A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Whatever happened to Green Stamps?

July 24, 2001

Dear Straight Dope:

A conversation today between some "younger generation" employees and not so young ones brought out to our attention that they (I belong to the not so young crowd) have no clue what Green Stamps and Blue Stamps were. As we discussed this it brought several questions to mind. How did it start? How did it end (die)? What was its purpose? Why did some companies participate and others did not? What was in it for them? How did employees at the redemption centers get paid or where did their income come from? What was the difference between Green & Blue, other than shades of the spectrum? Were there other colors (Gold)? How far did this spread? I lived in California when I worked with it and my coworker, who also used it, lived in California as well. We are now residents of Utah. I could go on with the questions, but your insightful mind probably has more than I could come up with. So what is the Straight Dope on Green Stamps? (Not so straight would be fine also!)

Green Stamps, believe it or not, are still around. But like everything else in the world they've gone virtual. You now have to lick your monitor. But more on that later.

Sperry & Hutchinson, distributor of S&H Green Stamps, was probably the most popular of quite a few competing stamp companies. Sperry & Hutchinson began offering stamps to retailers back in 1896. The retail organizations bought the stamps from S&H and gave them as bonuses with every purchase based on the amount you bought. The more you bought the more stamps you got. Eventually you saved up enough stamps to toddle down to the redemption center with a sore tongue and trade them in for merchandise. No kidding--when I was younger my mom got a toaster this way.

S&H made their money by selling the stamps to retailers. The trade-off to the retailers was in customer loyalty. Customers flocked to stores that gave stamps. It was an extremely successful program. According to a publicist for Sperry and Hutchinson, when the program reached its zenith in the mid 60's, they were printing three times as many stamps as the US Postal Service and its catalog was possibly the largest single publication in the country. It was estimated that 80 percent of US households collected stamps of one sort or another, creating an annual market for S&H alone of about $825 million.

Different colored stamps were created by different stamp companies. These included Orange, Yellow, K&S Red, Pinky, Blue Chip and Plaid, Top Value, Mor-Valu, Shur-Valu, Big Bonus and Double Thrift, Buckeye, Buccaneer, Two Guys, King Korn, Eagle and Regal. You could get just about anything with Green Stamps, from toasters to life insurance policies. Not everything was listed in the catalog, but you could negotiate with the company for pretty much whatever you wanted. One school in Erie, Pennsylvania even saved up 5.4 million Green Stamps to buy a pair of gorillas for a local zoo!

Stamps programs faded away during the recession of the 1970's. Sperry and Hutchinson was sold by the founders' successors in 1981, and was purchased from a holding firm by a member of the founding Sperry family in 1999. At that time, only about 100 stores were offering Green Stamps. Eventually, though, the company rebounded with the birth of the Internet and now offers "greenpoints" as rewards for online purchases. (http://www.greenpoints.com)

If you still have boxes of Green Stamps tucked away in your attic, here's good news. You can still trade them in for either cash or merchandise. Cash value of 1,200 stamps is $1.20 and you can still get a catalog by calling them at 1-800-435-5674.

I wonder if I can get a new toaster?

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