What Did Wedding and Engagement Rings Cost a Hundred Years Ago?

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, June 5, 1913:  Nothing doing, therefore not worth writing about.

Photo source: Wikipedia
Photo source: Wikipedia

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma again didn’t write much, I’m going to continue with the advice that “Aunt Harriet,” an advice columnist in Farm Journal, gave young men in the April, 1913 issue.

Yesterday, I posted Aunt Harriet’s answer to the question, “How much should I spend on a day’s outing with a young lady I hope to win for my wife?”

Assuming, all went well with the outing, young men apparently had a follow-up  question:

“How much should I spend on an engagement ring?” and “How much does a wedding-ring cost?” are questions frequently asked me by anxious young men.

Because the last question is the easiest to answer, we will take that first. A 14-karat ring will cost about $3, while one of 18-karat gold will cost from $5 to $8. What is known as an English ring is the best style. It is narrow, thick, and rounded, inside and out, making it comfortable and durable.

The cost of an engagement ring should be determined by the circumstances of the happy pair. While for years the solitaire diamond has been first choice for such rings, other settings are permissible, and when it comes to a choice between an engagement ring and a balance for necessities or emergencies, the wedding-ring may be made to serve both purposes and the happiness of the marriage will not suffer thereby.

While you can buy a diamond ring as low as $15, the stone will be small and, while genuine, not of the best quality. The average size costs about $100. It requires a good income to live up to such a ring, and a sensible girl would rather have that money in the bank, or invested in home comforts or furnishings.

Of late years it has become quite customary to use the birthstone of the young lady for the engagement ring, and these can be had in a variety of settings and at various prices.  . .

49 thoughts on “What Did Wedding and Engagement Rings Cost a Hundred Years Ago?

  1. I have my paternal Grandmother’s wedding band which my father gave to me a while after she died; he was the executor of the will and his sisters thought she she be buried with it, but he was afraid it would end up in a pawn shop from the nefarious doings of an unscrupulous mortuary employee. So, he elected to put her jewelry away for safekeeping and told his sisters and brother that if they wanted any of it to just ask him and it was theirs. After several years no one asked him for it so he asked them if they minded if he gave the ring to me. I has alwaysbeen fascinated with hhis parents’ things since they were older than my other grandparents and spoke (and scolded) in French to each other. Mimere’s ring had their initials and their wedding date engraved on the inside and it, too, was an “English” style. We still marvel that cheap old Pipere splurged for 18k, but I am told by my jeweler friends that 18k was much more common a century ago…the inscription says “JWS to ACV 2 Apr 1923” so of course it is only 90 years old.
    Anyway, my father gave it to me when I was 20 and at first I wore it on my left hand, trying out different fingers…forefinger and middle, because it was too large to fit my ring finger safely and I had a physical job which made it unwise to wear rings on my right hand. After a time, I settled upon my left thumb, and there itrremains. I only take it off when I present my history programs in first-person, and during those presentations I hang it on a chain which I wear beneath my costuming. I have worn it so long there is a deep ridge in my thumb where it belongs and I always make certain torreplace it as soon as I change into street clothes. It feels odd not to have it there. You see, when my father gave me the ring, he had been in remission from leukemia for several years but would soon relapse. Less than 3 years later, he succumbed to the disease, andhis mmother’s ring keeps him with me. When I present a program, I sometimes find myself looking at the ridge in my left thumb and it makes me feel that even if he isn’t there to see me doing something I love (which was inspired by his teaching me to read) I feel his presence and use that as courage when I might otherwise shy away from the challenge.

  2. Great post agian! I also like the warning at the end of Aunt Harriets advise, about what a sensible girl wants. A little warning to the young man wether his bride is trust worthy or not?

    1. Thanks for the link This is a great site. I’ve never seen this cost-of-living site before. I’d previously found a different inflation calculator site–but it’s not nearly as good as this one.

  3. Glad my DH and I went the sensible route! I love my engagement ring but am glad he did not go all out so we were able to put money away and live a good life. Whenever I would say something was cheap DH would reply “it is sensible, cheap is not in our vocabulary!”

  4. Aunt Harriet is a delight. I love reading her common sense approach to courting. I imagine she was one of the “sensible girls” who preferred money in the bank or household comforts to an expensive or showy ring. Your blog is wonderful.

    1. It’s fun to see how they thought about courting back then. Even the word “courting” seems to suggest a certain amount of sensibleness.

  5. Aunt Harriet is a woman after my own heart. Unless you can afford it, I don’t understand why couples put so much money into the rings, dress and the wedding. I too like the birthstone idea, that’s unique.

  6. I love this! A while back I read a snarky article claiming that diamond engagement rings didn’t come into fashion until the 1930’s and that their popularity came from a big marketing push. I guess Aunt Harriet just gave them what-for on that!

    1. Interesting. . . I wonder if a higher percentage of the couples decided that they “needed” an engagement ring beginning in the 30s.

  7. My hubby and I were so sensible, our wedding rings were 2 for $25 (a deal given to us by a friend whose engagement was cancelled)! My ring is of the plain “English” variety and has been on my finger for 54 years this month. Auntt Harriet knew what she was talking about.

  8. I love Aunt Harriet’s advice. I had originally wanted a birthstone ring as my engagement ring, but when my husband-to-be took me shopping, I fell in love with a ring that he ultimately went back to buy and surprise me with. Several years later when we were financially better off, he bought me another of the same exact style with a slightly larger diamond.

  9. I’d love to have one of those $100.00 rings today. Probably better quality than many $1000.00 rings you’d buy now. Can’t match the craftsmanship of old things.

    1. It does seem like she’s struggling a bit with boredom since she graduated. I want to say that it must have been difficult for young women back then after they graduated–but then I realize that times were different.

    1. My sense is that many women a hundred years ago only had wedding rings–and that it was almost considered extravagant back then to have an engagement ring.

  10. $100, yipes! that’d be a chunk of money in those times. I have a modest set myself as I’m not a big jewellery person and I can’t imagine spending thousands. I’d rather go on a trip.

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