They were once a part of purchasing power, those little square, green pieces of paper. I collected them, the kids stuck them in little paper books, and we redeemed them for wonderful prizes. The redemption center was on Belknap Street in Stephenville.
I’d take my little filled-up stamp books, and pick out something for myself, Tom or the kids. Usually there were weeks of collecting and then days of studying the prize catalog before deciding that I needed eight and three-fourths books to claim that milk glass butter dish with the grape leaves along the cover. And then one of the kids would see a toy truck or a doll with curly brown hair and so the filled stamp books would go for something else and I’d have to wait for the butter dish.
We got stamps at Piggly Wiggly every time we bought groceries and Wednesday was “Double Stamp Day.” I saw Chad, manager of Piggly Wiggly for over 20 years, last week and immediately I felt homesick for that grocery store that had been such a big part of my life. Oh, I bought groceries from the A&P, Safeway, Buddies, and David’s too but there was just something about the Pig that was like visiting with folks you’d known for a long time. Way back there, you could ask for a check on the Farmers Bank and the checker would hand you one. You wrote out the amount (about $20 for a family of four for a week), she would stick it in her cash register, hand you your green stamps and say “Be careful driving home. It’s slick out there.”
Nobody ever asked for identification because they knew who you were.
That fact stayed the same until the corporation that owned Piggly Wiggly decided to shut the doors last year. The ownership had long since stopped handing out green stamps but the friendly, excellent service never stopped. Nobody ever asked if they could carry out your groceries. Somebody just picked them up, even if it was just a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk, and carried them out and put them in your car. There was a personality about the store that remains a fond memory and the memory of collecting S&H Green Stamps is tangled up in all that.
My association with those little green stamps goes back to the spring of 1950 and my first job after college. I went to work for the Empire State Bank in Dallas and was given a desk by the bank vault. My job included renting safe deposit boxes and admitting customers to inspect their precious items that they entrusted to the secure locks within the vault. Ever so often a customer would ask me inside the private rooms to admire the diamond encrusted brooches or ruby necklaces that they kept in a box deep inside the bank. I wondered if keeping them safe was worth having them as they might take them out and wear them only one night a year. But if showing them to me made them happy, it made me happy too.
One afternoon a bank officer and the security guard came to the vault with a middle-aged man in a gray business suit. The security guard was pushing a dollie with four cardboard boxes stacked on it. The bank officer introduced the guy in the gray suit and said that he wanted to rent as many large boxes as it would take to hold the contents of the cardboard boxes security had with him. I was really curious about what was in the boxes and sure enough, before he left, gray suit called to see what he considered valuable enough to lock away behind cement walls two-feet thick and a steel door with a time lock. He opened a box and it was full of thousands of strings of little green stamps. Each piece was printed S&H.
“These little stamps are the latest thing in merchandising,” he said. “They are worth a fortune.”
And so they were. That was the beginning of stamp-collecting housewives across the country who filled their homes with their shopping rewards.
By the way I got that milk glass butter dish along with a set of cut-glass tea glasses and a throw with fringe and the image of cats on it playing with a ball of string. I got a lot of other things too and still had a half a book of stamps in a drawer when they closed the redemption center.
It was all a great ride and so was shopping at Piggly Wiggly.