K&J Points: Our Mercurial, Floating Currency

by Kevin Burton

   I was born in the heyday of S&H Green Stamps. By God’s grace I have lasted into the era of bitcoin.

   I learned barter by baseball cards before I ever heard the word barter. I used to get fistfuls of Pesos for teaching Mexican nationals how to speak idiomatic American English.

   But there is one currency, one fluid redeemable treasure, oiling the machinery of everyday life in the Burton household that I need to study more closely.  I just don’t have it down yet, my wife Jeannette doesn’t either, though we both refer to it often.

   We call it K&J Points. To fully explain the ramifications of having or not having them, I will first need to look back.

   I mentioned S&H Green Stamps. Do you remember them?  It turns out my memory of them is fuzzy.

   I remember that we had them in the early 70s.  I remember having books of them and also loose stamps. I remember them being kept in the drawer that also sometimes had Oreo cookies, just to the left of the kitchen sink.

   I remember sending them off to get things that were valuable and useful. I can’t remember anything in particular that we bought that way. 

   Jeannette and I have borrowed from the concept of S&H Green Stamps to issue K&J points. How does it work? I’ll get to that, or try to.

   First, here’s the straight story on S&H Green stamps. This is from Greg Hatala, writing for New Jersey Advance Media.   

   “Thomas Sperry of Cranford and Shelley Byron Hutchinson of Ypsilanti, Mich. founded the Sperry and Hutchison Co. in 1896,” Hatala writes. “They made money by selling the stamps and redemption books to retailers, then accepting the stamps in exchange for products from S&H catalogs at their redemption centers, which numbered 600 nationwide by the mid-1960s.”

   Those retailers would then give stamps to customers after purchases. Along with your handful of coins, you would get some stamps. 

   “How cool was this: after you paid for groceries or gasoline you didn’t just get change, you received stamps that could be redeemed for things you wanted!” Hatala writes.

   “This is not a tall tale told by parents or grandparents — like walking two miles to school in waist-deep snow, up hill, both ways — it’s exactly how S&H Green Stamps worked!”

   In other words it was a rewards program.

   “At the height of their popularity, S&H was printing three times as many stamps as the U.S. Postal Service and its catalog was ranked among the largest single publications in the country,” Hatala wrote. “Want to talk market penetration? It is estimated that 80 percent of American households collected Green Stamps during their heyday.”

   “The range of products that Green Stamps could be redeemed for was broad. By the 1960s, the S&H “Ideabook” catalog contained 178 pages of items from dishtowels and ash trays to fishing poles, bicycles, furniture, appliances and a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica,” Hatala wrote. 

   At this point K&J points have no physical manifestation. Their value is not fixed against other currencies or even against honey-do lists, or vows from the wedding. And, we lack that “ideabook,” that catalog you can pick from.

   The whole thing is hard to nail down.

   For instance if I vacuum the living room, which theoretically is possible, do I get 17 K&J points, or 17,000? 

   When I go to redeem them in the catalog for say an office chair, does that chair cost 12 K&J points or 12,000? 

   This thing is still in development stage, even after five years of dating and ten years of marriage.

   Think for example of the term horsepower.  Scottish engineer James Watt coined the term in the late 18th century to compare the output of steam engines with the power of draft horses. It was later expanded to include the output power of other types of piston engines, as well as turbineselectric motors and other machinery, according to Wikipedia. 

   They had to have a language of daily commerce back then and so do the Burtons today.

   Jeannette could redeem several K&J points to get me to dig up the roots from the trees we used to have. The trees are gone. The stumps are gone, the roots are the next impediment to be removed in our quest to have a decent-looking lawn.

   Which thing I don’t care about.

   So should I ask for millions of K&J points to do this disagreeable task? I think you can see where this could be inflationary, a cause for long meetings at conference tables discussing economic reforms.

   I’m open to suggestions here. So far negotiations have only led to fits of helpless giggling. It’s not a tremendously good look. We both went to college.

   Tell you what though, it feels great.

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