Many many years ago, there was no such thing as an ATM dispenser of cash. There were not credit cards except ones for specific department stores or gasoline stations. A common occurrence was remembering to get enough cash for the weekend. Well established residents could write checks at the grocery store and get a little extra back. But if you were in a strange town, you needed to have cash if you wanted to purchase anything.
Enter the American Express Traveler’s Check. These were purchased at the bank for cash plus a small fee for the service. Sometimes the handling fee was waived for certain customers who kept enough money in the bank. As soon as you bought them, it was important to sign the top line. Otherwise, anyone could cash them.
When you needed to buy something, you would fill out the check to the vendor and then write your signature on the bottom line. As I remember, no further identification was ever asked for. As long as your signature looked pretty much like the first one, you could cash the check. It was essential to keep a list of the serial numbers of the checks so that if you lost them you could immediately notify American Express. I remember being careful to keep the list of serial numbers in a separate place from the checks.
Traveling through Britain in the mid-1970’s I remember becoming aware that we were nearly out of checks. Fortunately, our air fare home was paid for and we practiced extra frugality for the last few days. Hard as it is for the VISA carrying, ATM using present day American to believe, we would have been in serious trouble if we had run out of Traveler’s Checks. They were the only money we had on the road.