Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.
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Original purchasing power
Ohio’s Youngstown Vindicator cost 2 cents in 1913 and could be purchased with two Lincoln cents. Today, it costs 75 cents — three Washington quarters. Old newspapers are a great source for information about prices in the past.
Whenever I buy a coin, I consider three things; the coin’s design, history and original purchasing power.
The design and history speak for themselves. The purchasing power, though, can be hard to tease out.
For U.S. coins issued since 1913, a fair approximation of the purchasing power can be had at the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics’ online Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator.
This amazing and easy-to-use tool will tell you the purchasing value of coins and paper money at any point during the last 103 years. A 1913 dollar for example is listed as having the purchasing power of $17.39 in 2000 and $24.31 today.
That number, though, only goes so far. Not all goods rise in price at the same rate. An ounce of gold, for example, was $18.92 in 1913. Today it’s about $1,325, or 70 times its 1913 price. In 1913, a Ford Model T touring car cost $600. Today a Ford Explorer SUV runs about $30,000, about 50 times more than its 1913 cousin.
Old newspapers, government reports and personal papers can tell you the prices of things when the coin was issued. The Google News Archive Search — https://news.google.com/newspapers — is an excellent place to start. It has centuries-long runs of numerous newspapers. There are several other sites, too, that have digital archives of newspapers and magazines.
During the next five weeks, I’m going to discuss the purchasing power of a number of old coins.
Next: New Orleans, April 1862