modern loyalty card. Like the similarly-issued retailer coupons, these stamps only had a minimal cash value of a few mils (hundredths of a cent) individually, but when a customer accumulated a number of them, they could be exchanged with the trading stamp company (usually a third-party issuer of the stamps) for premiums, such as toys, personal items, housewares, furniture and appliances.
The practice started in the 1890s, at first given only to customers who paid for purchases in cash, to reward those who did not purchase on credit. It grew with the spread of chain gasoline stations in the early 1910s and the then-new industry of chain supermarkets in the 1920s, and merchants found it more profitable to award them to all customers. Trading stamps were at their most popular from the 1930s through the 1960s.
An example of the value of trading stamps would be during the 1970s and 1980s where the typical rate issued by a merchant was one stamp for each 10¢ of merchandise purchased. A typical book took approximately 1200 stamps to fill, or the equivalent of US $120.00 in purchases.
In the United States, the most popular brand of trading stamps was "S&H Green Stamps", sometimes informally simply known as "green stamps". Other larger brands included "Top Value Stamps", "Gold Bond Stamps", "Plaid Stamps", "Blue Chip Stamps", "Buccaneer Stamps", and "Gold Strike Stamps". "Texas Gold Stamps" were given away in their namesake state mainly by the H-E-B grocery store chain, and Mahalo stamps in Hawaii.
Merchants would pay a third-party trading stamp company for the stamps, and then would advertise that they gave away trading stamps with purchases. The intent of this was to get customers to be loyal to the merchant, so that they would continue shopping there to obtain enough stamps to redeem for merchandise. Customers would fill books with stamps, and take the books to a trading stamp company redemption center to exchange them for premiums. Books could also be sent to the trading stamp company in exchange for premium merchandise via mail order catalogs.
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 US government.
By the 1960s, trading stamps had spread to other countries. Entrepreneur Richard Tompkins established Green Shield Stamps in the United Kingdom (independent of S&H Green Stamps, but with a similar trademark), selling stamps at filling stations, and signing up Tesco supermarkets to the franchise in 1963. By 1965, the British co-operative movement was offering trading stamps as a new means of allocating patronage dividends to its consumer members.
The bottom fell out of the trading stamp business in 1965, when many supermarkets stopped issuing stamps altogether and started spending more money to advertise lower prices. Their role has been subsumed by rewards programs offered by credit card companies and other loyalty programs, such as grocery "Preferred Customer" cards.
Modern cultural references
- Philip K. Dick wrote several novels set in a future society where trading stamps have replaced currency, among which Galactic Pot-Healer, and Nicholas and the Higs (one of his several early, unpublished novels).
- In "Stamp Scamp", episode 20 of the TV cartoon The Yogi Bear Show that originally aired October 7, 1961, Chopper gives Yakky a trading stamp so his book will be completely filled, but the wind keeps blowing the stamp away from them.
- In A Hard Day's Night (1964), when John Lennon enters the 'Baggage Car' scene to play cards, he says, "Don't worry, son. We'll get you the best lawyer green stamps can buy."
- In 1964, musical parodist Allan Sherman had a song "Green Stamps", to the tune of "Green Eyes," on his album Allan in Wonderland in which the singer describes buying immense quantities of unneeded groceries in the desire to collect trading stamps.
- Les Belles-Soeurs, an important two-act Révolution tranquille play by Québécois Michel Tremblay in 1965, features a group of women sticking Gold Stamps in booklets as its setting.
- In "54-40 and Fight", episode 15 of the TV sitcom The Brady Bunch that originally aired January 9, 1970, the girls and boys fight over 94 books of trading stamps, each wanting to trade them in for different premiums. Furthermore, they must decide in short order since the trading stamp company is going out of business. After attempts to reach a compromise fail (the boys want a rowboat, the girls want a sewing machine), neither side will give in. Carol and Mike allow their children to compete to build a house of cards with the winner to decide. The girls win, but their sense of compromise eventually prevails when they buy a portable color television set.
- In "Just a Lunch", episode 17 of the TV sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show the originally aired January 16, 1971, Mary receives free trading stamps from a date. She ends up saying that she will use her six books of trading card stamps on a baseball mitt for her nephew's birthday.
- In "The Merger", episode 76 of the TV sitcom Sanford and Son that originally aired December 20, 1974, Fred watches a car dealership TV commercial. They offer Blue Chip Stamps to anyone who makes an offer on a car. Fred calls and makes a very small offer just to be able to get trading stamps — a pile of them are seen near the phone. At the end Fred is at the kitchen table sorting all of the trading stamp books he's collected.
- In "The Mama who Came to Dinner", episode 23 of the sitcom Mama's Family that originally aired on December 22, 1983, Naomi used three books of trading stamps to buy four TV tray tables for a dinner party.
- In The Class of '62, episode 4 of series 7 of the BBC sit-com Only Fools and Horses (first broadcast 20 January, 1991), Roy Slater reportedly got Trigger 18 months in a Young Offenders Institute by planting 3,000 Green Shield Stamps on him.
- "Homer's Phobia", episode 168 of the TV cartoon The Simpsons that originally aired February 16, 1997, references trading stamps.
- In SFA'S Atomic Mouse issue 3 published in 2001, Atomic Mite creates a real version of comic book superhero Jackal Lantern and is tricked into covering himself in Plaid trading stamps to send him home. (Plaid trading stamps was a loyalty program of A&P supermarkets.)
- "Everybody Hates a Liar", episode 4 of the TV sitcom Everybody Hates Chris that originally aired October 23, 2006, centers in part around Chris' father running to redeem the trading stamps before the trading stamp company closes. Julius wants to get something fun with his trading stamps, but Rochelle wants a new refrigerator.
- Film critic and blogger Roger Ebert nostalgically discusses redeeming Green Stamps for metal book shelves during his boyhood in his essay "It's sweltering hot out" written in 2009.
- Big Bear Stores - chain of supermarkets with their own trading stamp program called "Buckeye Stamps".
- Blue Chip Stamps - US company that produced trading stamps.
- Carlson Companies - originally Gold Bond Stamp Company, issuer of Gold Bond Trading Stamps.
- Green Shield Stamps - first trading stamps issued in UK.
- S&H Green Stamps - US company that produced trading stamps.
- Thomas Sperry - co-founder of S&H Green Stamps.
- Two Guys - a chain of stores that issued its own trading stamps program.
- Federal Trade Commission v. Sperry & Hutchinson Trading Stamp Co.
- Canadian Tire - A retail chain in Canada that offers Canadian Tire Money. This is more of a scrip system, but the idea of getting value rewards for purchases is still there.
References and sources
- Richard Davenport-Hines (2004). "Tompkins, (Granville) Richard Francis (1918–1992)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2008-06-19.
- David Randall (2002-09-22). "Rear window: In the grip of Green Shield mania". The Independent on Sunday. Retrieved 2008-06-19.[dead link]
- Geoffrey Owen (February 2003). "Corporate Strategy in UK Food Retailing, 1980-2002". Archived from the original on 2008-05-28. Retrieved 2008-06-19. "Tesco...signed up with Sperry & Hutchinson, issuer of Green Shield stamps, in 1963 and became one of that company’s largest clients."
- "Our history: 1951–2000". The Co-operative Group. Retrieved 2008-06-19. "1965 Dividend Stamps introduced as an alternative to the traditional methods of paying the 'divi', and as a response to the adoption of trading stamps by other food retailers; individual societies operated their own stamp schemes. CWS launched the national Dividend Stamp scheme in 1969."
- Lonto 2004c.
- Ebert, Roger (June 20, 2009). "It's sweltering hot out". Roger Ebert's Journal. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
- Lonto, Jeff R. (2004c). "THE TRADING STAMP STORY (or When Trading Stamps Stuck) Part 3". STUDIO Z•7 PUBLISHING.
- Cunniff, John (February 8, 1974). "Trading stamp use falls". St. Petersburg Times. p. 17-A. Retrieved August 9, 2011.