What Gimbels Didn’t Tell Macy

Last weekend I had the occasion to hold a credit card in my hand. It was my own. No need to call out the diversion police. And indeed I’ve held it once or twice before. Usually the only time we hold a card is when we swipe it through or slot it into a card reader. But this time I had to actually pay some attention to it. I was ordering something on line and, no matter how politely they ask, I won’t allow a merchant or browser to store my card information. Call me old fashioned. Anyway, it was while I reading it, or I should say struggling to read it, that I thought how little these little chunks of plastic have changed in the 40ish years that I’ve been carrying one.

The first card I carried was for Gimbels department stores. You might remember Gimbels
from the movie “Miracle on 34th Street” as the main competitor to R. H. Macy and his juggernaut of an outlet that doubled as a destination to New York’s second oldest gimbelsThanksgiving Day parade. Gimbels beat him by four years on that one. Again anyway, my Gimbels card had none of the modern improvements like the RFID chip and magnetic strip, the issuer ID and hologram, the CVV (that three or f
our digit number on the back that is supposed to mean you have the card in your possession but everybody wants when you aren’t in their company), or even a signature strip and expiration date. Nope, all it had was my account number and name. In that same embossed type that today’s “modern” cards use.

That’s why I was struggling so hard to read that credit card this weekend. It was those silly embossed characters. They start out in a different color than the body of the card but after a while (like a few hours) of being carried around in a wallet, that color wears off and all you are left with are the raised ghosts of the numbers identifying your account number and expiration date. Fortunately I know my name. With all the advancements made on that little piece of plastic why are they still using raised letters for the most important characters on the card? Well, it seems they are still about, and still being used I would imagine if they are about. And the it are credit card machines. Not the reader thingies you slide your magnetic stripped equipped card through. The imprinter thingies that run an ink-covered roller over the card.

If you are old enough you might remember one like  this:


But I remember one like his:


From where do I remember such a dinosaur? From Gimbels, of course. The only reason I had that early card was because that was my in-the-summer-and-on-breaks-and-vacation job during college. You don’t think they’d give a 20 year old a credit card unless they were controlling his income, do you? Back then, twienty wasn’t even old enough to vote. No, I’m not kidding all you 18 to 20 year olds out there. But for a third time anyway, while I was struggling trying to read those horrible raised numbers I suddenly remembered those old imprinters. And that got me wondering if they were still out there. That was the only reason anyone could imagine still embossing the name and number on a modern credit card. Since I have that kind of time, I checked. Indeed you can still buy a credit card imprinter (both styles even) if you were in I would imagine a rather vintage retail business and really wanted to carry on the nostalgic feeling.

For the zillions of us who really don’t care about nostalgia carried to that extreme perhaps the next time I’m due for a new card, Capital One will issue me one with a printed number that I can actually read.

That’s what I think. Really. How ‘bout you?



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