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Coffee Club Cards

Collectible? Yes! Money? Maybe...

Coffee If you enjoy real coffee, you have several of those little cards in your wallet. The shops have cute names (Elephant Bean, Sufficient Grounds, etc.) and spiffy club cards to match. The deals vary from store to store as the price of coffee differs, of course. Basically, if you drink anywhere from seven to 20 cups, you get the next brew free.

With each purchase, the clerk increments the card. Sometimes they use a little rubber stamp, sometimes a punch. The stamps allow more creativity. Arabica of Cleveland has a huge, ornate A to go with their logo. Beaners of East Lansing began with a simple green B before upgrading to a punch.

Like the stamps, the punches are also individualized to minimize the existence of spontaneous tallies. Beaners now uses an S-shaped squiggle that they place over the cups to look like steam, perhaps. The punch from Coffee Exchange of West Bloomfield and Birmingham is definitely a steaming cup. The Dancing Goat of Lansing uses a bean-shaped punch to knock out the beans around the border of their card.

Espresso Royale of East Lansing quit using cards in late 1994. Their market is rather firm. The club cards delivered no competitive advantage. However, at one point, as I was fishing for their card, the clerk made me an offer I couldn't refuse. "Give me all those cards, and I'll give you the coffee free." So I did. It was an act of radical entrepreneurship by an hourly employee, to be sure. He probably went to Wall Street after graduating from MSU.

This exchange also made me wonder about the extent to which these cards are money or a money-substitute. What would a coffee-drinker give for a fistful of half-punched cards?

This exonumic medium is not limited to coffee shops, of course. Mongolian Barbeque and the Chinese Buffet both issue cards. So does Subway. One interesting feature of the Subway card is that they give the customer little stamps to stick on the card. In this, the cards resemble the Depression-era stamp scrip of Howell, Michigan or "greenstamp books" of the 40s and 50s. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Michael E. Marotta
© 1997
ANA #162953

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