Wednesday, 3 May 2017

A little bit of our history down at the Co-op

2d token issued by the R.A.C.S., date unknown
It’s so easy to lose so much of our history.

Now the big things like the homes of the great and good, as well as the not so good but still very powerful and rich usually survive, as do their possessions.

In the same way those important papers of State, the letters and records of government from Roman tax records to Magana Carta and much else have come down to us.

Although I do have to concede sometimes it is a dam close thing and often it is down to accident rather than design that these things are still around to tell us something of the past.

Of course in the great sweep of history more rather than less has gone forever.

1£ Co-op book of stamps circa 1970
And amongst all that lost material are the overwhelming majority of everyday objects each with their own unique story.

I could have picked almost anything to explore these vanished objects but in the end choose the humble trading token and its modern equivalent the trading stamp.

It began with a sheet of those Green Shield Stamps posted on facebook which if you are of a certain age will bring back vivid memories of collecting them, then sticking them in books and eventually exchanging shed loads of them for a range of goods.

Co-op stamps, circa 1970
And into the game came the Co-op which had been operating its own reward system since its inception.

This was the dividend which gave every member a share of the stores profits.  All you needed to do was quote your “divi number” and the amount you spent would be recorded.

Talk to many people and they can instantly remember their family number and even quote it back.

Sadly I was never one of them and so for me the introduction of the divi stamp was to be welcomed.  So instead of holding up a line of shoppers down at the Well Hall Co-op opposite the Pleasaunce I could now vanish with the groceries secure in the knowledge that all was well with our divi reward.

Atoken issued by  Bolden Industrial Co-op, date uknown
“Dividend Stamps were introduced in 1965. 

It was an alternative to the traditional methods of paying the 'divi', and as a response to the adoption of trading stamps by other food retailers like Tesco who adopted the Green Shield stamps scheme. 

Some individual Co-operative societies operated their own stamp schemes but the CWS National scheme was in use from 1969.”*

Running alongside the number and then later the stamps were the old tokens, made of very thin metal.

"Coop members would go into their local society shops to buy the tokens for bread, milk, coal etc. The amount they spent would then be registered for their dividend payments.  The members would then give the token to the milkman, bread man or coal roundsman etc in return for the items they wanted."**

Co-op stamps, circa 1970
In our house some at least never made it back to the Co-op and instead were used as toys and even took the place of playing cards.

So for those who remember them and a lot more who are totally baffled by them here is a selection taken from my friend Lawrence’s blog* and the Bolden History site.*

They were an important part of many peoples' way of budgeting and marked a commitment to a co-operative way of life which I still think is the way forward.

Pictures; Co-op trading stamps, courtesy of Lawrence Beedle, and trading tokens from Boldon History

*Hardy Lane Scrapbook,

**Boldon History,

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