Castner-Knott Co., Nashville, Tennessee
About a month ago, the geniuses at Liartown USA dropped a few fake vintage department store credit cards; today I decided to look into the source material for those parodies, and it turned out to be a trip well worth taking.
What I had underestimated was how different the department store market was in the 1970s. I would have assumed that even then Sears and Macy’s and a few others would have dominated the market. But the merest glance at the charge cards page at the Department Store Museum makes it abundantly clear that the market was actually dominated by locally owned enterprises.
In my neck of the woods, which was the suburbs outside of New York City, that meant Caldor; in my adopted home city of Cleveland, there was Higbee’s, which served as a key location for the movie A Christmas Story. I’m currently reading an excellent novel by Ellen Ullman called By Blood, which is set in San Francisco in the 1970s, and a store called I. Magnin is mentioned—fun to run into it today as well!
According to the Department Store Museum:
If you were a customer of one of these stores, this is the item that you personally carried in your wallet or purse, identifying you as their customer. Possessing a certain credit card was also a status symbol of the time as well.
Most of these cards did not have a magnetic strip across the back; mechanical embossers of several different types were used to imprint the raised information on the plastic card onto a duplicate sales slip.
The first four cards below are Liartown USA fakes; the “Davison’s” card (slightly smaller) is the first one that’s real. They did an amazing job reproducing the charming aesthetic of these beauties.
Much more after the jump…...