Two Vignettes: Mom’s Green Stamps & E-town’s Rexall Drug Store

All images: Google Images

“Mare – yun,” my mother calls (yells, actually), “It’s time to lick the green stamps again. The books are on top of the kitchen table.” Mom likes to interrupt my reading. To me time with my books is serious business but to her it’s play. Not working. Wasting time with books unless it’s homework, she thinks.

As I moisten the stamps with my tongue, the glue tastes gooey and sweet. Mom usually receives one Green Stamp in exchange for every dime spent at check-out. I fill the two or three green books until they are fat, each stuffed with 24 pages of unevenly gummed and incompletely perforated paper rectangles. Books of these items can be redeemed for gifts. Mother gets a catalog from the stamp company’s showroom, then matches the item she wants against its price in stamps, paying for it with stamps rather than with cash. She probably has something picked out already. I notice the cover on the ironing board has lots of scorch marks and is wearing thin, so I guess she’ll get an ironing-board cover with one of the books.

Illustrations: Google Images
Illustrations: Google Images

The gifts are usually household items like a set of mixing bowls, an ironing-board cover or something big, as writer Phyllis Tickle describes when she traded her green stamps for her daughter Nora’s baby stroller:

Surprisingly cheap is usually just cheap in premium exchanges, I have found. It certainly was in this case. The thing was made of aluminum so light and thin that the frame itself could not have weighed in at a full pound. The whole stroller did not weigh in at two. The wheels were scarcely a half-inch wide and definitely not a quarter-inch thick.

 

The sides and back of the contraption were of a plasticized, loosely woven plaid fabric neither Sam [husband] nor I could identify. The result was a kind of sling-on-wheels that had grown less and less appealing to my maternal instincts as I had become more and more of a mother and less and less of a mother-to-be. However, we did have a stroller. Hmmmm . . . .

 

Later, she concedes though “those were the good old days when strollers were strollers and not miniature, padded tanks.” (294).

A shoppers’ rewards program for loyal customers, the Sperry and Hutchinson Company dates as far back as 1896. During the 1960s, the  company issued three times as many green stamps as the U.S. Postal Service. After a series of recessions and the decreasing value of the stamps most house-wives didn’t think saving stamps was worth the trouble. However, green stamps still persist in popular culture. In A Hard Day’s Night (1964), starring the Beatles, John Lennon mentions Green Stamps when joking to Paul McCartney that he’ll get the best lawyer they can buy. In the hit “Speedy Gonzales” (1962) by Pat Boone, Mel Blanc sings the final words of the song in Speedy Gonzales’ voice, “Hey Rosita, come quick, down at the cantina they’re giving green stamps with tequila!”

*  *  *

Mother doesn’t drive to the Green Stamp showroom on her own to redeem her stamps because she doesn’t have a license.  But there’s a Lancaster – Elizabethtown bus that goes right by our house along Old Route 230. She knows when to tell me to pull on the cord over-head that buzzes to tell the driver where to stop in town. We’ll go to the W. T. Grant store because it has most of what she needs. Our next stop is  the Gladdell Shop with pretty dresses. In the window I see a sleek, lavender dress made of chiffon fabric on the mannikin. It’s pleated at the waist and has a belt with a rhinestone-studded buckle. I imagine jut how slithery and cool it would feel gliding over my skin. I would be instantly chic and stylish, not plain. But Mother is completely blind to the fancy frocks and heads for the lingerie department. A night-gown? Some hosiery? (She always orders a boring shade called “gun-metal.”) No, she has picked out a smocked, tricot bed jacket in blue with a bow to wear in the hospital over her gown when Mark is born and visitors appear.

The shopping trip gets even sweeter near the end. Mom will check her watch, so that we will have just enough time to go to the Rex-All Drug Store before the bus picks us up heading back east. Dr. Garber usually dispenses pills in little white envelopes from his office, so we are not interested in the pharmacy at the drug store.

ice cream soda

Instead we head straight to the soda fountain which is as close to theatre as I’m going to get. Stepping inside the chrome rails that mark the fountain area off from the rest of the store, we sit on the red leatherette cushioned stools that spin. Fluorescent tubes of light above the fountain equipment advertise bubbly ice cream sodas with a straw. Above it like rays from the aurora borealis but stretched around the perimeter of the fountain area is a glow of bluish-purple lights illuminating the walls. Then I look up and see stars sparkling from the ceiling. I’m in heaven. Until the bus comes all too soon.

What story can you tell about green stamps or soda fountains?

Something you can add about a different memory from the 1950s or 60s? 

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38 thoughts on “Two Vignettes: Mom’s Green Stamps & E-town’s Rexall Drug Store

  1. I don’t have any memories of Green Stamps or soda fountains, but I enjoyed reading about yours. I don’t think my mother collected Green Stamps, or perhaps she did, but not regularly. I remember visiting some soda fountains that still remained in the Philadelphia area in the late 1960s/early 1970s. They were almost quaint relics by that point.

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    1. Really – I had no idea the theatrical soda fountains I describe disappeared so quickly, and not far from where I lived. In Jacksonville, there is a chain now called “Steak and Shake,” a retro Fifties-type fast food place that recalls the old-time soda fountains. But there are no starry ceilings or soda jerks with cute paper hats anymore.

      I enjoy our early-morning conversations. Thanks for stopping by again, Merril.

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  2. My mom used to collect Green Stamps from the A&P and the Piggly Wiggly. One of the few memories I had of her. Mostly she bought small appliances. Toasters, blenders. But once she bought me and my sister a dolls. Thanks you so much for sharing. Your posts always have a way of bringing back the best memories.

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    1. Do you remember pasting the stamps into the booklets too? An anecdote in Phyllis Tickles’s book prompted the memory and became the topic for this post. I’m glad you enjoy the memories and take the time to comment. Always appreciated, Susan. Best wishes on your workS in progress!

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  3. Last November in Hanceville, AL I sat in an old Pharmacy which had a the old soda fountain. Also sometimes if I see an old building around the town square that looks like a 5 and 10 I’ll go in just to see if the scent reminds me of earlier days when I would see a machine that actually made peanut butter, starting with the roasted peanuts. I usually bought some Bazooka bubble gum that had little cartoons in them, and probably walked out with a cheap toy as well.

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    1. Of course you would notice the cartoons, artist that you are. And what little boy doesn’t want a cheap toy to carry around in his pocket. 🙂

      I never heard this story before. Thanks for posting.

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  4. Putting those little green stamps in books was one of my favorite things to do as a kid, especially once I started to use a sponge to wet the stamps and not my tongue! It took great practice to wet them sufficiently to stick but not too wet as to soak straight through. It meant wetting the sponge perfectly to start. Funny thing, I don’t remember ever actually purchasing anything with them. I knew you could and spent ample time browsing the catalog, but what they were actually exchanged for is anyone’s guess. Things were not purchased with any fanfare in my childhood home. We purchased only necessities and anything remotely outside of the norm was either done so silently or with a healthy dose of guilt and self-effacement. This is a scar I carry even today.

    Several years go I picked up an old cigar box full of green stamps at a yard sale. I don’t know why exactly and I haven’t a clue what to do with them! Nostalgia I guess. Thanks for walking me down memory lane, Marian. You’re a master at it!

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    1. You’re smart to use a sponge. It don’t think I lived in pre-sponge days, but we always licked the stamps as I recollect. It’s interesting that your memories are linked to strong emotions regarding your family and finances. I can identify with a part of what you convey your observation.

      It’s interesting how our sub-conscious prompts us to do things like buy green stamps though we don’t know what exactly motivates us. Maybe it connects us to a simpler time and a slower pace. I’m glad you enjoy these posts, Dorothy. Thanks, always, for commenting.

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      1. Yes, simpler times and an era gone by that was a big part of our lives as children. I also think, perhaps, (if I’m not reaching too far, and I may be) Green Stamps symbolized “something more”, a better life, something new and different, an unexpected a gift of sorts. Gifts for no reason were unheard of.

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  5. 1. This post makes me wish I could take my girls, one by one, to a soda shop. Just like this.

    2. There’s a soda shop here in Charlotte called Aggie’s Grill. Not an exact throwback, but from a different era. I took a girl there more than 20 years ago for an early date, and wound up marrying her.

    3. My dad gave me a good sense of life in the 50s and 60s, through his stories and the music he listened to. Music is such an integral part of that. The songs would bring him back. And they bring me back today to memories of him.

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    1. Welcome, Eli, and thanks for your comment in 3 parts — I’m impressed. Before I was married and moved to Florida, I lived in Charlotte for a year (close to Queens College). Cliff and I were married at Calvary Presbyterian Church the next summer.

      Your daughters are fortunate to have a dad who wants to be connected closely to them and to your family history.

      Thanks again for visiting “plainandfancy” and for the comment. As you poke around my blog you’ll notice many other nostalgic visits to my past.

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  6. My brother was allowed to choose the S & H green stamp premium. He bought an Argus camera. Fifty years later, he is still taking gorgeous photos made with much better equipment. You might enjoy seeing green stamp influence at work in this post: http://notquiteamishliving.com/2014/05/amish-country-photography-from-my-favorite-photographer/

    We had a little niche located beside the steps leading down to the basement. Usually the whole niche overflowed with stamps. Probably nothing we “purchased” with the stamps had as much influence as that Argus Camera.

    Loved going shopping with you in Lancaster in the ’50’s, Marian. Did you get a bag of soft pretzels on the street?

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    1. It’s interesting how a child’s intrinsic interests are obvious so early in life. I have already seen Henry’s photography on the link you sent, but I hope other readers dropping by will click and see. What a great eye he has!

      Actually, the shopping trip on this post took place in Elizabethtown, just about two miles west of us toward Harrisburg. But when we shopped in Lancaster, we always got a bag of warm and salty soft pretzels on the street corner. Sometimes, I even daubed the pieces I broke off with mustard. Yumm!

      I know you are enjoying NYC and will be reporting from somewhere in Manhattan on your next blog post. Between the two of us, we have the past and present covered. Right?

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      1. We had an Argus camera too. It had a shiny bowl shaped attachment for the flash and we always had to rub the tip end of the bulb on fabric before screwing it in. The camera itself still works, was just shuffled aside for a lighter, less ungainly model.

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        1. You still have an Argus camera: Wow! I can picture how it looks with the shiny flash attachment. I guess the rubbing you talk about created static electricity. It would be considered an antique by now, I suppose. Thanks for the comment, Athanasia.

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  7. Green stamps! I loved pasting them in books–somehow that job fell to me. I also collected them the first 10 or so years of our marriage, there was still a ‘redemption’ store in Harrisonburg well into the 80s. Eventually the items purchased were of so little value that I lost interest and then they all went away of course. I can’t imagine a camera being so well built it still does awesome work today, Shirley. We had a soda fountain in H’burg until about that time also, and in the little nearby town of Broadway, the soda fountain at their drug store only closed down less than 10 years ago. Getting a soda, a float or a small bowl of ice cream all fancied up and served to you was indeed a special outing out.

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    1. Well, Melodie, I guess you were the organized, dependable one in the family if the green stamp sticking fell to you–ha! And I suppose Harrisonburg was big enough to support an S & H redemption store and small enough to hang on to it as green stamps were passing out of vogue. Thanks for your anecdotes–love the variations on two themes today from you and all the other commenters.

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  8. Lovely to read this Marian thank you! No, no green stamps this side of the oceans! Soda fountains? Not really, but going for a Horlicks milkshake at a department store as a teenager was a treat for us back in those days.

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    1. Ah, I think I’ve heard of Horlicks, a malted milk drink.Yes?

      In my research there was a British equivalent of the green stamp, but it may have been plaid in design and not strictly green. Thanks for the comment, Susan.

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  9. My mama, everyone’s mama in Mexico, MO, loved those green stamps. I loved filling the books and helping choose the next item we’d get. I don’t remember the quality. Just the thrill of shopping without spending money. And Rexall Drugs on the town square had everything a soda fountain could offer. Cold rootbeer floats on hot midwestern days before air conditioning and all the latest news of people in town. Beautiful stories as always, Marian. Thank you for a little journey.

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    1. You’re welcome, Elaine. You mentioned “the thrill” of shopping without spending money.” I think that’s the magic of “trades” like the green stamps signify. Thanks for adding your anecdote to the mix. Conversation with friends online is my favorite thing about blogging.

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  10. I did the S&H stamp exercise, but remember more importantly the Rexall Drug Store. The long soda fountain bar, but also the small round wrought iron tables with the heart backed chairs. I was given one of the chairs to use in a 4H re-upholstery project that took me all the way to the state competition. I still use that chair in my bathroom to this day. Thanks Marian for walking me down memory lane.

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    1. Next time I visit, I will have to inspect that special chair that won you awards. What a lovely memory – and you still have a memento to remember it by. So thankful to have you as a partner walking down memory lane, Carolyn. I love this story!

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  11. Marian – Oh my gosh, I love this post! Talk about a walk down sweet memory lane…

    I remember mom was so proud of the navy blue bridge card table and four matching chairs she got with Green Stamps, and after much more saving (and licking) a 12-place setting of silverware (that she hd us wash by hand because it was “too good” for the dishwasher)…

    And you can forget betting treated to ice cream cones (a nickel a scoop) at Thrifty Drugstore when we got good report cards, or after visiting the dentist, and on many other occasions.

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  12. The days of a nickel-a-scoop and saving green stamps are over, but oh how I savor the stories, including yours today. With all these anecdotes, I could write another blog post–ha! Thanks, Laurie.

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    1. Hi, Fi! I suspect you are referring your experience in England, not Sweden. I wonder if the stamps were green or some other color or design. I have heard of plain stamps but not sure what country those are associated with. Thanks for weighing in on this nostalgic topic. I’ll see you soon again on your blog or mine!

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  13. Oh, how your stories take me back. Before we moved to the country, we lived in a large village, North Syracuse, New York. Mom did collect green stamps and I did help lick them and paste them into the booklets. I don’t recall what she exchanged them for. But I know she was a practical woman, like your Mom, and probably got something sensible.

    As for the trip to the drug store … I loved the soda fountain and still recall enjoying a soda or ice cream there. When I grew up, I had a second job – at W. T. Grant’s – and that was a blast! Thanks for the memories, Marian.

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    1. Come to think of it, I’m beginning to sound like the crooner Frank Sinatra, “Thanks for the memories.” But I’m glad you can reminisce along with me, Judy. Enjoy the summer vacation. I remember how I used to savor those months off.

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  14. I remember those stamp books from the grocery store! I thought it unfair that my sister and I did all the work putting those stamps on their appointed pages, but Mom made all the decisions on how to redeem them. It didn’t occur to my seven year old logic that she had provided the money for the groceries that earned those stamps 🙂

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    1. Someone has said life is lived forward and understood backward (or, maybe “in reverse” sounds better). I would say that is the case with your anecdote about the stamp books. But you were only seven–very understandable. I wonder what you would have picked out from the premium book, Traci. Interesting to speculate.

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  15. I don’t ever remember green stamps but we did save the Betty Crocker tabs. I still use the chef knife we sent for in the very early 80’s.

    There was a Rex-All Drug with a fountain but we never went there. My mother was always very “why would you want to spend money on something that you can make better yourself at home”. Which is true. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has a drug store with a soda fountain and my husband and I shared an ice cream soda there on our honeymoon. I do remember thinking to myself that I could make this better at home.

    However on another trip we stopped at the Electric Cafe in Milan, Ohio, when the children were young, after visiting Thomas Edison home/museum, and had a malt and a shake. Yes, seven of us shared 2 drinks but they were really huge!
    Now I don’t think I could make those at home.

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    1. I love your anecdotes from all over, Athanasia: Wyoming, Ohio, etc. It’s amazing that you still have the chef knife you got as a Betty Crocker premium over 30 years ago. It must be of better quality than the Green Stamp baby stroller described in the blog post. Ha! Your mother sounds like the practical sort, just like mine. 🙂

      Keep those comments coming – I know my readers and I appreciate your stories.

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