Consumer Culture and Identity: A Case Study from Grand Forks, ND

Since reading Paul Mullin’s The Archaeology of Consumer Culture (2011), I’ve been thinking a good bit more about the objects that make up our everyday life. While I’ve occasionally played with the archaeology of my everyday life, it dawned on me that Elwyn Robinson‘s memoirs provides a rich sources of information on middle class consumer goods during the mid-20th century. During a football game a few months ago, I started to comb his memoirs for references to objects and costs. I posted in January on the salary figures gleaned form this text, and I offer now some observations on the material culture of a middle class family in Grand Forks, ND in the mid-20th century.

He appears to have mentioned larger or special purchases (rather than everyday objects) and omitted mundane objects (table ware, everyday clothing, et c.). As a result the perspective here is on objects that somehow contributed to Robinson’s identity as a full-fledged member of the local middle class.

1938
Argus AF Camera – $15.00
Enlarger -$12.50
Singer Sewing Machine – $48.10

1939
Eureka Vacuum – $6.93
Silver – $1.50 (per spoon)
Crib – $13.95

1940
Travel trunks – $13.00
Mattress – $11.17
Tweed coat – $24.75
Courier and Ives Prints – $1.49
Antique desk and dresser – $10.00
Coaster wagon – $2.44
Rope – $0.98

1941
Table with leaves – $5.00
Washing machine – $15.00
Chair and stool – $12.50
Refrigerator – $60.00
Kitchen chairs – $3.50
Large rug – $4.00
Small rug – $1.00
Chest – $8.00
Radio table (used) – $2.75
Lamp – $1.00
Bed – $7.95
Bedsprings -$8.95
Lamp – $3.85
Buffet (used) – $8.00
Curtains – $5.93
Chair (unpainted) – $2.50
Gardening book – $1.49
Suit w/ 2 pairs of pants – $32.50
Plastic chess set – $1.49
War Bonds – $37.50
War Bonds – $75.00
Tricycle – $7.20

1942
Parke David Vitamins – $7.00
Chair – $12.95
Wool blanket – $11.59
Iron bed folding – $4.00

1943
Winter coat – $49.50

1944
Davenport recovered – $85.00
Wing back chair – $109.00
Men’s suit – $32.50

1945
Piano (used) – $255.00

1946
Britannica (used) – $25.00
Mouton Lamb fur coat – $135.00
Brown suit (women’s) – $25.00
Porcelain sink – $97.75
Linoleum on kitchen floor – $61.00
Linoleum on table and cupboard – $18.00

1947
Leica 111b Camera with four filters (used) – $175.00
Sled – $2.50

1948
Rug (9 x 20) – $188.00
Play School Toys – $15.00
Occassional table (used) – $5.00
New Piano (Conover Mahogany Console) – $875.00

1949
suit (men’s) – $38.25
Washing Machine – $155.00
Car (Studabaker Champion)- $2,082.37
Piano (Chickering Console) – $1,055.00

1950
Guinea pigs – $4.97
Gasses – $32.00
Jacket for Kids – $9.75
Jacket for Kids – $5.95
Phonograph – $182.00
Attic Insulation – $45.00

1951
Curtains -$17.54

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