Mr Huntington Hartford was a much-married playboy and philanthropist who succeeded in running through his entire inheritance (A&P supermarkets) before he died. He pissed a few million away on an entertainment magazine, and then wasted another hundred million by building a modern-art museum on a traffic island by Columbus Circle—then a down-at-the-heels part of town.
A&P were the main providers of Plaid trading stamps. Plaid was a distinctly second-tier brand, the high-end competitor being the Beinecke family’s S&H Green Stamps. Just before the bottom fell out of the trading-stamp industry (late 60s?), you could get Green Stamps at major filling stations.
This was the pre-Oil Crisis era, when competition was fierce among the major chains. They couldn’t compete on price, since they all charged 29/9 to 39/9 for a gallon of basic leaded fuel, so they sited themselves in as many locations as they could (if Sunoco built a station on a corner, Gulf or Esso or Chevron soon went up opposite). And they ran never-ending giveaways and promotions.
In addition to Green Stamps, Esso was giving away keychains and glassware and scratch-off cards and decorative “tiger tails” you could hang from your fuel door (“Put a tiger in your tank!”). Gulf had orange plastic horseshoes that stuck to your car with a powerful adhesive guaranteed to ruin the paint.
Author: Meg Burns
Mrs. Burns’s work has appeared in Food & Wine, The Spectator, The Oldie, the San Diego Reader, and other places like that.