James Perley

James Perley

Thomas Sperry and Shelly B. Hutchinson, like many others, realized the financial and technological economy was expanding before 1900, and they wanted to profit from the growing supply of money. They finally decided to offer prizes for purchases.

Retailers would profit by rewarding and encouraging customers to be loyal, and Sperry and Hutchinson would skim a percentage for themselves. 

It was beautiful and simple plan. They named their company S and H Green Stamps and looked for customers.

Each store would give buyers stamps, which in large enough quantities could be redeemed for prizes. They encouraged people to glue their stamps in provided booklets to be redeemed for bigger prizes.

Growth was slow at first, but over the years the stamps slowly became more popular in America and Europe. They became an institution by the 1950s and 1960s as customers enjoyed the impression that they were getting something for nothing.

Writer Kelly Kazek reported that during the 1960s an estimated 80 percent of households used Green Stamps. They ordered their prizes at redemption centers that provided linens, china, furniture, and other major prizes.

Green stamps became so popular that the company claimed three times more stamps were distributed than U.S. Postal stamps.

The future looked bright, but fate offered a cautionary tale for companies deemed too big to fail. The 1970s were a disaster as recession and inflation changed people's minds about the famous stamps. Consumers could spare less money than in previous decades and lost interest in exchanging their spending money on prizes they might not really need.

The 1980s produced further change and green stamps lost even more of their luster.

Now, what was once a long-term institution is so far from its glory days that many young people have never heard of Green Stamps. It was a beautiful fad while it lasted.

(James Perley is President of the Harrison County Historical Society.)

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