Green Stamps & Pieces of Eight
By Connie Moore
It was a shallow box. There didn’t seem to be much in it besides the old post cards. They in themselves might be counted as a treasure. But underneath, a deep memory, hidden for many years, was about to surface on strips of filigree-edged green stamps.
Our annual auction fix was a couple of weeks ago. Diligently we scan the Mumma Auction listings each Sunday for the words “lots of cookbooks.” So it was with joyful heart that we ended up on Route 40, west of Donnelsville at what proved to be a good morning for anyone wanting a good deal on old toys, old books, old … well, lots of old things.
Along with the green stamps, there were bright yellow stamps, loose and spilling out of an envelope, and books filled with both kinds. Enough S&H stamps and Top Value stamps to get a coffee pot or toaster or toys or laundry hamper.
At their peak of popularity, people and organizations would cash in bundles of filled books for such things as camping equipment, games, pen/pencil sets, Pyrex dishes, china, lamps, radios, appliances, everything one would need for a new baby, record players, fishing equipment, bicycles and sets of encyclopedias, musical instruments, furniture, and just about anything normally purchased at a store. Enough stamps could even get you a new car!
These paper coupons or stamps were given at the end of sales as loyalty rewards for shopping with a particular merchant. Keep shopping there, collect enough stamps, and one could choose from a whole catalog of “gifts.” The idea began back as early as 1891, when Schuster’s Department Store in Milwaukee decided to reward customers for paying in cash rather than carrying a credit (which was usually hard to collect).
H. Parke Company of Pennsylvania established their own stamp program in 1895 whereby they rewarded customers for buying Parke products such as coffee, tea, spices and canned goods. Showrooms were set up in corporate headquarters where customers could see and inspect goods to be obtained for the stamps.
By 1957 there were almost 200 trading stamp companies. S&H Green Stamps was the most popular in this area of Ohio. Another large company was the Top Value Stamps. Both had numerous businesses issuing them and local redemption centers in Springfield and Dayton.
During the early 1970s, the energy crisis brought a decline in gas stations giving out the stamps. Station managers decided that to keep their business afloat, it would be more enticing to lower the gas prices, even by just a penny or two, rather than issue the stamps. Grocery stores followed suit.
Preferred customer cards, cents-off coupons, and frequent flyer miles have replaced the green and yellow cash nuggets known long ago as trading stamps. In the shallow box, the memory that came up with the loose stamps was of a small, white, Victorian-style clock. It was the last item I remember cashing in the stamps for. That was back in 1968. Today the stamps show up on EBay where they appear to sit in limbo, much like the depths of this shallow box on the table. They are truly a thing of the past.
Something else of the past was the last item lifted from the box. Another form of payment dating back much further than my lifetime was the silver Spanish Milled Dollar, also known as a Piece of Eight. Because England forbade early American colonies from minting their own coins, settlers had to make do with barter items and foreign coins.
The Spanish coin was the most often circulated of these coins. Edges were milled or had patterns set on the edges to keep less-than-honest traders from cheating customers. The milled dollar was highly respected internationally. Even though it was officially called a dollar, its value was by the weight of its metal content. One could divide or break one of the coins into pieces or bits, thus having smaller amounts to spend on goods or debts. Most often it was divided into eight pieces called bits or reals, hence the expression we’re familiar with, “2 bits, 4 bits, 6 bits, a dollar.”
This coin in our box is not the real thing. It is of lead-free pewter and was issued by the Cooperman Fife & Drum Co. of Centerbrook, Connecticut, back in 1996. But it is of interest because it also has two matching coins, already cut into bits and identifying information. When I reached out to the company for information, Patrick Cooperman replied, “We manufacture material cultural items for the museum store trade. Our HistoryLives products are sold with informational cards that help place them in their historical context. Up until 2005 we had a workshop in Centerbrook, now we wholly operate out of Bellows Falls, Vermont, making percussion musical instruments and parts. We still make the Pieces of Eight.”
You might be wondering if I got any old cookbooks. Yes, there will be stories surface from the depths of those boxes, too.
For now though, here’s a recipe for 8 large or 12 regular size 1940-era gems or muffins.
• 1 cup full-fat buttermilk
• 1 cup quick cooking oats
• 1 large egg
• ¼ cup vegetable oil
• ½ cup packed light brown sugar
• 1 cup all-purpose flour or cake flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ½ teaspoon baking soda
• ½ teaspoon salt
• Dash of cinnamon, optional
• ½ cup chopped pecans, optional
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Grease or line with muffin papers a tin for at least 8 muffins. In large mixing bowl, soak the oats in the buttermilk until soft (about 15 minutes). Add egg, oil and sugar. Stir until well blended.
3. Sift together flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Stir into wet ingredients. Add cinnamon and pecans if using. Blend well but do not overbeat. Portion batter between muffin cups. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until done when tested with a toothpick. Remove from tin and enjoy.
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