Fridays at the Museum: Stamps, Coupons & Ration Books

by Gweneth Collins

Washington County Historical Society Museum is just like any other museum. We have lots of paper – letters, certificates, books, magazines, newspapers, and the list goes on. Some of the smaller paper items in our collections include trading stamps, loyalty coupons, postage stamps, and ration books.

Ration Books: During World War II, Americans experienced shortages of all kinds of things: rubber, metal, clothing, and food. Our military came first and processed food, gasoline, sugar, meat, cooking oil, canned goods, tires, and many other items were reserved for them and our allies. An American rationing system was created that could be used to fairly distribute items that were in short supply and resulted in ration books being issued to every American. A person could not buy a rationed item without also giving up the right ration stamp.  Once your ration stamps were used up for a month, you couldn’t buy any more of that item. This meant lots of planning ahead and being creative with menus.

Loyalty Stamps: S&H Green Stamps were one of the first retail loyalty programs. During the 1960s, just about everyone collected Green Stamps which could be redeemed for merchandise from their rewards catalog. The stamps were an incentive to shop at certain supermarkets, department stores, and gas stations. You could save enough points and turn in filled collection books, and books, and books of stamps for a lamp, a bathroom scale, aftershave, a lawn rake, a dress, or just about anything else you could think of. By the 1980s, this type of stamp collecting was phased out. In addition to our green stamps, we also have Money Reward stamps and Quality Saver stamps in our collection.

Cigarette Coupons: Raleigh and BelAir cigarettes once rewarded smokers with coupons which could be collected and traded in for merchandise from their mail-order catalog. If you smoked enough cigarettes, in five years you would have enough coupons for a set of golf clubs… that is, if you were still able to play golf…

Postage Stamps: All those letters, postcards, and notes scattered throughout the museum were usually delivered by the U.S. Postal Service therefore they had a stamp. A recent donation brought stamps from the early 1900s and we have also come across some Russian stamps recently! Who knows how many more treasures there are hidden away in our museum…

The history museum is open on Fridays from 10AM until 2PM. We do require masks. Social distancing is observed and hand sanitizer is available. Drop by and check out of our papers! If by chance we are not open, we are cleaning.