The Cost of Holiday Gifts Over Time

Business & Economics Department, Central Library,

Consumers plan to spend an average of $935.58 during the 2016 holiday shopping season according to the National Retail Federation’s annual consumer spending survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics.  Total holiday spending includes gifts for others, self-spending, food, flowers, decorations and greeting cards for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.  Have you ever wondered how much your great-grandparents or grandparents spent on typical holiday gifts?  What may seem like a bargain compared to today’s prices are not as them seem when adjusted for inflation. 

Flipping through the pages of the 1908 Sears Catalog and the 5th edition of the Value of a Dollar:  Prices and Incomes in the United States, 1860 – 2014 R [338.53 V2155] offers a nostalgic look at merchandise available to holiday shoppers’ decades ago.  Here’s a brief look at a few typical gifts for children and adults in original prices and current inflation adjusted prices. 

Toys and Games

Toy Stamps

ItemYearOriginal PriceCost in 2015 Dollars
Teddy Bear19082.3858.55
Board game19442.0026.93



Fruit Cake Image

ItemYearOriginal PriceCost in 2015 Dollars
Fruit Cake19061.3934.88
Whiskey (bottle)19402.7045.71
Pears (gift box)19492.9529.38




ItemYearOriginal PriceCost in 2015 Dollars
French Perfume19081.6741.09
Cashmere Scarf19527.5067.08



There are many inflation calculators on the internet and the one used for this article is from’s Inflation Calculator .  Prices in these calculators are adjusted for Inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) as presented by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Sears, Roebuck Catalogue, 1908

Value of a Dollar:  Prices and Incomes in the United States, 1860 – 2014 : R [338.53 V2155]

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