Someone in my critique group put me on to this book, The Value of a Dollar: 1860-2009, to help me with what stuff cost during the period when my stories take place (1924-1925). It has been marvelous! I highly recommend this book for anyone writing historical fiction.
In the sections that pertain to the mid-1920s, they have the average income for many jobs (typist $20/week to start, public schoolteachers $1,269/year), the average cost of common foods in various parts of the country (loaf of bread NY 9.5 cents; loaf of bread Denver 7.8 cents), clothing costs with descriptions, taken from advertisements (brassiere, Sears, “camisole style” 79 cents; frock from B. Altman’s: “black silk braid of interesting design on this frock of navy-blue twill” 29.75), appliances (vacuum cleaner $33.95), entertainment (dance lessons $1; theater ticket $2; records $1.50), furniture, hotel rates ($1 to $1.50/day), household goods, jewelry, restaurant meals (sample lunch $1), vehicles, musical instruments, personal care items (face cream 15 cents, lipstick $1), publications (magazine 5 cents), tobacco products (cigarettes 20 cents/pack), travel and transportation (1922 airplane ticket L.A. to S.F. $50), and of course, miscellaneous. There are also categories that don’t interest me because they don’t come into play with my plots, like Investments (stock prices, short-term interest rates), farm equipment, insurance rates, medical products, real estate, and sports equipment.
Some of the prices made me stop and think–like the price of a hotel room was about the same as a lipstick. Can you imagine that today?
The book is illustrated with advertisements taken from newspapers and magazines.
The person who told me about this book warned that it was very expensive, and that’s true–current issues run around $150. But if you don’t need current–and I didn’t, since I’m interested in the 1920s–the back issues sell for pennies online. Old library copies, mostly. Works for me!!!