Joyful Musings: What Did Green Stamps Buy You at the Redemption Center?

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S & H Green Stamps


Every once in a while I’ll get a glimpse of my mother – seeing myself naked, hearing my laugh, meeting a situation that demands the remark, “Oh, dear God!”  But today I muse joyfully on something tangible that brings back my mother and seems to elicit an ethereal flashback to many on their own mothers and childhoods: S&H Green Stamps. 

Earlier this week I went to an estate sale with my daughter, Jane.  Jane had never been to one so I explained the concept of selling off items directly from the house where someone has moved on – both literally or figuratively.  I told her one day she might go through our “estate” and, perhaps, invite people in to purchase what they’d like for themselves.  I’m a fan of a good estate sale and appreciate the work- both physical and emotional – that goes on behind the scenes.  Hosting an estate sale is not for the faint of heart.

And back to S&H Green Stamps. As we walked through the ranch house that had all of the signs of the 60s and 70s: clock radios, dictionaries, china, we came across five booklets of S&H Green stamps.  I did not hesitate to pick them up, immediately laughed and showed them to Jane to whom they meant nothing, she showed no reaction, no connection, no idea of the magic these green stamps once meant.

Susan Dromey Heeter, writer and educator Courtesy photo

According to Wikipedia:

S&H Green Stamps was a line of trading stamps popular in the United States from 1896 until the late 1980s. They were distributed as part of a rewards program operated by the Sperry & Hutchinson company (S&H), founded in 1896 by Thomas Sperry and Shelley Byron Hutchinson. During the 1960s, the company issued more stamps than the U.S. Postal Service and distributed 35 million catalogs a year. Customers received stamps at the checkout counters of supermarkets, department stores and gasoline stations among other retailers, which could then be redeemed for products from the catalog.

S&H Stamps meant waiting for something special, pasting those stamps into booklets equaled happy anticipation. My mother always had S&H green stamps in the change section of her pink wallet.   My friend Sheila remarked, “I used to love when my Mom gave me the job of sticking them in the book.”  My friend Ellen shared the visual of her mom sitting at the kitchen table with a small bowl of water into which she’d dip the stamps and then align them with the grids in the booklets.  A former neighbor, Judy (one of ten children) remarked. “We would fight over who would get to fill the books!”  Simply mentioning S&H stamps brought memories of joy, even when Judy admitted, “it seemed to take a week to get the taste of the stamps off our tongues! We weren’t smart enough to realize we could use a sponge!”

Let’s face it, grocery shopping can be a thankless job. You go to the store, fill up your cart, pay, go home and put the groceries away.  I know in my childhood, those groceries went fast – if there were chips, they never even made it to the cabinet. Milk? Gallons gone in minutes. 

But S&H stamps brought hope, some reward in those trips, some lasting meaning. The thought of S&H stamps seems to bring a bright spot to many, my friend Mary remembered, “as we filled up books my parents would alternate between us and it was glorious when it was YOUR turn to pick something at the store.”  Mary could not remember what “the store” was called but, luckily, her husband, Mark, knew immediately. They were referred to as “redemption centers.”

For the most part, people could not remember the actual items “bought” with S&H Green stamps, only the booklets, the memories of those gummy stamps.   Redemption seems an apropos word for the locales in which to redeem stamps, providing that payoff for doing the often mundane and thankless job of grocery shopping or filling of the gas tank.  It’s been said, “A mother’s work is never done.”  S&H green stamps seemed to provide not only a bright spot in a mother’s day – but to her children as well. It tangibly meant at least one job was done. 

I muse joyfully you have something as cheery as S&H green stamps in your life, something you are working toward, saving for, enjoying the tactile thrill of collection. If not?  Perhaps it’s time to find the S&H green stamp joy in your life, no doubt it’s out there, maybe even at the redemption center. 

Susan Dromey Heeter is a writer from Dover who recently let her hair go au natural white. Writing has been her passion since her English majoring days at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  Dromey Heeter has lived in The Netherlands, Alaska and currently basks in all things New England, including the frigid winters. An avid swimmer, Dromey Heeter’s great passion is to bring back body surfing as most children have no idea how to ride waves without ridiculous boogie boards.

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