Michele Bender photo

Michele Mikesic Bender

Eric’s parents passed away in a span of three months last fall. Last week, some pals pitched in to help him go through the house.

Eric held up a book of S&H Green Stamps and announced, “Look what I found!”

“It’s full,” Bill observed.

“Watcha gonna get?” asked Chris playfully.

“Hmm,” Eric pondered, “either the clock radio or a 1976 Trans Am.”

Trading stamps swept the nation in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Top Value and Gold Bond lead the trend, but Pennsylvania shoppers favored green!

Parents took trading stamps very seriously, but their value and mystique trickled down to kids pretty quickly.

Sidney helped her mom paste stamps in booklets, but was too young to understand why. “Then mom brought home a fancy, colorful toy chest and I became a saver, too,” she laughed.

Dawn and her sister felt mature when their mom entrusted them to wet-sponge the precious stickers into the books.

Starting in first grade, when I could sorta write, my mom insisted that I scribble a letter off to G-Ma every Sunday. 

Mom kept all stamps (postage, trading, Christmas seals) in the same drawer.

I was supposed to use purple (three-cent letter with the Liberty Bell on it in 1956), but a green one caught my eye. It was prettier. I walked the four blocks to the USPS box and dropped the letter into the box.

Several days later, when it returned “insufficient postage,” Mom nearly burst an artery. My fanny tingled for week. Lesson learned.

I started earnestly saving in my teens. Male customers frequently blew off stamps as “woman stuff.” A guy I dated kept a “Michele bag” at the gas station where he worked. 

When a customer refused the stamps, he put them aside for me. I bought my first television with green stamps.

Boys knew stamps as a sporting good source. Anthony got the HO Train Set with Top Value from Riverside Market. Bill M. scored a bowling bag at the Westwood Plaza. Zack, who traveled the world in the military, still recalls the rod and reel he hooked with Top Value.

Susan P. bought a tea party set for her dolls.

Sharon’s four books of green stamps earned her a vacuum sweeper. Her aunt gave her a china tea pot with gold trim. 

Auntie claimed it was magic and granted wishes. Sharon is still waiting.

Janet P. got her first set of grown-up dishes with green stamps.

When we were kids, a popular religious group printed posters, magazine ads and billboards with the words “Jesus Saves.” Janet said every time she saw one, her mind would respond “S&H Green Stamps.”

Apparently, Janet wasn’t alone. When I was about 10, we took a family road trip to visit The Grands in Philly. We passed a “Jesus Saves” roadside billboard. Someone (possibly the world’s first “tagger”) had added “S&H Green Stamps.”

My pal Fran preferred the plaid stamps. He believed the adhesive was gluten free. Did anyone in the ’60s or ’70s even know what gluten was? It’s 2020, and I still don’t know what gluten is!

Kelly D. says the last page in the redemption catalogue was her favorite. 

“They would post a Norman Rockwell print,” she said, “and I’d tear it off and save it.”

My friend Joe attended graduate school in South Carolina.

“I had to rent an apartment because the college had no dorms. But I had no furniture,” he said. “I was surprised to see the local market gave S&H Green Stamps. I thought they were extinct. I casually mentioned this in a phone call to my mother.”

“I might have a few books stashed away,” Mom said.

About two weeks later, Joe said, he received a box from home containing several hundred books of stamps.

“My mom put the word out to neighbors and friends that there was still a place on earth where green stamps could be redeemed,” he said. “Forty of the books were hers. I furnished my entire apartment.”

My curiosity is piqued. I’m gonna research this stamp thing ...

I’ll get back to you.

And gluten free? For heaven’s sake!

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johnstown resident and regular community columnist for The Tribune-Democrat.​ She can be reached at MsGeezerette@aol.com.

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