A place to recall and celebrate the wonderful stores of a Downtown Boston now alive only in our memories

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Charge Coins Come to Retro Boston

Hello, My Fellow Retro Boston Lovers!

Today I present a series of great photos of a rare collection of old downtown Boston department and speciality store charge coins that were sent to me by one of my many new blog readers. Readers who are keen to share their Boston memories and treasures with all of you!

These great old charge coins were in use mainly from the late 1800’s to the 1930’s in Boston. Boston stores began to offer customers the option to charge items on individual accounts in the later part of the 1800’s but in the beginning it was really only for the more “financially comfortable” members of the public...it was really after World War I that stores began to reach out to loyal average shoppers and invite them to open charge accounts with them.

The charge coins offered a simple way to recall your store account number...you would present it to the salesperson at the counter when you made your purchase...very easy...very convenient!

Many shoppers had store charge coins for many larger stores in Boston and they each had a little hole punched through on the top and could safely be put on a key ring of sorts...so cute!!!

But...alas...no names were printed on the coins...only the account numbers...easy to steal and easy to use. A new type of crime wave swept the city...the fraudulent use of charge coins. Articles appeared almost weekly in the various Boston papers exposing the risks to shoppers and merchants alike.

The early 1930’s saw the introduction of charge plates. Larger rectangular metallic plates with identifying cuts that made it more difficult to steal and use...the new charge plates required the all important customer signature as part of the charging process. Enter the art of forgery! No system is infallible! But the stores felt safer and so did many customers. The old style charge coins were very popular and the new charge plates became even more so.

The charge plate scheme in Boston was introduced as a multi-store card with various notches to denote the stores one had accounts in...seven Boston area stores worked as team to bring this new scheme to life in 1934.

As the 1930’s and 1940’s wore on, more and more stores moved away from the old coins and switched to plates. Most stores by now had their own charge plates and the multi-card scheme was ceased.

By the 1960’s, most stores called their plates...cards...and the new cards were plastic. It is fun to note that Gilchrist’s held out into the 1970’s and continued to call theirs a charge plate. Good old Gilchrist’s!!

Enjoy this selection of store advertisements that show the evolution of Boston area store charge accounts over time...you may have to really read the fine print...have fun!!


A Look Back at Boston in the 1940’s:

I located a great photo in the BPL collection. The photo shows a perfect view of Tremont and Washington Streets from the air in the mid-1940’s. I cropped and labelled it for my readers to enjoy. Please download it and have a good look. The thrill comes from a good close look...which I did the other day and found lots to enjoy and recall.

Here are a few of my notes for you to read as you look at the photo close-up:

I labelled many of the larger stores in the area for you to see and also a few theatres as reference points for those who like to have some idea where things were then in relation to now.

The scope of this area has changed dramatically. In 1940’s the Jordan Marsh Annex looked so regal in the midst of the assembled buildings. The nine floors really did stand out and one can see why Jordan Marsh was so pleased with it when it first began to built in the early part of the 1900’s.

Notice Filene’s roof...the large air conditioning unit is brightly labelled so that no man or bird will doubt the store’s boastful (but very true) claim of providing glorious cool air to the famous basement down below.

RH White’s...if you look carefully...has taken over the upper floors of the building to the right. Notice the little bridges that connect the upper floors of White’s to the other building. The other building’s upper levels were used for many years as stock and storage areas until White’s outgrew it.

Notice just how big Chandler’s was on the corner of West and Tremont. When the store merged with Conrad’s on Winter Street in 1958, they really did downsize considerably.

I am always amazed at just how many buildings made up Jordan Marsh’s Main Store and Hovey’s! Have a good look...I truly lament the loss of the older (historic, as well!!) buildings of the CF Hovey store but one can see why...in the late 1940’s...the Jordan Marsh executives wanted to wipe the slate clean and start again with clean lines and less “patchwork quilted” smaller buildings. The view shows the scope of all the little old structures that made each store up...this view would not last much beyond the snapping of this very photo!

Lastly, Jordan Marsh was amazing for so many reasons (that’s why I am doing my special memory project on it!!!) BUT the sheer scope as one can see here in this view from the 1940’s is spectacular! Imagine, if you can...entering the Main Store near the corner of Washington and Winter...moving up and all around the various departments of those inter-connected buildings...Great Basement to the fifth floor. Then you cross the bridge over Avon Street and enter the Annex...visit all nine floors of that...by now you are exhausted. Lastly...go down to the Annex section of the Great Basement and travel in the small underground tunnel to the Great Basement section of the Bristol Building and end your shopping spree in the “daylight” section of the Great Basement on the street floor of this last part of Jordan Marsh.

Thanks to Elizabeth for the great charge coin photos!!!

Please keep writing to me...I love all your memories and photos!!! The Jordan Marsh project is still ongoing and just waiting for you to add your own thoughts, treasures and beloved memories to the mix...come one, come all!!

Enjoy!!!! Charles:-)