We are all familiar with customer loyalty programs. Reasor’s Foods, Walgreens Drug Stores, Ace Hardware, and other retailers offer Rewards cards or apps that offer discounted prices, on their products, or in the case of Reasor’s Foods, a discount on QuikTrip gasoline. For many years, Warehouse Market had Magic Coins. One coin was handed out for every five dollars spent and was worth ten cents toward a specifically advertised product.
Tradings stamps were another way to entice customers to stay loyal to a merchant, beginning over a century ago and lasting until the 1980s. Although there were several competitors such as Gold Bond Stamps, Gunn Brothers Stamps, and others, the most successful, prolific, and enduring trading stamps were S&H Green Stamps.
As early as the 1700s, merchants gave out copper coins, with purchases to entice customers to return and use them on their next visit. Although it was not very cost-effective, it did garner repeat business.
The Sperry & Hutchinson Company (S&H) started by Thomas Sperry and Shelley Hutchinson in 1896, created stamps to use for its loyalty program, and since the stamps were green (an obvious choice because it’s associated with money and prosperity) they were cleverly dubbed S&H Green Stamps.
S&H sold its stamps to retail stores that would then give them out to customers as an incentive to shop at their store over a competitor’s or to buy more of a particular product. Customers would collect the stamps, which ranged in value from one to 50 points and place them in a booklet provided free by S&H. Once full, the 24-page booklet (50 points per page), which was worth 1,200 points when full, could be redeemed for just about anything, from toasters to draperies, either at a local redemption center or through S&H’s enormous 178-page mail-order catalog.
At the height of its success in the 1960s and 1970s, S&H sold three times more stamps than the U.S. Post Office and their rewards catalog was the largest publication in the country. It is estimated that 80 percent of American households collected Green Stamps during their peak.
A little known fact is that the inspiration for the names “Starsky and Hutch” (a popular tv police show that aired in the late 1970s) came from S&H Green Stamps
Slot manufacturer Bally Technologies created an S&H Green Stamp slot machine well over a decade ago.
I remember my mother accruing a large number of stamps, filling up several books. She would go to the redemption store at 41st Street and Yale in Tulsa, to exchange the stamps for merchandise. The store was like a small department store. There was a plethora of products available, everything from watches to televisions. Among the items, she obtained by redeeming the books of stamps, were an electric ice cream maker, a metal ice chest, a Sunbeam mixer, and a wicker picnic basket.
Sadly, a series of recessions during the 1970s decreased sales of Green Stamps and the stamp programs in general. The value of the rewards declined dramatically, requiring either far more stamps to get a worthwhile item or spending money for an item that was barely discounted from the price at regular stores, Thus began the demise of Green Stamps, as well as its competitors.
The company was first sold in 1981, then in 1999, Walter Beinecke, the great-grandson of Thomas Sperry, bought the company and reshaped S&H into a combination of an online and card-swipe enterprise. A holding company then purchased S&H in 2013.
The stamps themselves, the stamp-saver books, and the catalogs are now collectible items. They represent an era when customers did not shop for the best price and were rewarded for their loyalty to merchants with the ubiquitous little green stamps, which could be redeemed for a vast array of products. The stamp merchandise catalogs are also an excellent source for identifying merchandise from that period, such as Melmac dinnerware, Corningware, Libby glassware, and many other vintage consumer goods.
S&H Green Stamps has morphed into S&H Greenpoints. At one time, consumers could redeem his or her old Green Stamps (receiving $1.20 per filled book) by mailing them in and filling out information on the Greenpoint website. Unfortunately, they no longer accept Green Stamps.
Want to see more Greenstamp Catalog fun? Flashbak.com has a story with excerpts to the 1975 catalog that you can find here.