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Charge It!

Posted on November 27th, 2017 by

A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

In celebration (or at least acknowledgement) of that most modern of holiday traditions, Cyber Monday, let’s take a quick look at something that helps make this day possible: the credit card or, in this case, the store charge card.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many Baltimore stores eagerly offered their customers credit, installment plans, and the like. Customers were typically known personally to the storekeeper, and their payments (or lack thereof) were tracked in ledgers, by hand.

Trade or advertising card for Hecht’s Reliable Clothing Company, late 19th century.  “CLOTHING ON CREDIT. You are respectfully invited to call at our Store and examine our immense Stock of CLOTHING. Men’s Suits and Overcoats at all Prices. Boys’ Suits and Overcoats at all Prices. Children’s Suits and Overcoats at all Prices. Fall Overcoats at all Prices. In fact, we keep every Style Garment you may ask for, which we will sell you ON INSTALLMENTS, And guarantee our Prices to be as low as any First-Class Clothing House, On Easy Weekly or Monthly Payments, at HECHT’S RELIABLE CLOTHING HOUSE 519 S. Broadway, Between Eastern and Canton Aves.”  Gift of Maxwell Whiteman. JMM 1989.1.1

The charge coin, introduced in the late 19th century and popular with department stores in the early decades of the 20th century, linked a customer to his or her store account (without said customer needing to memorize it) via a number printed on the back of a handy token.

This 1937 card from Hochschild, Kohn & Co. explains, “Your Charge Coin – Carry it on your key-ring. Bring it with you when you shop. Show it to the sales-clerk when you wish to take goods with you. Your charge coin is a time saver, a protection to your account and an almost certain assurance that your keys will be returned, if lost.”  Gift of Town, LLC.  JMM 2000.58.13

Here’s an actual Hochschild, Kohn coin, just an inch and a half long, from the 1920s. Gift of Neal Borden. JMM 2009.51.19

Even more convenient were charge plates, also known as Charga-Plates: metal ID tags, about 2 ½ inches long, with the owner’s name and address embossed for use on an imprinter – no magnetic strips or chips quite yet, but at least the clerk didn’t need to write things out by hand. These often came with their own leather carrying case, and looked quite classy, perhaps the mid-century equivalent of flashing your gold card (or whatever today’s “check me out, I can afford that” accessory might be).

A Hutzler Bros. charga-plate with leather wallet, issued to Capt. Hermann B. Stein (though used by his wife Mindell), early 1940s. Gift of Mindell Stein. JMM 1988.184.1a-b

An “Account Plate” with leather wallet, issued to Mrs. Earl Pruce, circa 1950s. Probably useable at several shops, since no particular store is named. Gift of Earl Pruce. JMM 1992.112.6

It’s worth pointing out that these were charge cards, not credit cards; accounts were to be paid in full at the end of the month. These were also usable only at the specific store that issued them, until some city-wide associations – such as Baltimore Shopping Plate (good at Hutzler’s, Hochschild Kohn, Hess Shoes, and Hecht’s) or Charg-It of Baltimore (founded in 1953 by Jewish businessman P.L. Kling) – broadened the scope to include several member shops. Later, national and international credit services came along, making things even more convenient for the shopper … though rather less interesting to those interested in local ephemera.

Another important point is that most of the early cards and plates in our collection are under a man’s name, or “Mrs.”-man’s-name. Not until the 1974 passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act were women guaranteed the right to obtain credit in their own name.

I should also note that I am perfectly aware that many of my readers are much more familiar with these cards and concepts than I – Gen X shopper that I am, credit card holder only since 1993 – but I have a feeling that, say, some of our high school interns, with their online payment apps, would be even more perplexed than I was when I encountered a charge plate in the collections of my first museum job. (It was kindly explained to me by my boss, who still had her Washington Shopping Plate card.)  If I’ve overstated or oversimplified anything, please let us know! Take a break from shopping today to share your stories of your first store charge card!

Entertained by these odd little collectibles? Here are a few more:

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Spotlight on Collections

Posted on September 27th, 2012 by

Recently a researcher looking into his family had us scan these trade cards and now we’re sharing them with you.  These cards represent two Baltimore stores and can help us understand the history of the businesses.  The cards can also hint at the nature of advertising from a century ago or more.

Trade card for Hecht’s, n.d. Courtesy of Maxwell Whiteman. JMM 1989.1.1

Trade card for Meyer C. Hecht’s store, 234 S. Broadway. Courtesy of Maxwell Whiteman. JMM 1989.1.2

Trade card advertising B. Schleisner’s store, 307 E. Baltimore St. Courtesy of Maxwell Whiteman. JMM 1989.1.3

Trade card from Hecht Bros. & Co. advertising their New Installment House at 368 W. Baltimore St. Courtesy of Maxwell Whiteman. JMM 1989.1.4

Trade card advertising Hecht Bros. & Co., 368 W. Baltimore St. Courtesy of Maxwell Whiteman. JMM 1989.1.5

Trade card from Hecht Bros. & Co. at 368 W. Baltimore Street. Courtesy of Maxwell Whiteman. JMM 1989.1.6

Posted in jewish museum of maryland