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Tuesday, March 21, 2023
FairfaxOpinion'Old School' column: Stamped out

‘Old School’ column: Stamped out

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by CAROL McEWEN, for the Sun Gazette

In 1950s middle America, there were two ways to pay utility bills. One was to head to the bank with cash and pay them in person.

My mother, busy working as the bookkeeper for my dad’s business, active in our church, and chief cook and bottle-washer at home, opted for convenience. She’d dash off a check, stick it in an envelope along with the bill, slap a three-cent stamp on the front and call it done.

Yes, those stamps really WERE only 3 cents. And for the uninitiated, the penny postcards had that name for a reason. Airmail stamps, on the other hand, cost a whopping 7 cents.


We bought the stamps and postcards at the post office, including the airmail envelopes which had the 7-cent postage already embossed on them.
Stamps were available at school, too. We bought those for savings bonds and pasted them in our stamp books. Once a book was full, we could redeem it for a $25 savings bond, though I never saw a full one.

But the most popular stamps in the 1950s and ’60s were S&H green stamps, earned with many purchases. Every 10 cents you spent bought one stamp. Calculated at 1950s prices, legions of stamps weren’t exactly marching into our books.

As an additional inducement, we had glossy catalogs showing what we could buy with our accumulated stamps. The Green Stamp Store lived on Main Street, where we could redeem our books for that necklace or radio or toy we wanted.

One year, my sister bought a new washer and we were “awash” in green stamps. We licked till our tongues turned wrong-side out and green. Finally we got smart and used a damp sponge, pasting away. The wrinkled pages looked like they’d taken a bath, all open and splayed.

The former annual Safeway Monopoly game, at the start of each year, provided more recent stamp adventures. I was convinced I’d win a new home or a luxury yacht at least. It’s just as well I didn’t win that boat; there were no more S&H green stamps to help me fill its tank.

The last stamps I remember wetting were the ones for the infamous McDonald’s Monopoly Game. I won only a couple of free drinks, since I wasn’t in on what was going on.

Let’s just say I fell out of love with stamps. My Old School tongue couldn’t take it anymore.

Reach Carol McEwen at carolwrites4fun@gmail.com.

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