Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 16th 2014 Contents B2
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt February 16, 2014
My uncle Julius pointed
out recently that a fre-
quently heard lament in
this era of high inflation and the
low purchasing power of money
runs similar to this: "When ah
was small you couda take five
dollars in de shop and get gro-
ceries for a month."
True as this may have been, he
also noted that the process of
earning said five dollars was often
the work of a month as well.
Indeed when one looks at the
prices of yesteryear, it seems as
if we have missed out on an idyllic
and easy time.
Imagine being able to walk into
the showroom of Charles McE-
nearney and Co in 1931, plunk
down a whole $740 (not even the
ticket price of a decent all-inclu-
sive fete these days) and drive
away with a brand new Ford
Model A Phaeton.
How about shelling out a
princely $3 a night (inclusive of
breakfast) to stay at a deluxe suite
in the Queen s Park Hotel which
was considered to be the finest
hostelry in the West Indies?
It sounds almost too good to
be true, except when it is pointed
out that in the same year a new
car cost a few hundred dollars,
and the wages of a servant in a
posh household did not exceed
$7 a month.
Teachers were considered well-
paid at $30; and the highest
remunerations were, of course,
in the oilfields to the south of the
In the bush near Fyzabad and
Point Fortin, white drillers made
a staggering $250 monthly and
the Governor of the period earned
approximately $15,000 per annum
which was a stupendous amount.
In the sugarcane fields, the
estate labourers were paid accord-
ing to "task" work (weeding,
planting, harvesting) at 25 cents
per task. There was no public
pension at the time and those
who could not earn their bread
in their old age either depended
on the kindness of others or faced
being interned at the "Poor
House" in Woodbrook.
The circumstances of the
working class would seem dire,
especially since families were
often quite large.
The economic situation, how-
ever, was sometimes mitigated
because in this era, many people
kept a kitchen garden and thus
needed fewer purchased food-
stuffs, while there were no utility
expenses outside of Port-of-Spain
and San Fernando which had
Every village had its shop which
was most often associated with
the Chinese---or to a lesser extent,
Madiera---immigrants. These were
the lifeline between the town and
The country shopkeepers were
perceived as being profiteers
because their merchandise usually
cost a bit more due to the trans-
port costs of freighting in goods
via railway or the island steamer
Nevertheless, six cents bought
a dozen crackers wrapped in
brown paper and another sixpen-
ny added a few slices of oily
cheese or a tin of sardines.
Those shopkeepers who wished
to advertise their competitive
pricing would hang a signboard
outside which read: "Goods at
Those not satisfied with the
cheap brown cotton and ribbons
available in the countryside could
ride third-class to Port-of-Spain
via the railway for ten to 30 cents
according to distance (1920s) and
visit dry goods shops like Mail-
lard s and Fogarty s where bright
prints could be bought for ten
cents per yard, a whole tweed
suit for $5, leather boots for $3
and a panama hat for $1.50 (the
same hat my sister Carmelita
bought me last year for $500).
A peep into one of the elite
grocery establishments like Can-
ning s or the Ice House would
have revealed gourmet victuals
like York hams at $1 per pound
and a new-fangled breakfast
food---Dr Kellogg s Corn Flakes---
at 24 cents.
Children were expected to exer-
cise scrupulous economy as well.
Those who did get pocket money
were mostly limited to a penny
per day, but this humble copper
coin---bearing the face of
whichever British monarch was
then on the throne---could be
stretched to almost infinite limits.
That currency bought six par-
adise plums wrapped in a bit of
white paper, a large lollipop, copi-
ous amounts of sugar cake,
toolum, chilli-bibbi or sticky elas-
tic sweets known as "mintips."
Limers had it fairly good as
well, with a shot of rum at six
cents and 40 cents for a bottle.
Saturday at the cinema for the
matinee cost 24-30 cents for bal-
cony seats and as little as ten
cents in the pit with a pack of
salted nuts at three cents for
munching on and a five-cent
Coca Cola. Next time you buy a
$50 fast food lunch, think back
on the prices of yesteryear.
The power of money
The purchasing power of this blue dollar note when printed in 1939 was significantly more than a blue
hundred dollar bill is in 2014.
In an era where all-inclusive fete tickets have crossed $1,000, this 1929 ad shows
admission to a similar event costing less than a few dinner mints would today.
Teachers were considered well-paid at $30; and the
highest remunerations were, of course, in the
oilfields to the south of the island. In the bush near
Fyzabad and Point Fortin, white drillers made a
staggering $250 monthly and the Governor of the
period earned approximately $15,000 per annum
which was a stupendous amount.
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