Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Other Side of The Reference Desk: A Writer Puts on Her Librarian Hat to Learn the Value of a Dollar

Like all librarians, I have my favorite reference resources. And I'm thrilled when I get a chance to use them.

It's not like I wake up in the mornings wondering if I'll be able to use the Encyclopedia of Associations at work that day, but if someone wants a little info on the Society of Coffee Mill Enthusiasts, you bet I'm hopping to that book with a spring in my step.

Here's another one that sends me to the shelves humming.

The Value of A Dollar:Prices and Incomes in the United States

What is it: The editors of this book say it's about "practical economy: what things cost and how much money people have to buy them". It lists the actual prices of things consumers purchased from the 1700's to the present. It also has info on salaries. But it's so much more than that.

Why writers need to know about this book: It's a wonderful way to see what society was like at different periods in history. If you're not writing historical fiction, take a look at it anyway. This book goes up to present times and will help you find interesting details for your w.i.p.

Here are some samples of what's inside: (source:
Value of a Dollar: Prices and Incomes in the United States. Millerton, NY : Grey House Pub., 2004.)

In 1900 the Chicago Tribune advertised for a Sales Agent "we want a few active hustlers in city to sell our new patent reflectors for Welsbach lights; evenings 6 to 9 pm; exclusive terrritory $1.50 to $3.00 a night"

In 1890 "Dr. Williams Pink Pills for Pale People: Miraculous cure" 50 cents

In 1932, you could buy a box of 200 "Kraft; fresh, soft, fluffy, vanilla-flavored marshmallows" for 65 cents

A frying pan in Prince George County Maryland cost 4 shillings in 1797.

And if you want to get an idea of how much an author made in 1834: William McGruffey made $1,000 in royalties for the various McGuffrey texts.


Anna Staniszewski said...

Wow, I had no idea this book existed. What an amazing resource for writers - thanks for posting!

Rob Robinson said...

I am sure that editors will be looking for that book to check historical monetary info.
And I wonder what happened to the pills for pale people, guess they weren't a hit (or pulled off the market by the FDA). Marshmallows for 65 cents... isn't that what they cost now too?

nanmarino said...

It's a really cool book, Anna. If you're ever in the library, check it out.

Hmm. Not sure what marshmallows cost, Rob, but a bag of 200 seems pretty big. Doesn't it?

S A Putnam said...

Thanks for posting this, Nan! I love books like that. I can't believe that William McGruffey made only $1,000 in royalties for all the McGuffrey Readers.