Monday, November 7, 2011
The Coffeemaker on The Wonder Years
"...In many households, Green Stamps were the primary source of disposable family income...my mother saved Green Stamps like my college education depended on them. She took comfort in knowing that, as long as my father could buy food, there was a better than average chance that Santa Claus would find our house come Christmastime. She gazed longingly at drab photographs of TV-dinner trays, basketball hoops, vacuum cleaners, pressure cookers, wall clocks, and camping equipment as if she were looking at film stars in a movie magazine. All because of the little green stamps, a wonderful selection of shoddy merchandise was sometimes attainable in a life otherwise devoid of entitlement...Were I to meet whoever invented these stamps, I would pledge them eternal gratitude for offering my mother hope in times of despair."
-- from Rodney Crowell's autobiography, Chinaberry Sidewalks
The S&H album pictured above was the style in use when my grandmother methodically collected those stamps, mostly from the local Weis grocery store chain. Gas stations were the other main source, but the free drink glasses offered in the summer were better premiums; in times of fierce competition, you could score both at one purchase and feel like you'd really won.
When I was visiting in Pennsylvania in the summer, I'd get to install the miniature stamps in the albums (using a small sponge instead of a quickly gummed-up tongue) while perusing the catalog for whatever weapon or outdoor gear item called out to my greedy young heart. Fifty points completed a page; 1200 an album. The large stamps were 50 each rather than one or 10; getting one seemed like a lottery win, if I had known what that was. And it took a looong time to fill that album. Patience is in shorter supply when you're young than time is; like the similar long stretch to Christmas, it made the long-sought moment of acquisition as sweet as anticipated.
How many kitchens, thanks to Green Stamps, had a three-piece set of red and white plastic containers labeled Flour, Sugar and Tea from the catalog (seductively named The Idea Book)? And more than a few clocks, Faberware pans, and (oh yes!) those TV dinner trays -- what home didn't have those? Ours (in Richmond) came from Best Products, which was no step up in class from trading stamps, believe me. My grandmother was quite pleased with the large, square electric fry pan that cost many filled books, and used it often for years. If I'd gotten that bow and arrow set, the impertinent groundhog raiding the back of the garden would have been in for a rude surprise. Or a good woodchuck chuckle, more likely, as I would have missed and taken out corn stalks rather than clever rodents.
The heyday of the stamps was from the 1930s through the 1980s. In the 60s, the catalog was the largest publication in the United States. S&H was sold to a company who tried to modernize them as points for online purchases, but that may have faded away by now. But comparing the two, I'd say stamps were a much better and more satisfying deal than frequent flyer points today.
And the coffeemaker the mother liked so much on The Wonder Years? From S&H. She felt like a winner.