The gawdiest and grooviest - FM residents recall the glory days of trading stamps

In another installment of Inforum's "Do you remember?" history pieces of Fargo-Moorhead, we share memories of how trading stamps taught a generation of children to save and even negotiate.

Trading Stamps
Trading stamps had their heyday in the mid-20th century. This 1973 catalog shows a family shopping at a trading stamp redemption center.

FARGO — If you were to utter the following words to anyone under the age of 40, they might give you a quizzical look:

“I walked away with a ton of green stamps from Red Owl today.”

Those Millennials and Gen Z’ers might remember Red Owl, the Minnesota-based supermarket chain that once had more than 55% of the Minnesota grocery business, before being bought out by SuperValu in 1989.

Red Owl
As customers paid for their groceries at Red Owl stores in Fargo and Moorhead, they received S&H Green Stamps. Photo courtesy: NDSU Archives


But the youngest among us are probably less familiar with green stamps. S&H Green Stamps, like many other brands of trading stamps, were given away with purchases at grocery stores and gas stations throughout most of the 20th century. The more you purchased, the more you earned. Stamps were then affixed into a booklet, then the booklets could be traded in for a huge variety of items including household goods, jewelry, toys, sporting goods and more.

In the case of S&H green stamps, 1,200 stamps would fill one book. You could buy small items for as little as one book, while you’d have to save stamps for years to get larger items. For example, a toaster would cost you from four to six books, while a mini sailboat would take about 133 books.

To actually buy the items, most of the time you’d go to redemption centers. Fargo-Moorhead had a few. One of the most popular was in the basement of the old Herbst Department store in downtown Fargo.

When you were ready to cash in your trading stamps, you would take them to a redemption center where the items were located. This S& H Green Stamp Redemption Center was in the basement of the Herbst Department Store in downtown Fargo. Photo courtesy/NDSU Archives

A quick history of the trading stamp

The first trading stamps were used at a Milwaukee department store in 1891. But the Sperry and Hutchinson Company (S&H) became the pioneer of the industry. Well into the 20th century, others followed: Blue Chip Stamps, MacDonald Plaid Trading Stamps and the Minnesota-born Gold Bond Stamps.

Gold Bond 2.jpg
Gold Bond stamps were created by Minnesota businessman Curt Carlson and were popular throughout the United States. Photo: Dave Wallis


In “The Trading Stamp Story,” author Jeff Lonto calls the 1950’s “The Golden Age of Trading Stamps,” as GI’s returning home from WWII were looking for something new amid the robust economy.

The popularity continued into the 1960’s and early 1970’s. You might remember that episode of The Brady Bunch where the girls and boys settled an argument about what to buy with their trading stamps by competing in a house of cards contest.

By the ‘70s and ‘80s, trading stamps fell out of favor for a number of reasons, one of which was the growing popularity of discount stores like Target and K-Mart and the formation of other, more streamlined loyalty programs and punch cards. But the memories of trading stamps live on.

What do you remember about trading stamps?

In a Facebook post, Inforum asked readers to share their experiences with trading stamps.

Many people related stories about getting stamps on trips to the grocery store with mom and once home, being “the unofficial licker” putting the stamps in the books. Others told stories of fighting (like the Brady kids) over what whey would buy, and others say their moms and grandmas would use the stamps to buy Christmas gifts. Here a sample of just a few comments:


  • "I remember them when I was about five. We would get them most often I think at the gas station in Grand Rapids, MN when they would pump my mom's gas (also a thing of the past). My sisters and I would lick them and put them in the booklets. I do not remember where she redeemed them but I do remember begging my mom to get these coffee cups that had what looked like a bug on the bottom. I loved to give them to guests and couldn't wait until they finished and saw the bug. Lovely memories." - Sheila Schoon

  • "I was pretty young at the time (ahem) but it was a great honor to be allowed to lick the stamps and paste them in the booklets. We lived in Chokio, Minnesota, at the time, and the nearest redemption center was in Montevideo. I was disappointed I didn't see toys there. Mom would get boring things like a lamp or a hair dryer." - Julie Sorenson

  • "I remember dreaming over the catalog. My wish list was always long. My favorite Green Stamp story was when mom was ordering an item and they sent her a Barbie Doll instead. It became my very first Barbie. I still have her 58 years later." - Sue Brayton

Many people who commented on Facebook about trading stamps, said as kids they were "the unofficial stamp lickers" getting to put the stamps in the books.

The groovy and the gaudy

You can still find trading stamps and books online. The stamps aren’t worth much, but the catalogs are. Not so much in monetary ways, but in providing a few good laughs. Take a look at a few photos we found in this 1973 S&H Green Stamp catalog. It will be a nice walk down memory lane for those of us who remember the decade. For those not yet alive, just enjoy all of the floral-patterned, gaudy, grooviness.

1973 Ideabook What were people buying with their trading stamps? You might be surprised.

Tracy Briggs is an Emmy-nominated News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 35 years of experience, in broadcast, print and digital journalism.
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