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Monday, August 7, 2017

Back to School - Then and Now by Paty Jager

As a writer of historical western romance, I have an arsenal of reference/research books on my bookshelves.  There is one in particular that I find myself using time and again. A replica of the 1897 Sears Roebuck & Co. Catalogue.  It not only shows me what things back in the 1800's looked like, it gives me prices when a character goes to a mercantile and purchases something.

A fraction of my research books
I thought it would be fun to compare the items a child might take to school back in 1897 to what they would use today.  The 1897 prices are from the Sears Roebuck catalog and today's prices are from a Rite-Aid advertisement in the newspaper.

School Mate 6" x 9" 350 pages pencil tablet         $0.35
Ink bottle                                                                  0.05
Pen holder                                                                0.03
(this is a wood handle that holds the quill tip)                                                                 
quill pen tip                                                             0.06
ink eraser                                                                0.25
(at this price I imagine they didn't make mistakes often)
dozen pencils                                                          0.14
eraser                                                                      0.07
slate 8 x 10 (they had a variety of sizes)                0.12
box of chalk                                                            0.07
school bag                                                              0.15
or if you preferred a book strap                             0.10

Total                                                                    $1.39   

In most occupations at the time, this was a day's pay. In some occupations 2 day's pay.

notebook - 8" x 11" 70 pages                               $0.99
pack of 2 pens                                                        1.99
box of pencils                                                        1.99
Binder                                                                    4.99
Notebook paper 100 sheets                                    2.50
Glue                                                                          .59
Crayons                                                                  3.19
Backpack                                                               9.99
chalk                                                                      1.29                                                           
ruler                                                                       0.99

Total with the same type of items                       $28.51

An average daily wage now, according to Trading Economics is $176.24.  Although I find that hard to believe. I would say most work for less than $20 and hour which they said $22.03 was the average wage.

I could have went into the calculators, ipads, computers and a whole list of items that are used now that weren't used then, but I wanted to stay as close to the same items as possible.

When you started school in the fall what was your favorite thing? The new lunch box, new clothes, or the school supplies?  I liked the school supplies. I loved school and was always anxious to get back to learning in the fall.

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 32+ novels, novellas, and anthologies of murder mystery, western romance, and action adventure. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. This is what Mysteries Etc says about her Shandra Higheagle mystery series: “Mystery, romance, small town, and Native American heritage combine to make a compelling read.”

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Judith Ashley said...

I can't remember a year I wasn't excited to go back to school because I loved to read and learn. Hated shopping for clothes. Didn't always have a lunch box (brown paper lunch bag) and I don't remember being excited about school supplies other than paper and pencils and maybe a big box of Crayolas. I'd like to see the school year reorganized so that we go year-round with the breaks we do have longer. Some districts where I live do that - 6 week breaks Winter, Spring and Summer.

Diana McCollum said...

What a difference in cost!! Of course, like you pointed out wages were a lot less also. In grade school my favorite thing was picking out my new lunch box, and buying a pencil bag with all the supplies. Paper and tablets things of that nature were supplied by the school. Junior High and High School going clothes shopping without my little brother and sister was exciting. My Mom didn't drive so usually one of my friend's mom would drive Mom and I shopping.

Once back to school, I was happy to have the library and all those books available to me again.The book mobile that came around in the summer didn't carry a whole lot of books that I liked to read.

Great post!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Great post, Paty--so fun to see the old supply list. I enjoyed using new pencils and pens and notebooks. I remember Pee Chee folders, too!

Sarah Raplee said...

New school shoes were always a thrill! And the lovely untouched pencils and paper and crayons, so full of potential!

Paty Jager said...

Judith, the only input I could give on my clothes was the color. My mom would open up the sears catalogue point to the shirts or dresses that we could afford and ask me what color I wanted. Where we lived you had to drive over an hour to get to a store that sold clothes at a reasonable price. The local mercantile had high prices on things and not enough to all the kids in the county going back to school. I loved and still love learning. I think a year around schedule makes more sense now that kids don't need to help with the harvests any more. Thanks for commenting!

Diana, I was the same way about the library! I loved being able to pick out a new book to read whenever I finished the last one. During Summer break, we only went to town once a month and the county library only allowed you to check out three books at a time. If I didn't pick the thickest ones I could find I would run out of reading material before the next month's visit. Thanks for stopping in!

Lynn, my husband talks about Pee chees all the time! LOL I loved the binders with the index tab pages. I still use them for keeping track of my books in a series. Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

Hi Sarah! Yes, new shoes! During the summer I went barefoot or wear the PE shoes from the year before and my cowboy boots. So pretty, girlie shoes were always fun to buy. And the wonder of staring at a box of unused crayons! The colors... the cone-shaped tips... Sigh. Thanks for stopping in! You all brought back even more memories!

Maggie Lynch said...

What a wonderful post, Paty. It really taks me down memory lane.

Like Judith, I took lunch to school in a paper bag. In elementary school I remember my favorite thing was to get new lined paper to write on. I don't remember having to buy pencils. I think they were supplied at school, but I may be wrong. I was in love with writing everything--my thoughts, what I learned, and just the whole process of cursive. My writing changed almost every year until well into college as I adapted a new cursive style. I don't remember much about clothes as we always wore hand-me-downs from church folks. I do remember getting one pair of new shoes and that was quite the treat.

In High School, I do remember Pee Chee folders. I didn't like them because they were always about sports. I remember some people would use them to cover their textbooks. I always made my textbook covers with brown paper bags in the beginning of the year, and then with wrapping paper from Christmas in the second part of the year.

I LOVED everything about school. I loved learning new things. I loved talking with the teachers and asking more questions before and after school. I loved going home and telling my parents everything I learned that day. I even loved PE. :)