Wandering Magpie from Surf City, CA, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
S&H Green Stamps
From the later part of the mid-1900s, many women collected S&H Green Stamps. There were other competing trading/loyalty rewards stamps. S&H just became the largest nationally. Supermarkets, five-and-dime chains, gas stations, and other shops gave stamps with every purchase. These stamps would come in different denominations (one, ten, and fifty). The majority of our Green Stamps always came from the grocery store.
Storing and trading the stamps was easy, as the grocery stores would give away books. These are where the stamps would be pasted to tracking how many you earned. Not quite as elaborate as the smart-phone apps we use these days. I remember my sister and I would fight over who was allowed to lick the stamps and put them in the books. These were like the old stamps sold by the postal service - "lick'em and stick'em". Although the glue was not the most pleasant flavor, we still challenged one another for this honor. Mom kept the books stowed away in a kitchen drawer. Loose stamps were also stored in the same drawer. She kept them here until there were enough to redeem them for what she wanted.
Similar to the old Sears & Robuck Company's "Wish Book", S&H and the other stamp companies distributed catalogs. Here you could see all of the items within your grasp, if only you had enough books filled up. I think the S&H Green Stamp catalog was called "The Idea Book", but it has been a very long time and I may not remember this correctly.
In the catalog, you could see how many books and partial books it would cost for a sewing machine, television, blender, or anything else you may need. Budgets were very thin for many families in those days. Many women would save their books for years in order to accumulate enough books for a fan, lamp, or anything else they wanted. This was a time when most women did not work outside of the home, thus the household budget was for a single earner. Collecting stamps was a means to obtain items they wanted yet couldn't afford with the budget provided by their husbands in many cases.
You may recall an episode of "The Brady Bunch", where the boys and girls were competing for the right to wield the purchasing power of their trading stamps. The boys lost the stressful contest, and the girls gloated until they came to make their purchase... and bought something everyone would like in the end. This was at a time when S&H was beginning to close a few of their local stores.
Some supermarkets and shops gave out competing stamps. A&P issued their own "Plaid Stamps". In some communities where there were competing supermarkets, women would trade the stamps they earned with other women who traded at a different store. This allowed the benefit of occasionally shopping at one store and being able to trade those loyalty stamps to someone who had some of your types, for the place they normally shopped. If you normally shop at the Giant but happened to shop at the A&P, you might trade the Plaid Stamps to a friend who collected Plaid Stamps but not Green Stamps, and had some Green Stamps to trade. My grandmother traded stamps with her friends often. She would shop at the Giant, A&P, and Piggly Wiggly... depending on what she needed to buy each week. Women helped one another by giving them full books if needed. My grandmother would often give my mom a full book when she needed something for the house.
I remember my grandmother using them to buy Christmas presents and birthday gifts. My mom usually needed them to get things for our house. Looking back, I suppose we were poor, but you'd never know it because we lived like most of the people around us.
Back to the future
Times were very lean for many of us in those days. I recall dishes coming in clothes detergent boxes, and drinking out of jelly jars that were intended to become glasses. We used potato chip boxes (round similar to a hatbox today) for storage, as well as shoe boxes.
Loyalty rewards these days come in the form of scannable cards and entering our phone numbers. These means of tracking us and gathering our spending habits are rewarded with a few cents off of certain items, or an occasional perk like a free drink or cents off a gallon of gasoline.
The thing with trading stamps, it allowed us to use them as free money where we could choose what we wanted to redeem with them. Many credit card programs offer similar programs today - but they'll never have the nostalgia that came with trading stamps in our day.
What became of H&S Green Stamps
S&H Green Stamps were the first trading stamps popular across the U.S. and Europe. Thomas Sperry and Shelley Byron Hutchison founded the company in 1896 (there's where the S&H comes from). In the 1930s the company's reward program gained nation-wide popularity. The little green stamps and books were distributed through retailers as a reward for shoppers. The stamps were collected into books and the books were redeemed for merchandise through the S&H catalogs. They could also be picked up at one of many S&H centers across the country. These were like department stores, offering everything from sporting goods to linens, furniture, and china.
S&H claimed they were issuing three times as many stamps as the U.S. Postal Service in the 1960s. Its catalog was the largest publication in the U.S. - Hatala
"It is estimated that 80 percent of American households collected Green Stamps during their heyday," - Greg Hatala, NJ.com
The major recessions with the Nixon debacle and oil crises in the 1970s impacted the purchasing power with major inflation. This greatly impacted the trading stamp programs, and their popularity slowly declined.
In 2000, S&H revived the program under S&H Greenpoints. The program changed again as relatives of the founders tried to resurrect the company, rebranded as FreshPoints with a point system rather than using stamps. The program ended on October 4, 2020, and is no longer redeeming S&H Green Stamps or Fresh Points.