Thread Number: 68584  /  Tag: Other Home Products or Autos
Old credit cards
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Post# 913387   12/31/2016 at 22:31 (538 days old) by fan-of-fans (Florida)        

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How exactly did old credit cards work? I can remember in the day when they had the sliders that took an imprint of those raised numbers and names on the card. But looking at really old cards they seem to be made of paper?

And how exactly were accounts kept track of? By mail or phone?

Were there credit scores back then like we have now? Everyone I know seems to say loans were given by whether the institution thought they would pay, not by credit history.

In the 1960s credit cards must have been a big thing because I always see the phrase Just Say "Charge It!" very often in old store ads.

Post# 913394 , Reply# 1   12/31/2016 at 23:49 (538 days old) by Sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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Well, I only go back to the mid-1970's when I got my first credit card. As I recall I had to have a private appointment with the local bank loan officer to ascertain if I was card worthy. Since then much later, my credit score has usually been above 800 so his faith was not eventually unrewarded. I think I was regularly depositing my paychecks with his bank so he knew I had a regular income. I think looking him in the eye and telling him I always paid my bills might have helped.

Be that as it may, these early credit cards were thick plastic, albeit with just raised letters to take an imprint on special paper, which I'd have to sign and I would be handed a carbon copy. I don't think the first card had a mag stripe on it, although that one is long gone and I couldn't bet my life on it. But I suppose that if it had had a mag stripe I would have remembered it being swiped without the need for the somewhat dramatic crunch of the imprint device across card and paper.

I am not sure if credit cards were ever just paper. Although I'm aware that there is nothing really special about a personal check either. I've been told by persons in the banking industry that a simple piece of paper with name, address, name of bank, and account number, plus amount and signature, is supposedly enough to pass as a check, although probably merchants and vendors have a right to reject such a device. And the bank might need a personal call to reassure them that the check in fact is per one's wishes. What with being able to pay bills over the phone by direct withdrawal without even a slip of paper, just the account information, it would seem that the whole finance world revolves as much on trust, convention, and statistical probability as it does with fancy shiny credit cards with strips, chips, holograms, and see through scenic backgrounds. All that may be mostly marketing.

Post# 913396 , Reply# 2   12/31/2016 at 23:59 (538 days old) by ea56 (Sonoma Co.,CA)        

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Well I can recall in the 1950's going shopping with my Mom and she used to just tell the clerks to charge it to my husband's office, and then she would give then the law firm name. At other store's, like the grocery store the acct. was in my parents name and they would just write up a receipt for the amt., my parents would sign it and the cashier put the receipt in the cash register. These receipts would be used to keep the record of the acct. balance and bills were mailed out monthly. I also recall that at some stores, like Roos Bros. in Berkeley the amt of the charge would be sent upstairs to acctn'g via a pneumatic tube and approval or denial of the charge would be sent down from acctn'g to the clerk. My Mom also had one of the early credit cards at Macy's. It was called a "Charge A Plate", and was an aluminum card embossed with the acct. number and name on the front and on the back was a piece of white card board with the acct. holders name written in ballpoint pen. The card was about 1 1/4" X 2 1/2" and had a brown leather sleeve that the card was kept in. The clerk would place the charge a plate in a machine on the counter, place the sales receipt over the charge a plate and run the roller over the receipt to emboss the acct. info. for billing. While this system was primitive by todays standards, it also created a lot of work for the bookkeepers and accountants that kept it working. And these were not bad jobs to have.

As far as banks making loans, I don't believe they started using credit scores much until the 70's, before that you filled out an app. for a loan and were interviewed by a bank official. Based on your reputation, app. info and how you interviewed would determine whether or not you would get a loan.

Post# 913399 , Reply# 3   1/1/2017 at 00:24 (538 days old) by petek (Ontari ari ari O )        

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My folks never had a credit up until they were basically forced to have one to travel/book hotels/flights etc. and that wasn't until probably the early 80's. No bank loans or car loans ever except for a mortgage. They were the if you can't pay for it with cash or cheque you can't afford it.  I got a small loan of a few hundred dollars ( a sum at the time for me)  from the credit union our office used because I'd just moved to Vancouver and what little money I had went for my first months rent and security deposit on the apartment . I had nothing, no furniture etc. The company held back your first 2 weeks pay which made it worse so when the rep from the credit union came around to the office on payday I asked if I could have a small loan and they gave me one.. a few hundred dollars to get by on and I paid it back every payday. I was too proud to ask my folks to lend me the money which they would have. 


I did get a gas card, they were easy to get, just fill in the form, drop in the mail and it came in the mail.. Actually it was always easy to get cards at dept stores.. I'd get one at nearly every dept store from Vancouver to Seattle, to Portland to San Fran,, still have some of them for posterity. They'd give you one in less than 10 minutes if you had another card,  but I never really used them much.  Today I have one card I rarely ever use.. the lowest interest rate Visa with no rewards or anything.. They're always asking me to upgrade it.. 


I remember too when the statements would come in the mail,, many of them were like IBM punch cards. Probably have some of those stashed away too.   LOL. 

Post# 913405 , Reply# 4   1/1/2017 at 01:24 (538 days old) by rp2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        
". . . mostly marketing."

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Rich, I think a classic '70s example of picturesque credit cards would be those issued by Liberty House, an upscale department store chain you might remember, which had a scene of the Lone Cypress above the rocky Pebble Beach coastline.  People wanted the card for that reason alone.  I don't think Liberty House lasted even ten years.


I remember The Emporium (same ownership as Capwell's in the East Bay and The Broadway in SoCal) had huge beige imprinters with a large handle that the clerk would push downward in a long arcing stroke and ka-chunk -- an imprint of the card would be made on the charge plate receipt.  I also remember The Emporium having the hugest, noisiest cash registers of any retailer.


I think someone here a long, long time ago found a paper credit card (from the '40s maybe?) and posted a picture.  I think it had a metal section with the customer/account information embossed on it in raised characters.  It reminded me of the first library card I had as a kid.


I have a lot of old cards from accounts I opened in the late '70s with long gone retailers like Bullock's, Hastings, Polostore, Robinson's, Marshall Field's, I. Magnin, to name a few, as a result of the preppy look that was so pervasive at the time.


When BankAmericard morphed into Visa, I wanted to steal a '60s metal BankAmericard sign that was hanging out in front of an old shop in my neighborhood, but it was in far too busy an area not to be noticed.  It was going to be replaced by a Visa sign anyway . . .


I Magnin used the same system that Eddie described at Roos Bros.  There were no cash registers.  All transactions were conducted via tube.  It was quiet and dignified in those stores. 





Post# 913410 , Reply# 5   1/1/2017 at 01:54 (538 days old) by Sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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Well I spent my teen years in SF, and I remember the Emporium well, but I don't think I actually ever bought anything there. I remember it did have a great central space. All gone now, I think.

If Liberty House were around today it probably couldn't afford to put that lone cypress on its cards any more. The Pebble Beach corporation has copyrighted that image and is extremely vigilant about not allowing it to be reproduced without permission, and I surmise that permission is very difficult to procure. Raised noses and all that finery.

For me a credit card is simply a convenience. Meaning I don't have to carry around a lot of cash or a check book to make all sorts of purchases. Unless I've misplaced a bill or something, I pay it off every month and thus the credit card companies don't get any interest off my account. I think I've "forgotten" about twice in the last 30 years.

It makes sense that early credit cards were metal or at least had a metal embossing area. Probably because plastics weren't quite ready yet. Sort of makes the gold and platinum cards of today look a bit tawdry. I knew a chap, since passed on, who still had his metal driver's license from, I think, Georgia from the 30's. It was a simple piece of brass with his name and other details on it, about the size of a key. In fact he kept it on his keychain. Good times.

Post# 913463 , Reply# 6   1/1/2017 at 10:41 (538 days old) by jamiel (Detroit, Michigan)        

Much to discuss here. There is a fair bit of information out on the internet on the credit cards. My first real office job was with GE Capital working with the Montgomery Ward credit card portfolio in the early 90s. Earliest credit cards were just cardboard, handwritten/typed cards to indicate that a holder had an account and were issued by a single store (remember, branch stores didn't really exist until the 50s so they could run everything from a single credit office/single tube system/... at the downtown location.

Credit bureaus came to life in the 40s-50s as it became helpful and efficient to have centralized credit information...imagine how much more efficient it was to get the information for Mr. Jones (remember, women couldn't get credit on their own)rather than each store doing its own investigation.

To prevent counterfeiting, they used the aluminum plate backed with the cardboard account information. These worked with the embossers which everyone has generally seen. This would have been in the 50s.

At about the same time, the combined retail cards (Charga-Plates) were a convenience for the customer (allowing milady to carry a single plate per city with the stores where the family had an account. Each store notched the plate to show that it was valid at that particular store. I suspect these were a bit of diversification for each city's credit bureau. Sears and Wards were growing at this time, but each city for them ran their own credit accounts (you could use your Sears/Wards account out of town, but it required a call back to where you account was held. JC Penney didn't really move into credit until the 60s.

Early 60s moved to the plastic charge cards. Not much automation until the 70s of approvals...touchtone phones or dedicated keypads were used for approvals, particularly before electronic cash registers were used.

I worked at a department store in 1986-7 where we had electronic cash registers, but no mag stripes or OCR (optical character reader) on the credit cards--you entered the card into the register directly.

Post# 913464 , Reply# 7   1/1/2017 at 10:50 (538 days old) by wayupnorth (On a lake between Bangor and Bar Harbor)        

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First warning I ever had on credit cards being compromised was from Discover that people would go thru the trash looking for discarded carbons from the slip and use the number they found to rack up charges for unsuspecting cardholders. How the compromising has changed today.

Post# 913480 , Reply# 8   1/1/2017 at 13:05 (538 days old) by twintubdexter (Palm Springs)        
67 tomorrow...going on 100 :-(

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Well thanks so much Sudsmaster for visiting the Downtown Emporium while I was a (very young) buyer and never making a  purchase. You could have at least picked something up like a console color television or one of those fabulous Oriental Magnavox stereos and supported my department. They were must-have items for every teenager.


If I had a nickle for every  time I put a customer's card in an addressograph I''d be wealthy. You had to change the date manually and they were hell on long nails...probably the reason Lee Press-On's were invented.


It was "Easier to find everything you have in mind at The Emporium"

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Post# 913504 , Reply# 9   1/1/2017 at 15:09 (538 days old) by kimball455 (Cape May, NJ)        
Shopping in Washington DC

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Several of the major stores in the DC area created the Washington Shopping Plate so that you only had to have one card/plate for the stores rather than one for each. Here is a link for more info.
I still have my Washington Shopping Plate but there are no stores left where it was used.



Post# 913508 , Reply# 10   1/1/2017 at 15:45 (538 days old) by Sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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LOL, you were probably still in school when some friends and I visited the Emporium in the early 1960's. The older brother of one of my friends apparently worked there, and my friend had concocted some sort of scheme involving wholesale shoplifting. I remember being urged to commit the dastardly act but I was suspicious because my supposed friend wouldn't pilfer anything himself. And I really didn't want to steal anything anyway. Eventually the older brother showed up and read my supposed friend the riot act. All I heard was that he knew what they were up to. Later on I figured that some previous disagreement had probably resulted in an attempted set up. Another bullet dodged.

I remember being dragged in there at other times by my Mom to cruise the bargain basement tables. Piles of clothing nobody apparently wanted or needed but were the object of frenzied rummaging. This didn't interest me much either.

At one point I counted the dots in a newspaper advertisement for a TV store on Mission Street, and won a $25 off coupon for a new color TV. I was unable to sell this to anyone who might have been in the market for a new set. I think the phrase I heard from the most likely buyer was that in all likelihood the price of the set had been raised $25 already, and it was no bargain.

During those days I bought my clothes at placed on Haight Street like "Nearly New" or "Goodwill"... so you can see that any electronics purchases were right out. In fact we didn't even have a TV set from 1963 to 1967.

Good times.

Post# 913515 , Reply# 11   1/1/2017 at 17:05 (538 days old) by perc-o-prince (Southboro, Mass)        

that I haven't heard the proper term for the embossing action of the slide or roller machines mentioned yet... "franking!" I never did know why it was called franking, but maybe someone else knows.

Little tidbits of useless info floating around in my brain!


Post# 913531 , Reply# 12   1/1/2017 at 19:17 (537 days old) by petek (Ontari ari ari O )        

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Until you just mentioned "franking" yes I do recall the word but never really knew what it meant either,,, a seldom used word like when I started working and they had a decollator.. wth was that.. as it turned out, the machine that separated continuous forms into single forms.

Post# 913532 , Reply# 13   1/1/2017 at 19:24 (537 days old) by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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I seem to recall having heard the term "franking" used also for checks. IIRC (and I may be wrong) used when printing on the check to endorse it. I'm guessing it might have been at Piggly Wiggly near our house, which was the first place I ever saw fancy electronic cash registers complete with lots of red lights (LEDs, probably) and a scanners. Unlike other stores, they'd feed the checks into the cash register to print the endorsement stuff.

Post# 913537 , Reply# 14   1/1/2017 at 19:48 (537 days old) by Michaelman2 (Atlanta, GA)        

We still use the term at Saks. Primarily when a new charge account is opened at the point of sale ( register). The application is sent through the register and it is automatically "franked". There are various transactions where an Addressograph is still used with a charge card and the document is embossed with the customer's info.

There is a market for old charge plates / cards. I see them on EBay from defunct department stores all the time. I have a bunch from stores that are no longer.

I was at Tiffany & Co recently and asked one of the long term associates ( 30+ years) about the old Tiffany house charge system. You would go in a Tiffany and they would manually look up your house account. In the mid 1980s after being purchased by Avon they started issuing charge cards for house accounts. The associate told me, even though they have issued charge cards they STILL do everything pretty much the same, manual way. They are computerized but everything is still manually entered and approved.

Post# 913541 , Reply# 15   1/1/2017 at 20:05 (537 days old) by Sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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"Franking" is the term for allowing Congressmen to send mail at no cost. It's called a "Franking Privilege"... So I've always assumed that "franking" is synonymous with stamping. Apparently the banking industry co-opted the term to indicate markings that connote advance of credit.

The word origin (from Google) sheds some light on the term:

Frank: early 18th century: from frank, an early sense being ‘free of obligation.’

So a franked credit card receipt is equivalent to saying, "Paid", as far as the merchant is concerned, although it also carries with it an implied if not explicit obligation on the part of the purchaser to reimburse the credit card provider.

Post# 913679 , Reply# 16   1/2/2017 at 18:20 (536 days old) by imperial70 (******)        

I recall an early electronic cash register that displayed "Insert Check for Franking." I can't recall the make. I loved those old machines. Made so much noise just to print out one line item.

Post# 913733 , Reply# 17   1/3/2017 at 05:59 (536 days old) by petek (Ontari ari ari O )        

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Speaking of cash registers.. The very first electronic one I saw was at Sears in the early 70's.. thanks to google I found it.. A Singer Friden. They were very cool looking at the time.

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Post# 913781 , Reply# 18   1/3/2017 at 13:42 (536 days old) by rp2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        

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I never saw one of those Singer Friden ones, but I do remember the (relatively) small Sweda ones from the '60s.  The weren't electronic.  They were just way smaller and quieter than the old-school ones like NCRs.


Image result for vintage sweda cash register


Post# 913852 , Reply# 19   1/3/2017 at 22:15 (535 days old) by ladyearth (Kentucky)        
credit buying on time

mine, which i till may have is my first contact lenses from the optical store . I believe I was between 16 and 18 yr old
I believe I payed by the week or so.
I may also have my first jewelry store purchase payment booklet. So it may not have been an actual card...
I believe I bought one of those battery operated / AC record player. Rather large too..... I think I got rid of it just in last few years. we have so much in out shed Im not sure..LOL
You dont realize how much stuff you have till you move....LOL but not really funny cause we still have too much stuff. No one hardly buys around here in small town. So will prob have to giv away more stuff
so we can finally get out of this mistake place...
Happy N Years to all

Post# 914669 , Reply# 20   1/8/2017 at 15:25 (531 days old) by drhardee ( Columbia, SC)        

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Anything anyone ever wanted to know about credit - especially credit scores and the best credit products out there is at Yeah, it's put out by the FICO folks, but the forums aren't run by them necessarily. If you're looking to repair your credit, or find a decent credit card for your score, their forums are a good place to browse.

Post# 914681 , Reply# 21   1/8/2017 at 18:32 (530 days old) by Gyrafoam (Roanoke, VA)        

Most of you guys are describing what I remember. Thick paper cards and metal cards sounds like what I recall in the '50's. American Express, Diner's Club. I remember my parents had a specific charge card they used for air travel, I just don't recall the name. It was accepted by any of the airlines. Growing up in Atlanta, my parents rarely had to dig for a card, at least when I was young. Most places we did business with just asked them to sign for things "on account". Rich's Department Store, Regenstein's, Buckhead Men's Shop, Glass' Gulf Station, Matthew's Market, Wender and Robert's Pharmacy, Happy Herman's, Henri's Bakery, Harry Baron's, Progressive Club,many different restaurants, etc. At one time I think my mother must have had a credit card for every store in Atlanta, much to my father's displeasure. I never abused the privilege so thanks to my dad I was still able to sign for things years after my folks retired to Florida. Those were the days. I don't think many places in Atlanta still do that. Most of the places I recall are long gone.
The same was true about our family members in the NYC area, so in spite of it's much larger size, the businesses in those neighborhoods also kept "accounts" for people to sign off on. I didn't seriously carry more than a card or two until the late 70's. Like many people, my first card was Sears.

Post# 915028 , Reply# 22   1/10/2017 at 21:48 (528 days old) by petek (Ontari ari ari O )        

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One thing I found somewhat startling when we moved back here to a smallish city was that local businesses and contractors are very trusting. First when I had my mothers roof reshingled I asked about a deposit. Nope.. pay us when you're satisfied.. Had our whole main floor painted,, pick the paint at the store and tell me which one and he'd go get it on his discount, no markups and no payment till the jobs done and we're completely satisified. Took the lawnmower and weedeaters in for servicing, few days later go to pick it up..he can't find the invoice so no charge. I said well roughly how much and gave him that amount which I still think was too low.
You'd never get that in Vancouver or Calgary.

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