Top Value Stamps, 1969
You might expect to buy a model train made of diamonds from a catalog if the company is Neiman-Marcus, but would you expect to buy a full-size plane from a Top Value trading stamps catalog?
This far exceeds our previous “winner” in this category – buying a station wagon with Green Stamps. That required over 1000 books, but buying a Beechcraft Bonanza require you compile 9900 books.
If you couldn’t afford that, the Cessna is a relative bargain at 3500 books, and a boat is just over 1000 books. Still, why not say the sky’s the limit?
For much of the 20th century consumers were handed trading stamps every time they bought something at a grocery store or gas station. Trading stamps were extraordinarily ubiquitous – in the early 1960s, the S&H Green Stamps company boasted that it printed more stamps yearly than the government printed postage stamps. Merchants typically gave you one stamp for each 10¢ worth of merchandise purchased, and a typical book took approximately 1200 stamps to fill, or about $120 in purchases.
This was a time when a loaf of bread cost well under 25 cents, bananas were 10 cents/pound, and chuck roast was about 50 cents/pound. So it would have required a truly staggering amount of purchases to buy a plane. (You can do the math.) The only possible way one I could imagine this working is if a large group of people pooled all their books together – like everyone in a church went in to buy a plane. Or they could just take up collection and take off quicker.