Monday, July 11, 2016

Prices in Times Past

I recently had a need to know the cost of certain everyday items in the early 1880’s. If a man needed a new horse, what would it cost? How about provisions for a journey in the mountains?

I was unable to find exactly the year I was seeking, but I don’t think prices changed that much, at least between financial panics. I know there was a depression in 1873 that lasted until 1879, then another one in 1884 to 1885. In the winter of 1886-1887 was the big die-off of cattle on the plains. Another large financial panic happened in 1893. So, what were prices inbetween? Some estimates show prices in the 1880’s through 1900s’s were lower than in 1870’s, and lower yet than during the 1860’s.

Here are some prices from a listing for 1872:

Wheat flour — $12.75/barrel – One bag 1880s: 1 bag of flour $1.80
Corn meal — 1 cent/pound
Rice — 11 cents/pound
Beans — 9 cents/quart
Roasted coffee — 42 cents/pound
Brown sugar — 10 cents/pound
Granulated sugar — 10 cents/pound
Molasses — 70 cents/gallon
Milk — 8 cents/quart to 56 cents/quart
Eggs — 30 cents/dozen
Soap — 8 cents/pound
Small measure of potatoes daily at .17 per day $1.19
1/4 lb of tea .38
1 qt milk .56
1 lb cheap coffee .35
Sugar 3 1/2 lb $1.05
1/2 ration meats per week $3.50
4 lb. butter $1.60
2 lb. lard .38
Soap, starch, pepper, salt, vinegar, etc. $1.00


Two sources give the 1880s price of horses at $60, others say $150 to $200. A lot may have depended on whether the purchaser were on the plains or in a gold mining boom town. Saddles started at $40.00.
pigs $5
milking cows just over $20
goats $2

Oh, and forget about people paying with double eagle gold coins. They weren’t that common in use. In the East, paper money was often used. In the West, purchases were more commonly paid for in gold dust or coin, the largest generally being the half-eagle worth $5.00.

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. The first three novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine,  A Resurrected Heart, and Her Independent Spirit, are now available. Haunted by Love is scheduled to be released within the next few weeks. He Is a Good Man was published as part of the Lariats, Letters and Lace anthology.