Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Fotos -- Have You Ever Seen One Of These?

This little item arrived in the mail yesterday from my very kind and generous Aunt Priscilla.  This bit of consumer history belonged to my paternal grandmother, Huldah (Hasselbaum) Tew.  The particular item shown here probably dates from the 1950s because my grandmother lived in North Scituate, Rhode Island during the latter part of that decade.

Most of us today are very familiar (some all too familiar) with the modern credit card in all its vanity pictured, logo encrusted glory.  The little gem pictured above is an early ancestor of the plastic marvel that probably inhabits your wallet or purse and comes out for regular exercise in stores and, increasingly, on-line.

The earliest "credit cards" were actually known as "charge cards" and they developed in the U.S. during the 1920s as a means of marketing gasoline and other car products to the rapidly growing number of consumers who owned automobiles.  By the late 1930s, following the early lead of Western Union,  several well-known and established companies began issuing charge cards to their loyal frequent buyers.  It did not take long before groups of merchants saw the benefits of leveraging charge card customers by agreeing to accept one another's cards.  The cards themselves were often printed on paper card stock much like a business card -- but a serious disadvantage of such cards was their lack of durability with frequent use . . .  not to mention the ease of counterfeiting them.  

Enter the Charga-Plate beginning around 1928.  The Charga-Plate "token," with its protective scabbard, is what is pictured above.  It was made of stamped sheet metal and looked like the first cousin of the military "dog tag."  The front was embossed with the name and address of the authorized consumer and the back held a paper signature card.  When a purchase was made, the metal card was placed into the recess of an imprinter and a "charge slip" was placed on top.  A record of the purchase was created by the imprinter running a ribbon with ink over the charge slip pressed against the embossed consumer information on the card.  Many of us will remember the use of plastic credit cards in a similar way before electronic readers and magnetic data strips on the back of more modern credits cards in use today. 

The "Charga-Plate" was a trademark of the Farrington Manufacturing Company.  As Wikipedia states in its entry titled "Credit card". . .  

Charga-Plates were issued by large-scale merchants to their regular customers, much like           department store credit cards of today. In some cases, the plates were kept in the issuing store rather than held by customers. When an authorized user made a purchase, a clerk retrieved the plate from the store's files and then processed the purchase. Charga-Plates speeded back-office bookkeeping that was done manually in paper ledgers in each store, before computers.  

The Charga-Card depicted above is a "Providence Charga-Plate," as stated on the plate's scabbard.  It was issued in my grandmother's name as can be seen above.  You can also notice the arrow on the right side of the plate face indicating the direction it should be inserted into the imprinter.  If you look very closely, you will also see three notches in the border of the plate face.  Two of the notches are very small, but different sized, rectangles.  The third is a semi-circle shape.  My aunt informs me that the notches were placed there by the stores that accepted the card.   

The back side of the plate is pictured below.  It contains my grandmother's unsigned paper signature card secured inside the plate frame.  The text on the cards reads as follows: 

                             Use your Charga-Plate for Better Service

                                       Sign your name here in ink

Between the two rectangular notches and etched into the metal frame are the words "A Farrington PRODUCT."  Etched into the metal frame at the top is "CHARGA-PLATE CREDIT TOKEN" with the trademark registration symbol.

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Photographs by the author

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Copyright 2013, John D. Tew
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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this. I found one of these with a metal detector last week and wondered what it was.