It Cost How Much!!

Good Morning! Hope everyone’s day is going well. My topic today is prices. I swear, I went to the grocery store recently and carried out two little sacks. I thought there must be some mistake when the old-mercantile1.jpgbill came to $79.60. Bread was $2.29 and a gallon of milk was over $3.00. That got me comparing prices of things in the 1800’s. Besides, I needed to know the price of coffee for the story I’m working on.

I can’t imagine paying just this little amount for staples. Blows my mind. And remember that the prices varied by location and quality. Prices in mining towns were higher than most anywhere else. These prices were from about 1880 to the turn of the century.


A Pound of Tea —  12 cents to $1.00                                                

A Pound of Coffee —  15 cents to 35 cents

5 Pounds of Flour —  14 cents

A Pound of Preserved Meat — 12 cents to 25 cents

5 Pounds of Sugar — 34 cents

A Dozen Eggs — 20 cents

A Pound of Butter — 25 cents

A Pound of Bacon — 12 cents                                                                     flour.jpg

A Gallon of Syrup or Molasses — 40 cents to $1.15                                        

One can of peaches — 20 cents

I didn’t find any prices for bread since everyone baked their own or milk because most had a cow or a goat. Totally different from today, huh?


Spices were outrageous — $12.00 to $75.00 a pound so not too many could afford it. But most of the spices were imported so they had to figure in the cost of shipping. If you think about it, spices are just as expensive today. I paid around $3.00 the other day for 4 oz. of cinnamon. I think that computes to something like $48 a pound. Yikes!

The pioneer learned to be very frugal with their foodstuffs. If weevils got in the flour, they sifted out the little bugs and used it anyway. They didn’t throw much away. And asyou can imagine, losing their staples to some kind of disaster meant doing without, so they protected their food supply with pioneer-woman.jpgvigilance. They also planted gardens and raised animals for their meat. They lived off the land and scratched out an existence. It might not’ve been luxurious, but they survived. Life was far from easy. I’ve loved watching a new TV series that called Kid Nation, where they placed 40 kids in the Nevada desert in an old ghost town with just the basic necessities. It’s been interesting watching how those children cope with cooking over a wood stove, hauling their water, and using outhouses. Kinda funny at times seeing their frustration. But, they’re learning a lot of skills that will help them through life. They’ve sure developed an appreciation for the things they have. And I say that’s a very good thing.

At you can find prices for selected items for a variety of years, plus at Info you see the population of the U.S. from Colonial to present day. Lots of fascinating information and statistics here.

And at  you can learn that bullets costs between 14 cents to $4.25 a hundred. Revolvers were 68 cents to $13.75. They also list the price of clothing and all kind of household goods. A great website to bookmark.


Try this site  for just about anything pertaining to medieval times to American colonial times to the Old West. This is an excellent site for research. I reference it a lot.


Then, I found a neat website –  — where you choose a year, put in an amount and it’ll tell you what that price equals to today.

For instance….$500 in 1880 is worth roughly $10,438 today

And we’d pay $3.25 for the pound of coffee that was 15 cents in 1880. That’s about what I pay.

Research is a must when writing and especially historicals. Writers want to make their stories as realistic as possible and any tidbit we can learn helps our stories come alive even more. I’m always finding little details about things that can put my reader on the page with the characters. That’s what writers have to do. And, writing has rewarded me with increased knowledge of the world in which my characters lived. History is full of fascinating things just waiting for me to uncover. I’m a sleuth deluxe when it comes to digging for facts.  

Anyway, it’s kinda neat to see how prices compare to things as they were back in the 1800’s. I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a look back. Maybe you won’t cringe too much the next you go to the grocery store.

What do you think about the price of groceries?

Ever yearn for the pioneer life of gardens and milk cows?

Our Big Fall Fest Bonanza is still in full swing. If you haven’t registered, go to the Primrose News Office page. Time’s a wastin’.

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

17 thoughts on “It Cost How Much!!”

  1. Linda, thanks so much for these links! Anything that can help with research is always appreciated. One of the things I’ve had problems running down in the past is the price on the hoof for cattle in any given year. It varied, and then there were boom years and years when the market was bottomed out.

    The prices for things back then seem ridiculously small to us, but think about how much money people earned then compared to now. There’s something that would be interesting to look into. The average wage for various professions.

    I live in Appalachia (born and raised, moved away, then came back). My people were all farmers back in the day and their cash crop was tobacco. I can remember, my one uncle had a small base (the tobacco allotment he was allowed to grow) and when I was young he ended up with approx. $2,000 a year when his tobacco sold. They raised most of what they ate, but some things had to be bought. They kept a running tab at a small country store and paid their bill once a year, when the tobacco sold. (can you imagine!) Anyway, paying the bill took a big chunk of the money. I can remember how everyone had to pinch pennies back in those days. And yes, they actually shopped for feed by matching the sack cloth it came in so they could make clothing, for quilt pieces, etc. :o)

  2. Oh I cringe every time I go to the grocery. I too find it a hard pill to swallow to buy spices. In the past two years I’ve been raising vegatables so my kids will understand that produce doesn’t just~ “poof” ~appear in the grocery store.

    (of course my garden didn’t fare well this summer thanks to the heat and little, if no, rain.)

    I love Kid Nation too. I went and looked up Bonanza City to find out if it was a real place. It was, in New Mexico, though it was a mining town that only survived 5 years before everyone abandoned it.

    A bit of interesting information. Where the kids actually were was a 10,000 acre working cattle ranch and historic western movie set. It’s the Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch not far from Santa Fe and movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Lonesome Dove were filmed there.

    Still, I think this is good life lessons for these kids. We’ve been letting both our 4 and 8 year old watch it so they can see just what life used to be.

  3. I bookmarked all these sites though I do have a replica of a Sears & Roebucks 1897 catalog I use a lot while writing.

    And I too, get frustrated when I come out of the grocery store with food for my husband and I and it costs as much as when I was feeding a family of six! It’s the same things, but smaller amounts and it still costs that much.

    Looking up the past is my favorite part of writing westerns. Seeing how they lived and thinking about what they must have felt as they moved about and did what it took to stay alive.

    What has always intrigued me the is wondering what the first people coming to Oregon thought when they crossed the beautiful Blue Mountains and knew they were getting closer to “the bountiful Oregon” they sought only to look out across a barren sagebrush covered landscape. Then crossing that barren earth to come to a deep chasm and have to find a way around it.

    Where ever I drive I think of the landscape and how would a wagon crossed here. Or see a ramshackle cabin and wonder why they decided to build there.

    Great blog, Linda!

  4. Devon, I’m glad you found the information and the links useful. In the past I would’ve given my right arm to know what things cost in the 1800’s. You live in a beautiful part of the country. The Appalachia Mountains have so much to offer. A lot of gifted musicians come from there. You’re so lucky, girl! I love that culture.

  5. Taryn, I think our minds are wired the same way because I wonder too sometimes while driving how the first settlers crossed rough territory and huge rivers. Yes, those kids on Kid Nation really have gotten an eye-opener. I didn’t know Bonanza City was in New Mexico though. That’s interesting. Am I mistaken that the show people said they were in Nevada? Probably so. Or they may have said that to throw everyone off of where the kids really were. Maybe to thwart pedophiles.

  6. Paty, great to see you again. Oregon is a pretty place and the settlers did have a time getting there. Most gave out along the way or found another place they liked and stayed. It was quite a trek for sure. I agree that the price of food is just outrageous. And the bad thing about it is that our food source isn’t all that safe today even though we pay out the nose. Food recalls and people getting sick from the food happens so often. It’s a bit scary. Glad the links were helpful. I enjoyed putting the info out to you.

  7. Hi, Linda. I love this, especially the links. I had to find out what a piano cost in about 1900 and how it would be shipped and it was really hard to track down. I finally found a… I think Wards Catalogue someone had and got the info, including shipping prices.
    Odd the stuff we need to know in books.
    I remember reading in a Louis L’Amour book that ranch hands earned ‘thirty a month and found’ which Found meant Food.
    I also remember my father-in-law talking about back in the day… when a dollar a day was a good wage for a man… that was in his lifetime and he was born in 1919. Maybe that was during the depression, though.

  8. Linda – those prices make me cringe – when I will easily spend $4.00 for a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks!! Thanks for those research sites. And I watched Kid Nation and enjoyed it – makes you fully realize what we already know, that life in the west wasn’t glam or easy or fun. As romance writers, we tend to gloss over some of the hardships – the biggest for me is no indoor plumbing!!
    Great post, Linda!

  9. Linda, thanks for the fabulous information and helpful websites. As for hardships…I cringe to think of what ladies did (ick) during that time of the month, no plastic pants for babies…and no antibiotics. Or…deodorant LOL. Once again, thanks for this always-enjoyable start to my day!

  10. Mary, yeah it completely amazes me the stuff we have research. Sometimes it’s the littlest things. But adding those little details to our stories brings so much depth. I’ve read how pioneers sometimes had to toss a lot of their non-essential belongings out of the wagon and leave ’em behind to get across mountains and things. I can imagine how hard that would be. And how strange for someone coming along and finding a piano or something out in the middle of nowhere. I’m just imagining an American Indian finding a piano. My mind is running away with itself. 🙂

  11. Charlene, I totally agree about those Starbucks coffees. The price is outrageous. Ha, I knew I wasn’t the only one who watches Kid Nation!! It’s really a good show. But I wonder if they’re really doing it for the experience or if they want one of those gold stars worth 20K? Whatever it is, they’re learning a lot. Loved how they had to kill a couple of chickens to make soup on the last episode. Those kids didn’t know which way to start. Then when they got their heads chopped off they had to pluck and clean them. Wish all kids had to learn those skills. They might need ’em one day.

  12. Tanya, thanks for making us part of your day! I appreciate you always stopping by to comment. You’ve become a welcome friendly face. One of these days you’ll have your books in our library. Believe it and it’ll happen.

    Your comment got me thinking at the things I could give up if I had to and there’s not a whole lot on that list. I’ve become very spoiled and I’m not proud of it.

  13. Linda, this is great info! Thank you for pulling it together for us!

    After seeing Maureen McKade’s view outside her office, and the cornfield through author Sherry James’ office window, I continue to get a pang for that simpler life. Peace and quiet, like the pioneers would’ve had, and yes, that vegetable garden. Not sure about the milk cow, but you get the idea. 🙂

  14. Pam and Cheryl, glad I could provide the info. I wasn’t sure what to blog about. Hope it helps in some way. And yeah, Pam, I envy Maureen. Not only her fantastic view but the peace and calm. She doesn’t have to listen to the wail of sirens or the screech of tires. I think I’d like that. At least for a while. Must be nice.

  15. Wow! Thanks for such a fascinating post. Interesting to see how much items cost in those days as compared to today’s prices.

  16. Wow-amazing what things cost back then! Deb’s Historical Research Page is chock full of information, isn’t it? I’ve had that site bookmarked for years and I refer to it often. I’ve bookmarked your other links as well. Thanks so much!

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