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Prices and Wages by Decade: 1850-1859

Links to U. S. government documents listing retail prices for typical consumer purchases, and wages for common occupations. All data is for the United States unless specifically indicated.

Wages, 1850-1859

Wages in foreign countries, 1850-1859

Wages, 1850s - Analysis

Prices, 1850-1859

FOOD PRICES

Massachusetts historical retail prices for food, as reported in Comparative wages, prices, and cost of living, Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor, 1885.

  • Dairy products
    • Price per pound of butter back to 1760s;
    • eggs and cheese back to 1750s;
    • quarts of milk back to 1770s.
  • Food preparations
    • Prices for individual biscuits back to 1770s, sugar, salt and tea back to 1750s.  Bread, lemons, chocolate, coffee, crackers, raisins, lard, macaroni, molasses, and more.  Tea is extensively subdivided by type and priced by the pound.
  • Flour and Meal
    • Flour, buckwheat flour, graham flour, "Indian Meal," rye meal, oatmeal, wheat bran and more priced by the pound or bushel.
  • Agricultural products (Fruits, vegetables, grains)
    • Reported for almost every year as far back as the 1750s.
  • Meats and Nuts
    • Prices by the pound for bacon, beef, ham, lamb, mutton, pork, etc. in some cases dating to the 1750s.  The table for nuts includes prices by the pound for almonds, filberts and walnuts.
  • Poultry and game
    • Price per pound of goose, turkey, and poultry back to 1758.
  • Fish
    • Prices for halibut, herring, haddock, salmon, codfish, eels, etc. by the pound.
  • Liquors and Beverages
    • Prices by the quart or gallon for beer to 1812, brandy to 1782, cider to 1755, wine to 1783, gin to 1784, rum to 1761, and more.  Prices indicate source in some instances, for example, Gin from Holland or Rum from the West Indies.
  • Spices and condiments
    • Prices by the pound or ounce for wide variety of spices.  The earliest spice prices date to 1780s.  Price of vinegar dates to 1760s.

PRICES for CLOTHING, SHOES and SEWING SUPPLIES

  • Price of men's heavy boots in several states, 1841-1880.  This is a table that spans two pages in the book; find 1850s prices on the second of the two pages. 
  • Boots, shoes and leather prices in Massachusetts: prices reported by the pair, or by component such as buckles, leather, buttons, braid, fringe, etc. Detailed prices for style and type of shoe, boot, sandal, slipper, rubber overshoe, etc.  
  • Ready made clothing prices in Massachusetts: prices for hats, handkerchiefs and stockings, gloves, breeches, pantaloons, hose and coats, shawls and vests, mittens and waistcoats.
  • Cloth and dress goods in Massachusetts: prices for alpaca wool and calico by the yard, as well as batiste, cambric, cashmere, crape, gingham, gauze, lawn, muslin, linsey woolsey, plaid, poplin, satin, silk, velvet and many other fabric types.  More fabrics are listed under the Dry goods heading which also shows prices for blankets, cotton flannel, damask and denim, diaper cloth, shirtings, ticking, and more.  Also find prices for buttons and dress trimmings, ribbons and laces and small wares such as yarn, needles, pins, embroidery silk, cotton and linen thread.  

PRICES for HOUSEHOLD ITEMS 

  • Historical retail prices in Massachusetts: furniture, carpetings, cutlery (table knives and forks and pocket knives); paper: letter paper, priced by the sheet, tallow, candles, soap, etc.; oils for illumination, to light lamps and lanterns; fuel: charcoal, oak wood, pine wood, coal, etc.; tobacco and snuff: prices for cigars by the dozen, and tobacco and snuff by the pound or (sometimes) ounce.  Miscellaneous household items: prices for brooms, brass kettles, brick, matches, tubs, tumblers, clocks, candlesticks, silver watches, feathers, wine glasses and more. 

PRICES for HARDWARE & BUILDING MATERIALS

  • Retail prices in Massachusetts for tools and implements: hoes, shovels, spades, files, etc. priced by the dozen or when sold individually.  Lumber prices for boards, plank, shingles, timber, clapboards, etc. by the foot. Tacks, brads and nails priced by the pound.  

TRANSPORTATION PRICES

MISCELLANEOUS PRICES

Cost of attending college, 1850s

Until we locate a government source listing college cost averages, we will list expenses for individual colleges as we find them.  These are publications direct from the colleges; they are not government documents.

Prices in Foreign Countries, 1850-1859

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Marie Concannon, Government Information Librarian
Government Documents Department
106B Ellis Library (1st Floor East)
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Phone (573) 882-0748