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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 (thousandths of a dollar) 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 of retailers issuing trading stamps started in 1891 at the Schuster's Department Store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At first, the stamps were given only to customers who paid for purchases in cash as a reward for not making purchases on credit. Other retailers soon copied the practice of giving trading stamps that could be redeemed at the issuer's store. One example was L. H. Parke Company a Philadelphia and Pittsburgh manufacturer and distributor of food products that included coffees, teas, spices along with canned goods. They established a trading stamp program in 1895 under the name Parke's Blue Point Trading Stamps for customers who purchased Parke's products in local retail grocery stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The program was very successful.[who?] Parke set up viewing rooms where retail customers could inspect and obtain various premium goods in their headquarters buildings in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Independent trading stamp companies
In 1896 the Sperry and Hutchinson Company was created as an independent trading stamp company in the United States and by 1957 it was estimated that there were approximately 200 trading stamp companies in operation. Typically, merchants would pay a third-party trading stamp company for the stamps and would then advertise that they gave away trading stamps with purchases. Large retailers were usually given a discount on the stamps while smaller retailers generally had to pay the full cost of adopting the trading stamp program for their business. 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. 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.
While one of the most popular brand of trading stamps in the United States were the S&H Green Stamps, informally 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.
Growth and decline
The use of trading stamps grew with the spread of chain gasoline stations in the early 1910s and the then new industry of chain supermarkets in the 1920s. Merchants found it more profitable to award them to all customers rather than cash only customers. Legal challenges regarding the use of trading stamps were raised in various jurisdictions around the United States but were often struck down.  Some merchant groups disliked trading stamps and actively worked to have them banned in their areas. 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 various trading stamps. During this time trading stamp companies had between 1,400 - 1,600 retail centers were consumers could redeem their trading stamps for consumer goods. 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. In 1968 it was reported that more than $900 million in stamps were sold in the United States.
Beginning in the early 1970s the use of trading stamps began to decline. Gasoline service stations stopped offering them due the energy crisis that occurred and many supermarkets started spending more money to advertise lower prices rather than issue stamps.  During the 1980s there was a resurgence in the popularity of trading stamps for a time but overall their use continued to decline. Their role has been replaced by coupons, rewards programs offered by credit card companies and other loyalty programs such as grocery "Preferred Customer" cards. Through the 1990s and early 2000s the majority of the remaining trading stamp companies either ceased operations or converted to an online format. In 2008 the last operating trading stamp company in the United States, Eagle Stamps, closed.
International trading stamps
The use of trading stamps began in Canada circa 1900 but their use was banned by the Canadian government in 1905. In 1959 the grocery chain Loblaws introduced their Lucky Green Stamps program and a trading stamp program was started by an IGA grocery store in Winnipeg. Although faced with legal challenges the use of trading stamps in these instances was upheld as legal since they did not meet the definition of trading stamps in the Canadian Criminal Code.
By the 1960s the use of trading stamps had spread to the United Kingdom. Entrepreneur Richard Tompkins established Green Shield Stamps in the United Kingdom. Althoug based along a similar model, the Green Shield Stamps were independent of S&H Green Stamps but carried a similar trademark. Tompkins' company began selling stamps to filling stations, small retailers and had signed up the Tesco supermarket chain to the Green Shield Stamp franchise in 1963. The S&H Company began offering their stamps in the United Kingdom as well but with the color changed to pink. 1965, the British co-operative movement was offering trading stamps as a new means of allocating patronage dividends to its consumer members.
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 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.
- 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.
- 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 money - a similar system at Canadian Tire stores in Canada, using scrip instead of stamps.
References and sources
- Morrell, Alan (July 31, 2015). "Whatever Happened To ... trading stamps?". Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Retrieved 2015-12-27.
- Lonto, Jeff R. (2000). "THE TRADING STAMP STORY (or: When Trading Stamps Stuck)". studioz7. Retrieved 2015-12-27.
- Clapp, Newell A. (1962). "Trading Stamps" (PDF). Ohio State Law Journal. vol. 23, no. 1 (1962): 35–55. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
- Parke's Blue Point Trading Stamps. AN IRWIN FAMILY HISTORY BOOKS.
- Marketing Communications 50 (12 ed.). March 22, 1905. pp. 30–31.
- Moore, Sam (August 2, 2012). "Trading stamps were more than currency for some - Farm and Dairy". Farm and Dairy. Retrieved 2015-12-27.
- Mastrangelo, Joseph P. (1980-01-22). "Green Stampede: The Redeeming History of Trading Stamps". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2015-12-27.
- Young, William H.; Young, Nancy K. (2004-01-01). The 1950s. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 56. ISBN 9780313323935.
- Trex, Ethan (January 11, 2011). "Why Are Coupons Worth 1/100th of a Cent?". Mental Floss. Retrieved 2015-12-27.
- Callan Jr., Phillip J.; Jacobs, Norman I. (April 1, 1963). "Trading Stamps and the Law". Boston College Law Review 4 (3). Retrieved December 27, 2015.
- The Dry Goods Reporter 46. B.F. Jacobs. July 3, 1915. p. 59.
- Lonto 2004c.
- Jolley, Harmon (October 30, 2005). "Remembering Trading Stamps - Chattanoogan.com". www.chattanoogan.com. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- Pounds, Marcia H. (August 19, 1985). "Redeemed Retailers Glad They`re Sticking With Trading Stamps". tribunedigital-sunsentinel. Retrieved 2015-12-27.
- York, Ann E. Laforge; Ann E. Laforge Writes On Business From New (1987-08-16). "WHAT'S NEW IN TRADING STAMPS". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-12-27.
- Schlueter, Roger (February 10, 2015). "Answer Man: Inflation licked trading stamp business". Bellville News - Democrat. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- BEYETTE, BEVERLY (1993-08-19). "The Chips May Be Down, but Don't Count 'Em Out". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- "Trading stamps". Business in United States of America. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- "Postal History Corner". Retrieved 2015-12-28.
- Richard Davenport-Hines (2004). "Tompkins, (Granville) Richard Francis (1918–1992)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2008-06-19.
- Buttle, Francis; Maklan, Stan (2015-02-11). Customer Relationship Management: Concepts and Technologies. Routledge. ISBN 9781317654766.
- 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" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) 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, 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.