Prices in Grandpa’s Day

In the spring of 1900 our grandfather, Allen Vance, together with Uncle Moses Smith, arrived in Spy Hill, Saskatchewan. The two men had brought a boxcar of settler’s effects. Allen, being 21, had taken out a homestead and Moses bought land soon after. Allen’s widowed mother and 16-year-old brother William, followed shortly after.

Allen had worked as a stone mason in Ontario, as had his father Sam (who had been killed in a hunting accident the previous fall, just after they’d both filed for homesteads in the Spy Hill area.) So during the next few years Allen picked up some masonry work in between trying to prove up both his own homestead and his mother’s.

What a dollar would buy in 1900. This bill for various household goods comes from the Will’s collection of receipts saved from that time.

Pegs                             .10
Lamp burner            .12
Knives & forks        1.50
Platter                        .60
Polish                         .08
2 pails                         .34
Dustpan                     .08
Coffee                         .15
Dipper & masher     .15
Dishpan                      .18
2 milk                          .16
Kettle                          .50
Basin                           .20
Total                       $4.16

I found this information Will’s grandson Ross’s thesis, “Pioneer Farming” — March 1976. According to Great-uncle Will, a working man at that time would be earning 50¢ to $1 a day. Thus this receipt could represent almost a week’s wages!.


6 thoughts on “Prices in Grandpa’s Day

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Great Post. I love history. WOW….I can even remember when I was a little girl in 1968, we would visit my Aunt in Brooklyn, NY and go to the corner Italian store and get penny candy. For a quarter we’d walk out with a little brown paper bag full to the top with candy!! I know it’s not 1900’s……but close!….LOL… Author, Catherine Lyon 🙂


  2. Thanks Christine – very good story and interesting receipt. Interesting, especially, in the relative amounts versus pay. As you say, almost a week’s wages. They definitely had to make decisions carefully.


    • It’s really hard to imagine in our day of luxuries galore. And can you imagine putting in a long day as a stone mason for 50c-$1a day? Debt, especially personal debt, was pretty much anathema to those folks. (I’m afraid that’s finally what’s going to sink our ship.)


  3. Usually these observations go the other way, as in, “coffee used to be 10 cents and now it’s $1.50!” without putting the actual purchasing power in context, so thanks for that!

    However… my grandpa has a metal dustpan in his garage that apparently has been there, and in use, for at least as long as the original outbuilding, which was built in the 1920’s. Not bad for 8 cents, or 1-2 hours labor. My 99 cent plastic one from the discount store is doubtless going to survive that long. To buy an equivalent quality dustpan today, it will still cost you 1-2 hours labor at minimum wage.


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