"You don't get nuttin' for nuttin'," was the advice thrown out several times daily by the local pool room owner where we hung out during our formative years, but the incurable optimist in me would not allow me to believe him.
Giveaways always intrigued me, like back in the 1950s a supermarket in Queens, N.Y., offered with $10 or more worth of groceries a section each week of what was touted as the world's biggest and most accurate dictionary.
Groceries had to be purchased weekly so I went after the offering.
The weeks spent gathering sections became longer than I expected and finally when all the sections, including the imitation leather binding, were in my possession I spent a long evening at the kitchen table putting it all together.
There was a rhyming dictionary, a brief history of the U.S., important dates, flags of the world, lovely color pages, and a section with the population of every city in the U.S. with 20,000 or more people.
Knowing the city I grew up in qualified I looked it up to see the current population. It wasn't listed.
Having spent maybe $1,000 in groceries to own the tome I suddenly doubted the accuracy of the rest of the 2,000 pages.
So I rested on the advice of the pool room owner until trading stamps became the craze in the 50s and 60s.
Then I forgot his good advice and picked up stamps everywhere I could. One evening a week I would paste them in the little book, scraping some off the side of a milk carton that some packer shoved in the bag so they were next to the moist container.
The prize I was after was a pan in the catalogue that promised to cook the perfect pasta every time.
The collecting took months and I again found myself buying things I didn't need so I could fill out the books.
Finally one Saturday morning I stood in a long line at a redemption center to get my prize and pay my tax money.
Officious girls wearing rubber caps on their fingers carefully pored over every page. And the pan lived up to its promise, and I was hooked on it.
It was at a New Year celebration when the party spilled out onto the lawn at midnight with everyone using some kind of noisemaker that spelled the end of my pan.
At the height of the noisemaking I glanced at my youngest daughter and she was banging on my pasta pan with a huge metal spoon, creating tiny irreparable punctures in the surface.
It was the only redemption I ever made, but I watched as neighbors and friends went at it with a frenzy.
It was like dish night at the movies again.
By 1957, 40 to 50 million families saved trading stamps. They came in all shades and colors; Plaids, King Korn, Blue Chip. Gold Bond and the original S & H Green.
Stamp collecting turned wild and by 1960, approximately 39,437,000 American families or 77 percent of the nation's households saved trading stamps. That same year stamp firms grossed $650 million.
But collecting stamps lost its luster for me and I began to avoid stores and places featuring them.
Meanwhile quiet stories in newspapers began tugging at me to collect again.
One stamp firm offered mink stoles, Cadillacs, and power boats for 300 to 2,000 books.
By 1965, sales of stamp companies totaled $1 billion as retail sales climbed to $38 billion.
Yale alumnus Edward J. Beinecke left $15,348,000 to his alma mater. Beinecke was chairman of the board of the Sperry and Hutchinson Co., producers of S & H green stamps among a variety of other enterprises.
Stamps were also used to purchase school buses and planes for missionaries in remote areas of the world.
The stamps were replacing money. Just before Christmas in 1961 the manager of a Hyattsville Top Value Redemption Center expected to redeem 10,000 in a week, representing $1.5 million in original purchases.
Stamps were used to buy two gorillas for an Erie, Pa., zoo; pipe organs for churches, a helicopter trip for an aging couple, even to send kids to summer camp.
If people were having fun collecting stamps, the practice caused problems at the GSA.
GSA's yearly purchases were always high and stamps rolled in with much of the merchandise, GSA officials feared they would have to put on five people to sit in a room pasting the stamps into books.
GSA then arranged to give their stamps to hospitals, letting the hospitals benefit and solving the problem of sticking them into books by having patients do it as part of their therapy.
There were, however, dark days for stamp savers. Rising food and gasoline prices made customers aware that the stamps weren't free and that like all other things, the purchaser had to pay for the stamps through higher prices.
It's been a long time since I've gotten stamps with my change or have seen one of those ubiquitous "We give green stamps" signs. But apparently, someplace, somewhere, people still are trying to get nuttin' for nuttin'.
"Trading stamps are still around," said Owen Wilkerson, manager of media relations at S & H Green Stamps, "we are still big in the Southeast and Southwest and do exceptionally well in the far western region."
During the 1960s S & H ran 560 redemption centers. There are 500 today.
"Only two years ago a group saving program bought a tiger for a Charlotte, N.C., zoo," Wilkerson said. "S & H is still first, followed by Top Value and Gold Bonds."
If the drag in the checkout counter was long during the stamp days, we may have to look forward to waiting again while a weary clerk counts the coupons.A recent study by Cornell University said "cents off" coupons will be No. 1 in the '80s.
The coupons will allow the shopper a dime or more off a purchase of soap powder, or other items.
If stamps come back to the area I still have a couple of frayed books around and I might just take my coupons and try to find someone to trade off with for a couple of books they might have around, as I never really ever gave up looking for "nuttin' for 'nuttin'."
Let's see now, that pasta pan was 3 1/2 books. Or was it four?