August 6, 2015 | 2 Comments | Betsy Woodman
Robert Frost wrote, “Nobody was ever meant, to remember or invent, what he did with every cent,” but my grandfather obviously disagreed. He tracked his expenses–to all appearances every nickel–in a slim little book with an oxblood red leather cover.
His record-keeping started in June, 1910, when he was looking forward to his wedding in October. The first item entered (for $50) was “Ring.”
In September, he listed several things that would furnish the couple’s new residence–chairs (one Morris, one wicker, two leather), a kitchen cupboard, linoleum, curtains. A few days before the wedding, he added a broom (40 cents) and a box opener (35 cents) to his useful purchases. Later, they needed a mousetrap (5 cents.)
The honeymoon–a trip by road through Western Massachusetts into New York State–required some upfront spending, including $25 for a tire for his 1910 Pope-Hartford automobile. Expensive! Maybe $600 (for one tire) in today’s terms–and much more likely to blow out on the road.
After the couple returned from their auto tour, the next exciting event was the arrival of their most cherished possession.
“Freight on piano,” my granddad recorded, “1.85.” The piano itself was a big ticket item at $200.
I think my grandparents would have been pleased that, amortized over the decades, the instrument wasn’t too bad a family purchase. I owned it for over twenty years–yup, that’s me–and now it’s in my nephew’s apartment.
But back to 1910. A lot of information about my grandparents’ lives shows up in this little book.
What they ate: eggs, oranges, peanuts, peaches, grapefruit, cream, spinach, figs, chocolate, tripe. Tripe? Yikes. Vegetables aren’t mentioned as much as fruits (except “cucumber” for 6 cents), but my grandparents obviously grew their own, since they bought manure and seeds and garden tools.
How they amused themselves: church dinners, auto shows, baseball games, fishing trips.
Their vices: My grandfather smoked a lot of cigars (5 cents for a single cheroot, $2.25 for what must have been a boxful.) He also conscientiously noted infrequent purchases of whiskey ($1) and ale (50 cents).
The birth of their children: the hospital cost $30 (presumably for a week’s stay) and the baby carriage $5.50.
Remedies for what ailed them: A corn razor (ouch!), Bovinine (a patent medicine), and “Magnesia.”
Their politics: I learned that my grandparents sent a dollar to Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose party in 1912. Now that’s a reasonable campaign contribution, don’t you think?
Photo credits: Woodman family collection