Have a Thinner Pocketbook

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

Saturday, August 22, 1914: A cousin came on the train this afternoon. Am recovering from the effects of my trip through the worst one is a thinner pocketbook. It will take it quite awhile to get it fattened up, so as not to look quite so hollow.

Source: Ladies Home Journal (October, 1914)
Source: Ladies Home Journal (October, 1914)

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

Grandma arrived home from her trip to Niagara Falls, Toronto, Buffalo, and Watkins Glen the previous evening. In that diary entry, she wrote:

. . . I don’t believe I spent more than $20, coming out better than I expected. . .

Vacations can be hard on pocketbooks—though the previous day she seemed pleased how little she spent during the trip; but apparently it was enough to continue to worry her.

According to an online inflation calculator, a dollar in 1914 would be worth about $23.81 today. So in today’s dollars Grandma spent about $475—which doesn’t seem too bad for a 5-day trip, but maybe was a lot for a 19-year-old.

I wonder how Grandma planned to replenish her pocketbook. In the past, she earned money by picking strawberries. For example, on July 1, 1912 she wrote:

Stopped picking strawberries today. All my earnings, about $4.00 in all, I still have and expect to keep until I spend them.

It would take a lot of strawberry picking to “fatten” her pocketbook—and, of course, strawberry season was over for the year.

. . . Or maybe she hoped that her cow Mollie would have another bull calf she could sell. For example, on December 27, 1912 she wrote:

Sold Mollie’s calf today. It wasn’t a very big one and I rather feared my fortune would be pretty small, but after all it weighed one hundred and forty-four lbs. Received a neat sum of $11.56.

Cows typically have calves about once a year, so maybe the pocketbook will be partially replenished before too long.

Hmm. . . on second thought, given Grandma’s situation on the farm, $20 was a lot to spend on a vacation.

29 thoughts on “Have a Thinner Pocketbook

    1. I wonder what a calf would sell for today. I had a sense of what calves typically sold for when I was a child on the farm–but that was a long time ago. 🙂

      1. Pocketbook is not an expression I knew until I was in my twenties. So, when I was little I was always horribly confused by the nursery rhyme “Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it, there was not a penny in it, but a ribbon round it.” I couldn’t understand how anyone could lose a pocket, which for me was something sewn on to a dress. The confusion didn’t stop me from singing the rhyme over and over again. 😀

  1. So interesting to read about the value of money in the past…I have often wondered what the value of a dollar was in the late 1800s- early 1900s, as it seemed that quite a few goods could be purchased with a single dollar. Hope she has a chance to fatten up her pocketbook.

  2. You know that feeling when you get home and reality sets back in; you’re part grieving that the vacation is over, plunked right back into every day life, feeling a bit down and now you even have less money!
    Diana xo

  3. The differences in prices and the comparable worth from then and today is mind boggling. I’m so happy your Grandma’s journey went well.
    I was thinking, she must have had a wonderful memory or took notes because she was so thorough in her descriptions and times they did stuff. Either way, I’m thankful she wrote about it in her diary and the diary was saved to enjoy through the generations.

    1. hmm. . I hadn’t thought about the possibility that she may have taken notes, but now that you say it, it does seem like she might have jotted a few things down while on the trip.

  4. I think Diana hit the nail on the head: Grandma’s probably a little “down” that her trip that she looked forward to for so long is over. I hope her chattiness in her diary entries continues!

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful. I know that for me when Grandma mentions money in the diary, that it doesn’t have much meaning unless I translate it into today’s dollars.

    1. Traveling does seem to suit her well. However, she lived on a dairy farm for much of her adult life, so she didn’t do much traveling during those years. She did a little traveling as an older women.

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