This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

The value of money in the 1880s


I've always been fascinated with history. And one of the most interesting things to me is how the value of money has changed over the years. I post photos of old Phoenix on a Google+ page, and often I see comments about "how cheap things were back in the day" and that sort of thing. No, they weren't cheaper, money was just worth more. My favorite example is "shave and a haircut, two bits."

Two bits (25 cents) would get you a shave, and quite possibility a haircut and a bath, in the 1880s. Of course, prices varied depending on the location. In a place like Phoenix, where clean water, and especially hot water, was rare, the price was higher.

And rather than relying on The Inflation Calculator, I personally prefer to compare what you could buy then, and compare it to what you can buy today. I got a simple haircut yesterday and it cost me twenty dollars, plus a two dollar tip. Presumably a tip was expected in the 1880s, and if the haircut was 25 cents, then the tip would have been a penny or two.

Of course, prices vary. But if you use 25 cents as a good reference point for buying a haircut, or a meal, in the 1880s, you get a better idea of the value of money.

I'm not very good at math (I was an art major) but I know that if this was 1885, and a quarter could buy me a haircut, or a good meal, I would keep an eye on it. Nowadays, if a quarter is lost in my couch, I won't bother to look for it.

The photo at the top of this post is of the Commercial Hotel (later renamed the Luhrs Hotel) in the 1880s, which was on the northeast corner of Central and Jefferson in Phoenix, Arizona.