PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- You have to be of a certain age to remember trading stamps. They were handed out by merchants, a loyalty program before there were loyalty cards, frequent flier miles and credit card points.
In the western United States, Blue Chip Stamps was the biggest trading stamp company. Shoppers collected them, licked the back like a postage stamp, put them into books, then traded in the books for merchandise. The 1970s gasoline shortage changed that. With more customers than gasoline, service stations stopped handing out stamps. That was the beginning of the end.
When I first reported on Blue Chip Stamps it was 1997, and Palo Alto's All American Market was one of the last to still be a Blue Chip grocer. Carl Jamrog was the head checker then.
"A lot of people, when they see us doing it for someone else, will start the program," Jamrog told me then. "They say, like everyone else, 'I thought those things died a long time ago.'"
Back then Joanne Hall, a customer of All American Market, told me, "It is kind of convenient for me because I don't live far from here. You only have to put them in an envelope and mail them back, and UPS delivers them back to your house."
Bowling centers were still giving out stamps too, but 13 years later in 2010, Blue Chip Stamps were no longer given out, but they could still be redeemed. If you go online today you'll find plenty of old Blue Chip Stamps for sale on eBay and Etsy as collectors' items. Search further on the internet and you could bump into plenty of bad information about Blue Chip Stamps. The website Quora says Blue Chip Stamps "are no longer redeemable." Wikipedia doesn't say if they are redeemable... But they are.
I contacted the Pasadena-based company, and found there are only a couple people left working there. Stamps come in for redemption maybe once a month. There are no longer items to "buy" with stamps, instead they are redeemed at $1.80 per book. Blue Chip pays postage. Blue Chip Stamps is happy to redeem your books, although I was told they don't want to redeem stamps bought online. From what I've seen, you would be hard pressed to buy them for less than their redemption value.
If you have a stash of Blue Chip Stamps, here's where you can call to get mailing instructions: 626-585-6700.
Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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