Rewards from the Past

In the next issue of my magazine, we’re using a photo of one of my most precious heirlooms—my mother’s favorite—Jewel Tea dinnerware, collected piece by piece in the 1950s with credit rewards from Jewel’s household products delivery service.


Jewel Tea was founded at the turn of the century in Chicago by Frank Skiff with just $700, a horse, and a wagon.


Frank sold coffee, tea, spices, and dry goods to area housewives. By the 1930s, Frank had turned his single delivery wagon into the Jewel Home Shopping Service, with a fleet of door-to-door salesmen in Jewel Tea vans who hawked groceries, cleaning supplies, clothing, cookware, tools, and more to housewives across the country.


Jewel gave premium coupons with each purchase; when you had enough coupons, you could order any of the “premium items” from Jewel’s catalog, one of which was the Autumn Leaf china pattern. My mother collected two sets, one for everyday use and one for Sunday and holiday dinners, that came into the house piece-by-piece over the course of several years. As a little girl, I could see that the Sunday set was extra-special because it still had the lovely golden edges that had been worn off on our everyday set.

I also remember many an hour carefully pasting Green Stamps into a booklet and daydreaming of things to come from the S&H Green Stamp rewards catalog.


It was truly the stuff little-girl dreams were made of: pages and pages of color photos of dolls and toys for me and my sister, and everything from knickknacks to furniture and appliances for Mom. Not to mention bows-and-arrows, tools, and more for Dad and the boys, and even a big-ticket trip to Disneyland for the whole family!


S&H Green Stamps were a staple of American culture from the 1930s until the late 1980s. The Sperry & Hutchinson Company sold their stamps and redemption books to retailers—from supermarkets to gas stations to department stores, every purchase came with a bonus of green stamps. Some retailers offered more green stamps per dollar—one more reason to bring shoppers into their stores. Shoppers collected the stamps and pasted them into stamp books, which could then be redeemed from the S&H Ideabook rewards catalog or at S&H redemption centers, which numbered over 600 by the mid-1960s. Eighty percent of American households collected the stamps. At their height, S&H printed three times as many stamps as the U.S. Postal Service and their Ideabook was the largest publication in the U.S. (I didn’t remember that the name of the catalog until I saw this graphic, but now I wonder if all those days of dreaming were firmly lodged in my subconscious, only to pop to the surface when I named my first book MaryJane’s Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook.)

To a frugal family of seven, these “rewards programs” fueled our fantasies even more than the Sears catalog … we could dream of owning beautiful things without any extra cash outlay. A true reward for shopping smart. And now, precious heirlooms from days gone by.


Leave a comment 7 Comments

  1. Lisa says:

    S&H stamps bring back so many good memories.

  2. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Oh my goodness, Green Stamps! How we loved to save those and then redeem them for household items. I so remember carefully putting all of the stamps in the books for Mom.

    Your Mother’s Jewel china service is such a treasure. I don’t remember anyone having that pattern in my growing up days BUT, do you remember the china with the wheat pattern on it that came in boxes of powdered laundry powder? Yep, we had quite a lot of that one. I often see it again in antique stores and have considered buying a few pieces for nostalgia sake.

    • MaryJane says:

      Haven’t seen the wheat pattern. Will have to look that one up. Might be good for the bread book I’m working on.

  3. CJ Armstrong says:

    Ah yes! S&H Green stamps! My mother used them for all kinds of things and my younger sister and I had the “lick ’em and stick ’em” duty. She also used Gold Bond stamps, but they were discontinued at the grocery store where she got them before the green stamps were.
    I have some things that were my mom’s but I have no idea if any of them were acquired because of the stamps!
    Yes, memories!

  4. Connie-Killarney says:

    My eyes just welled with tears at the sight of the Jewel Dinnerware! I have 1 piece, My Granny’s Small Pitcher. Most of the other pieces are with other family members and I do remember one piece was broken at Thanksgiving in the 1960’s!

    It brought back such happy Memories! seeing you collection!

  5. We had the green stamps but my mother only got things for herself, a full set of Samsonite luggage as I recall. We also had a jewel tea man as my mother didn’t drive, he loved us as she would order just about everything he sold. I remember a full year’s supply of toilet paper she ordered once and had stacked in the living room when I came home from school. The jewel tea man has a severely disabled child and she felt that her purchases helped him. My grandmother was a chainsmoker and smother Raleigh cigarettes that had coupons on the back, when she passed we had thousands and thousands of those coupons, but my mother never redeemed them. We also had a local market that had white ironstone china as a freebie and she got enough for full set of dishes for all 5 children when we left home. I was the last holdout using those dishes. It was a standing joke when we visited each other that those ( insert curse word here) dishes were indestructable and we were all sick of looking of them!

  6. Vicki says:

    I did not know the history of my recently deceased mother-in-law’s Autumn Leaf dishes but wish I had known enough to ask her about them before she passed. She had quite a large collection and they were rarely used – my husband and I have been married for 44 years, and neither of us remember her ever getting them out of the china cabinet. We’re not interested in keeping the set, and her grandchildren/great grandchildren are not interested in them. Guess we’ll try and sell them on eBay!w

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