The S&H Green Stamps Family - Growing Up as a Company Child
I am an S&H Green Stamps child. My mother worked for the Sperry & Hutchinson Company for 33 years, from 1955 to 1988, an employment that entitles me to call myself a company child. Those were the days of living snugly under the company umbrella.
When you were there for the company, the company was there for you.
S&H provided my mother with a wage, fully paid health benefits, a pension, a network of people comprising an extended family, and a lifetime’s worth of friendships. It provided me with endless hours of play time pasting stamps into books, employment during summer and winter vacations, a four-year college scholarship, and lessons in personal finance, business achievement, social responsibility, ethics, and morality.
S&H Green Stamps were as much a part of our home as they were of my mother’s workplace.
Licking Trading Stamps for Play and Reward
The first time I pasted a strip of perforated Green Stamps onto a page in a stamp book, I was hooked. I loved the taste of the glue. I now wonder if there wasn’t some ingredient in that glue that might have been habit-forming. Even though Mom encouraged me to use a sponge and water, I’d have nothing to do with it.
I was fascinated by watching a book fill up with stamps, page by page, until it was ready to be redeemed. Holding a full book of stamps gave me a sense of accomplishment: I’d started with an empty book, and little by little, the pages had gone from white to green. My hand now held something we could trade for merchandise. We patronized merchants who offered S&H Green Stamps and licked and pasted enough S&H Green Stamps into books to acquire furniture, appliances, home accessories, gifts for friends and family, and even sterling silver treasures. Licking trading stamps and pasting them in stamp books was one of my first lessons in delayed gratification.
A Brief Illustrated Review of Trading Stamps
S&H Green Stamps made indelible marks in the memories of generations of Americans. The Sperry and Hutchinson Company was by far the most successful in the trading stamp business, but other trading stamp companies made their marks as well.
Gene Gable wrote an engaging article, richly illustrated with trading stamp memorabilia, about the impact trading stamps made not only on our domestic lives but also on the world of business. When you read When Families Licked Together, be sure to read the comments where readers share their memories of growing up with trading stamps.
Thank you, Winsome, for pointing us to this article.
Coming of Age in the Social Life of the Company
Company picnics and holiday parties are as much a part of my childhood memories as my own family’s gatherings. In some ways, they were even more special. You see, I already knew my own family and its dynamics and routines, but these company events opened doors to observe and learn not only from other families, but from the family that was S&H.
The earliest lesson I learned was that I belonged to something larger than my family, my school, and my small town. S&H employees came from different cultures, different economic backgrounds, different genders, races, and age groups. At those social events, and much later when I was old enough to work at the office with my mother during my summer and winter vacations from school, my mother’s coworkers always welcomed me by remembering my birthday or a special achievement, or by gifting me with something small but precious, precious because it was a sign of their following my life because they cared about my mother.
Mom’s coworkers were a tightly-knit group loyal to the company and to each other. They were each other’s maids of honor, godparents to children, and strong shoulders in times of loss. Those relationships that stood the test of time began with each knowing the other through their work-day lives and the events that the company provided to bring them closer together. As time passed, the work relationships grew into life-long friendships.
Growing Up – Lessons in Morals and Ethics
At the company’s hiatus, S&H produced three times more stamps than the US Post Office and published this country’s largest merchandise catalog. My mother flowed along with the company’s growth by advancing from being a receptionist to a payroll clerk to a merchandiser to a benefits administrator. I trailed along on her shirttails by working part-time jobs with the company, at first in the office typing W-2s in December then moving along to summer jobs in the warehouse that involved accounting for and destroying redeemed books of S&H Green Stamps.
I loved the warehouse job. This warehouse was the regional distribution center on the east coast of the US. Men, around the clock, operated fork lifts and loaded trucks with merchandise destined for redemption stores from Maine to the Carolinas.
I worked with two extraordinary men, Ron and Bob.
A Peach for a Peach of a Girl
Ron was a southern gentleman who one year, after a vacation to his hometown in Georgia, brought me a glorious peach with its stem and leaves still looking fresh from the tree. He left the peach on my desk so that I would see it when I got to my job at 6 in the morning with a note that said, “A peach for a peach of a girl.”
Bob was more reserved about this kind of attention to a girl. He was a rock, and also Ron’s boss. But he was the one to say, “You’ve worked enough today, go spend some time with your mother.”
This job in the warehouse was rife with temptation. Being a teenager and by this time a rebel, and also knowing the value of S&H Green Stamps, I wondered what would happen if I removed some of those books of filled stamps and put them in my pocket instead of sending them to the incinerator. I could have done that. But the man who gave a peach to a peach of a girl, and the man who honored my connection to my mother, men who valued the company as extensions of themselves, were enormous role models for me. I knew that if I violated their trust in me, which would be disrespecting my mother and their love of and admiration of her, I would be toast in Hell, with a burned crust that would have no hope for redemption. Ron and Bob had more moral impact on me than the priests and nuns who were my teachers.
As I look at events that transpired after my working with Ron and Bob, I know for certain that the examples these men set for me kept me out of jail.
Sometimes I have to chuckle, wondering if this family-centered relationship with S&H wasn’t a kind of kismet, something fated to happen. Both my mother’s and my initials are S.H.
My mother and I were ambassadors of this company that was good to us and consequently we became an extension of its marketing strategies. Home and office became entwined.
Through the years, the company marked Mom’s employment anniversaries with precious items of gold and silver that carried the company’s logo. Mom wore these conspicuously and proudly.
There is no doubt that the company excised pounds of flesh from workers in its quest for profits, especially from women in the years when women had limited opportunities for growth within a company; their depressed salaries certainly contributed to the bottom line. However, those years were the golden years of being a company man, in this case a company woman. The company looked out for you. They paid your medical expenses, provided for your retirement, and they also built a culture of extended family.
Today I understand the patronizing aspect of that relationship between underpaid worker and corporate profit, but in that long-ago time, women were able to support their families and also enjoy the security of knowing that the company would provide for much more than just a salary.
One last thought...Thank goodness all those stamp books were incinerated. Just think of all the germs that could have been passed around.
Interior of the Trenton Redemption Store in 1913
The Facade of the Trenton S&H Redemption Store in the Early 1900s
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