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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, 1860s - Analysis

Prices, 1850-1859

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The extensive price figures below were collected by the state of Massachusetts, and reported in Comparative wages, prices, and cost of living (from the Sixteenth annual report of the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor, for 1885) / by Carroll D. Wright. Most tables below report price data up through the 1860s.

FOOD

  • 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.

HOUSEHOLD ITEMS

  • Furniture
    • Bedsteads, bed cords, bureaus, tables and chairs are listed, with some prices dating to the 1790s.
  • Carpetings
    • Prices date to 1794.
  • Cutlery
    • Prices for table knives and forks back to 1780s, and pocket knives back to 1801.
  • Paper
    • Letter paper, priced by the sheet, dating to 1780s.
  • Tallow, candles, soap, etc.
    • Soap prices date to 1770s.
  • Oils for Illumination
    • Oils to light lamps and lanterns, dating back to the 1780s
  • Fuel
    • Charcoal, oak wood, pine wood, coal, etc.
  • Miscellaneous, not elsewhere classified
    • Price for brooms, brass kettles, brick, matches, tubs, tumblers, clocks, candlesticks, silver watches, feathers (by the pound), wine glasses and more. Prices for some items date to 1750s.
  • Tobacco and snuff
    • Prices for cigars by the dozen, and tobacco and snuff by the pound or (sometimes) ounce.  Tobacco prices date to 1760s.

CLOTHING and SUPPLIES FOR MAKING CLOTHES

  • Clothing
    • hats, handerchiefs and stockings back to the 1760s,
    • gloves, breeches, pantaloons, hose and coats back to 1780s,
    • shawls and vests back to the 1790s
    • mittens and waistcoats back to the 1810s.
  • Cloth
    • Prices for some types of cloth back to 1770s
  • Dress goods
    • 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, some back to the 1770s but most back to the early 1880s.  More fabrics are listed under the Dry Goods heading.
  • Dry goods
    • Prices for blankets back to the 1780s, cotton flannel, damask and denim, diaper cloth, shirtings, ticking, and more, some dating to the 1750s.
  • Boots, shoes and leather
    • Prices reported by the individual 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.  Earliest price dates to 1750s.
  • Buttons and dress trimmings
    • Button prices reported by the dozen.  Fringe and tape by the yard.  Earliest price dates to 1780s.
  • Ribbons and laces
    • Prices date to 1783.
  • Small wares
    • Yarn, needles, pins, embroidery silk, cotton and linen thread.  Some prices date to 1770s.

HARDWARE & BUILDING MATERIALS

  • Tools and implements
    • Hoes, shovels, spades, files, etc. priced by the dozen or when sold individually.  Earliest price figure is from 1790s.
  • Lumber
    • Price for boards, plank, shingles, timber, clapboards, etc. by the foot.
  • Tacks, brads and nails
    • Priced by the pound.  Earliest prices date to 1790s.

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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