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Collecting Supermarket Cash Till Receipts as Historical Interesting Items


If you had suggested at the time the Post Office was first invented, that Postage Stamps would be collected and treasured in history, people would have said you were MAD! But retrospectively, it seems quite reasonable that a long time ago you could post a letter with a Penny Black stuck on it, and that over a century later the used postage stamp would become a prized treasure of undeniable value much sought-after by collectors.

So, what about supermarket till receipts? At the time of writing this (2007/01/19), as far as I know, no-one else has been crazy enough to collect old till receipts, and yet they seem to have things about them which ring true of archaeological future interest. Long after you've been around the supermarket and put your stuff in your trolley/cart and paid for it and got it home, the supermarket till receipt remains a perfect record of:

* Precisely what you bought, itemised, with the store's description of it (often amusingly abbreviated), and the exact price you paid for each item.

* The exact date and time (to the precise minute and possibly the precise second) you completed the transaction.

* How much money you handed over and how much change you were given.

* The name of the cashier who put all the stuff through the checkout.

* Other info of the day.


Supermarket till receipts are like a fortune teller's source of information, and you can tell a lot about a person by their choice of shopping! Even though at the time the items may have seemed like an everyday mundane kind of a thing, the necessities of life, there is something inherently intriguing about the exact details which grows as time goes on.

If you're going to collect till receipts, you need to decide whether to collect just your own, or other folks' receipts as well. If you have a general purpose collection of receipts you have found, they are like character reading of people who you have never met, yet in a curious way you know a lot about their lifestyle! Or, if you collect only your own receipts, the situation is more like a personal diary, where it becomes a record of your own life, or aspects of it at least.

If you ever inherit a till receipt collector's collection of old receipts, you can reasonably figure out which type of collector they are: personal or general. Every person has their own style, and the information recorded on till receipts is like a fingerprint, characteristic of the person.

Till receipts are just slips of paper with print on them, and they can be kept without taking up much room. (An important consideration, and you can see why there are more stamp collectors and coin collectors than there are vintage car collectors and standard gauge railway locomotive collectors). Till receipts are durable (especially the old style ink and paper ones, rather than the thermal paper), and the initial cost is of course zero as even the shops that would charge you for a carrier bag advertising their company haven't any plans to start charging you for the receipt!

Another thing about supermarket till receipts is that they are unique. No two receipts are the same, provided the date + time + checkout information is there, as this represents a unique event in space and time.

In effect, you are getting a printout of the precise data about your shopping, collated for you, at no cost to you, and handed to you along with your change. Surely good value in terms of collectability?!


A curious fact which backs up this notion of the future value of apparently mundane information material, is something I saw recently in which The British Museum had a Top10 Chart of their most valuable treasures. On the list were hoards of gold coins, exquisite carvings, and the excavated burials of kings, in the countdown from 10 to 2, all unique and priceless by any antique collector's estimation. But at Number1, the most valuable antiquity in The British Museum was... a collection of waste from a Roman fort, bits and pieces of everyday correspondence of the time, and which had only been saved from total combustion by rain putting the fire out.

Regardless of whether your supermarket till receipts are going to be of any financial antique value in centuries to come, the idea of historical information being interesting is something fundamental and firmly ingrained in the psyche of the enquiring mind.


Practical cautionary note: Supermarket till receipts on thermal paper FADE with time and are subject to heat, damp, friction, and a few other things. This problem also occurs with some types of railway tickets, food labels, and other collectable ephemera. One way to get around this is to digitise the items long before they fade. For a total overkill solution to this see the EOS 400 digital camera!

I have an idea it's possible to preserve supermarket till receipts, or at least the info on them, by having a rolling digitising scanner which you can feed them into. No-one's yet shown me one that's a practical price, though.