Since it ‘tis the season for gifts, my husband asked me recently what I wanted to do with all the “frequent flyer” points we accumulated over the past year from our (my) credit card use. We could redeem them for gift cards, shop at Amazon using the points, or (the worst choice of ALL) just get cash back to be used toward our balance (where’s the fun in that???).
I must have been completely immersed in binge-watching “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” because I told him I didn’t care (thus the “free” golf club that was delivered yesterday). Nevertheless, I felt like he should totally thank ME for the amazing gift (Merry Christmas!) since I was the one who spent all that money on the credit card in the first place so that he could get it. No matter that he probably could have just bought the club for a lot less than I spent getting all those points … I get it, I get it!
And while I love the rewards programs that credit card companies offer, and love getting my $5-off coupon from the hardware store (to use only at the hardware store) and of course love choosing my sample-size foundation primer after spending a million dollars at my favorite “retailer of personal care and beauty products,” the VERY BEST customer loyalty program OF ALL TIME was S&H Green Stamps.
If you aren’t lucky enough to be old like me, let me explain the wonder of one of America’s first “shopper loyalty” rewards programs (for those of you who do remember, please share your memories below!).
Operated by the Sperry & Hutchinson company (S&H) founded in 1896 by Thomas Sperry and Shelley Byron Hutchinson, the Green Stamps program was so large that the company posited they issued “three times as many stamps as the U.S. Postal Service!” (Fun fact, the inspiration for the names “Starsky and Hutch,” the 1970s-era police show, came from S&H Green Stamps.)
Whenever you shopped at grocery stores, gasoline stations, and other retailers who participated in the program (and most retailers did participate), you were given stamps (literally green stamps) based on the amount you spent. They all gave out the same stamps (not gas stamps for gas, grocery points for groceries. Just one, small, green stamp that all retailers provided).
The stamps were issued in denominations of one, ten, and fifty points. S&H provided free collection books, and the stamps were licked and pasted into the books. An entire 24-page booklet was worth 1200 points (50 per page).
Just glueing those stamps into those books was the most fun activity ever. Part of the excitement was all that licking (most likely toxic, 1950s glue) and expertly lining up the stamps on each page. When my mom showed me how you could run the stamps over a damp sponge to make the work easier, I was appalled (probably because the adhesive was getting my 5-year-old self high… but who knew? We were also given Paregoric for stomach aches … and THAT was made with opium. Hmm .. no wonder my childhood memories were so happy!).
I hated the 50 point stamps. It wasn’t any fun glueing one stamp on a page. Especially because with each one-point stamp I would glue into that book, I would think about all of the FREE STUFF we could get. I’d study that S&H “Ideabook” for hours.
Then my mom would take us to redeem the books at the Green Stamp Redemption Center (for my fellow Richmonders, I think it used to be the West End Antiques Mall on Staples Mill). My mom wanted practical things like the “Health-O-Meter Oval Bath Scale covered with washable, fluffy, hi-pile fake-fur mat in avocado (4 ½ books)” but I was definitely gunning for the “Sniffles Doll (Drinks and Wets) (1 book).” I’m sure my brother and sister had their own wish lists … and I apologize to them for my single-minded fixation on Sniffles!
And not to rub it in too much to Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z (or even you, you baby Gen Alphas!), but we also used to get free “Golden Wheat” dinnerware in boxes of Duz laundry detergent and Anchor Hocking glassware in Quaker Oats oatmeal boxes. The giveaways were happenin’ non-stop in the 50s and 60s!
Unfortunately, with the 1970s’ recessions, fewer stores offered green stamps and more stamps were required to “purchase” the merchandise. And as other retailers (and airlines) started offering their own rewards programs, the glory days of S&H green stamps ended.
But no matter how great the rewards are at retailers and credit card companies today, nothing will ever replace watching that lady at the grocery checkout tear off just the right number of stamps (five years old and already considering a life of crime … I really wanted those stamps), sitting with my mom glueing them into books, studying that season’s “Ideabook” and especially going with my mom to the redemption center and making our selections together. It was so much more than “free stuff.”
Thinking about you with love, Mom. Thanks for making it fun.