27. September 2006 · Comments Off on Green Stamps · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, General, History, Memoir, Pajama Game

I don’t know what brought it on, remembering green stamps and blue stamps, and those thin little books that you glued them in to… possibly emptying all those receipts from the grocery store out of my purse, especially those wadded up ones that accumulate down at the bottom. Heck, is that one from the hair-cut place where if you bring in the last receipt again they give you a dollar off? Maybe I had been reading one of Lilek’s little musings about paper ephemera, and it all came together; the memory of Granny Jessie folding her receipts and a long perforated block of green S & H stamps neatly into her purse, and all those times when we were considered slightly older and more responsible, and dispatched to Don’s Market on Rosemead (about a block south of the intersection of Rosemead and Colorado Boulevard) which had had Granny Jessie’s grocery-buying custom for the best part of three decades, with a couple of dollars for some small item, and strict orders to bring back the change and the stamps.

When was the last time I ever saw a block or a string of trading stamps? Mom didn’t patronize grocery stores that offered them, but Granny Jessie did, and most likely Granny Dodie did also. It must have been sometime in the early seventies; by the time I came back to the States to live for good, trading stamps had gone the way of home milk delivery and those wire baskets with glass milk bottles that used to sit on front porches across the last. Which is to say, along with the dodo and passenger pigeon, except in certain very rare neighborhoods. They were a customer rebate scheme dreamed up early in the century just now over, intended to build customer loyalty, and keep the regular customers coming back, again and again and again. That description fit Granny Jessie to a tee. She patronized the same grocery and department store, the same shoe store, the same church and the same doctor for most of her long adult life, from the time she and Grandpa Jim married in the early twenties, until she went to live in Long Beach, in the Gold Star Mother’s home, fifty years later. According to this entry, they were given out mostly by grocery stores, department stores and gas stations. There were several different kinds, and colors of them. I remember S & H Green, and another sort which was blue; both were about an inch long, half an inch wide, perfed and gummed, and given out at the rate of a single stamp for every ten cents spent.

I do remember Granny Jessie sometimes had great long sheets of them, which must have come from Hertels’ on Colorado, where she had an account for as many years as she was a customer of Don’s Market. And Grandpa Jim must have gotten strings and blocks of them when he bought gas for the ancient Plymouth sedan which he had to sell after being rumbled by the local traffic cop when he made a left-hand turn from Colorado Boulevard onto South Lotus Avenue… from the right-hand lane of Colorado Boulevard. Grandpa Jim’s indignantly voiced plea that he had performed the turn in that manner every day for nearly thirty years cut no ice with the Pasadena constabulary, especially when they discovered that his license was several years expired and he was nearly blind, anyway.

Back to the trading stamps…. They had to be dampened and pasted into the pages of thin little books, so many a page, which was nice and easy when it meant the long sheets, earned when Granny Jessie had spent a lot on groceries and Christmas presents, but was not so easy when you had to paste the little strings and small blocks of stamps gleaned from many small purchases. This was rather finicky and tedious work, which may be why Grannie Jessie saved it all up for JP and I to do, when we came for a visit. She had a great lot of empty stamp books and a bundle of stamps in a drawer in the kitchen hutch. It would be our job, to sit down at the kitchen table with a damp sponge set onto an old china saucer, and fit stamps onto the pages of the blank book. This meant working in several months worth of stamps, tearing off the large blocks at the perfs, and fitting together the smaller quantities in order to completely fill in the page.

And this was entirely worthwhile from Grannie Jessie’s point of view, because the filled books could be taken around to the S & H Green Stamp store…. Which was, I think, on Rosemead, close to Don’s Market, and redeem the filled books for various bits of consumer merchandise; plates and saucepans, serving dishes, appliances large and small, furniture large and small. I have a distinct memory of Granny Jessie saving up her filled Green Stamp books for some rather substantial piece of household fittings, a television even. Probably much of what passed for luxury goods in the tiny white house on South Lotus, with the enormous oak tree in the front yard, came from Granny Jessie’s careful collection of stamps.

Mom had no truck with them at all, though; she was of the opinion that the stores that offered them were more expensive than those which didn’t, and Mom shopped on a strictly lowest-price-available agenda, no fancy fripperies like Green Stamps need apply for Mom’s household dollar. And furthermore, she had no time to fiddle around with pasting stamps into a book… and that is probably what led to the decline and fall of the whole scheme, although it does linger in several different and less cumbersome formats.

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