The gold standard, literally
Updated: Nov 19, 2020
We've all seen those forum posts, when an early 20th century Sears ad is posted showing what a Colt or Smith, or even a holster, was retailing for. And the 'clever' reply is "I'll have 200 of those Colt revolvers at U$16 each, send them to my home at (address inserted)" Yuk, yuk. How about one of these then:
Above, the Myres at right is cut from Sam's 1930 Officers Equipment catalog; his first devoted entirely to gunleather. Remember that price because LOTS of these have survived to the present day (Myres called that 'whip lacing' and today it's better known as 'Mexican basketweave lacing'):
Doesn't do much good to remind folks about inflation but it does help to use the 'gold standard'. That is, the dollar and an ounce of gold were pegged at U$19-20 for a very long time: the price of gold, with some exceptions, was fixed there from 1878 until 1933 (the peak of Great Depression)(see the Gold Reserve Act). I'm thinking that a horse for that same cowboy was about the same as an ounce of gold, too.
Without carrying on at length about the literal gold standard, which I know next to nothing about, I'll mention that today, gold is trading very close to the highest recorded in 2011: U$1852 per ounce. U$19-20 is 1% of that, near enough. So if one wants to buy at those prices of then, consider that you would need to pony up a 10% premium over one ounce at today's prices for a Colt Frontier Six Shooter with pearl handles:
For a new SAA from Colt's that I see today is U$1799 msrp. So very close to the price of an ounce of gold and that's probably not a coincidence! Manufacturer's can't set their retail prices solely on the basis of their costs; they can only charge as much as the market will pay (notice the SAA is out of stock); which cuts both ways.
Gunleather -- much the same situation with what look like pitifully low prices. Here's my favorite benchmark so far, for Wyeth holsters from a NY retailer in 1928:
The dearest holster there is U$4.95; which is 1% of U$500 bucks for a new, carved Western holster. Today one can do heaps better than that for gunleather: today a Galco '1880' is about a hundred bucks.
The implication of all that, is that not only were a cowboy's wages mighty low -- in 1914 Capt Hughes' privates were paid U$40 per month -- but there was little inflation in those early times and this is borne out in later ads for these same guns and holsters. This all changed with the Great Depression; after that point we had plenty of price inflation but also wage inflation, too. Gold was floated, I recall, in '68. Nixon? And it was with a lot of fluctuation the price rose over the decades to today's U$1,852.
Now back to that U$25.00 Myres holster. One ounce of gold in 1930 had risen slightly to some cents more than U$20.00. So the holster was 1-1/4 ounces of gold; and at gold's highest price of U$1,852 that's U$2,300! That's a lot of gunleather. And this, is the Model T:
Which then begs the question, is believing that the price of something has only risen by the rate of dollar inflation since, say, 1910, truly valid? It's not really, is it: gold, something that is bought and sold as pork bellies are, this month touched U$2,000 an ounce, which then is a bit more than 100 times more than a hundred years earlier when it was U$18. That would make a car equivalent to the 1910 Model T, 100 times its U$900 price tag: U$90,000 for a car without an auto trans or air con :-). I think gold prices are a more useful measure of price equivalencies than dollar inflation, and so modern gunleather prices are waaaayyyy too low.