Thursday, January 28, 2010

Holding History

I’d like to show you some of the items I keep on my desk for inspiration while I’m writing. These items are specifically for my current historical, Emma’s Outlaw. When I hold them in my hands and let my fingers slide over them, I feel like I’m holding a piece of history. LOL – well, I guess I actually am!

To start with, here are a couple U.S. Indian Head cents minted in 1897 and 1883 respectively. Emma’s Outlaw is set in 1879 Wyoming Territory so these pennies weren’t even around when Emma was kidnapped. Since they were minted from 1859 through 1909 though, Emma and Dan would have had access to these coins. Penny candy, anyone?

Another item I keep nearby is this 1886 Morgan dollar. However, I don’t touch the face of this coin. Made of 80% silver, any natural oils on my hands will leave fingerprints that turn black over the years. I handle it by the rim when I want to hold it for inspiration. U.S. Morgan dollars were struck from 1878 through 1904 and then in 1921. Weighing 24gms, this hefty silver dollar is supposedly the kind Buffalo Bill shot a hole clean through after a toss up. Other famous people who were known to carry the silver dollars were Billy the Kid, Jesse James and even Geronimo. People of the Old West preferred the silver coins to paper money which made the Morgans the main form of currency in the latter part of the 19th century, second only to gold. Somewhere in my research I’d even read where old timers used to keep a silver dollar in their canteen to ensure water purity.

Prior to the Morgan’s release, the most common form of payment for a drink was an unspecified pinch of gold by the bartender. Silver dollars brought equity to the table which was appreciated by everyone from the locals buying dry goods to travelers and even gamblers.

In the late 1800’s, a silver dollar would buy 50 pounds of flour, two pounds of sugar, five pounds of butter, 60 pounds of potatoes, 10 quarts of milk or a pair of moccasins. It would also buy a bottle of bourbon or rye whiskey. Of course you could buy a glass of cheap stuff for a nickel but if the bottle came from a peddler’s wagon, it might contain a dash of pepper, Tabasco, tobacco juice, or even rattlesnake heads to improve the bite.

A complete meal of roast beef or pork, potatoes, 2 veggies, bread, butter, tea, coffee or milk and a piece of pie cost a dime. Travelers stopping at stage stations had to pay four bits or even a dollar even if the meal was horrible.

A bit is one of those words unique to the western frontier. It comes from the Spanish milled coin real (re-al) which was also called ‘pieces of eight’. Unlike the dollar which can be broken into 4 equal ‘quarters’, the real was broken into 8 bits. So the quarter became known on the frontier by it’s nickname ‘two bits’ and 2 quarters ‘four bits’ etc.

The last thing I like to pick up and feel while immersing myself in Emma’s story is an antique 3”x5” Bible. It was quite worn when I bought it at Value Village for just a couple dollars but the 1860 publishing date gives me a good feeling of touching history. I mean, how many people have opened this little book looking for comfort and answers. How many tears have fallen on its pages? This is the type of Bible I envision Emma to have – well, if she’d been allowed to grab a book before they kidnapped her anyway.

You know, while growing up, I remember my step-dad saying, ‘I wouldn’t give you two bits for it.’

Do you have a similar story? Either about two or four bits or another piece of old money?

13 comments:

Karyn Good said...

Great post, Anita. I enjoyed reading about what a dollar could buy you back in the day. Very thorough research. It's also a great idea to surround yourself with things that inspire you, especially bits and pieces relating to your story in a historical sense.

I can tell you my favorite money word - shekel - which is ironic as I don't even know what a shekel is. All I know is I got the word from my Dad. I'll have to go back to Anne's post and find that link she mentioned...

Helena said...

It was very common when I was growing up to refer to a quarter as 'two bits' as in, "I'll give you two bits if you fill the woodbox. I don't remember 'four bits' being used as much, altho we would have known what it meant.

Are you familiar with the term "shin plaster"? Who knows without looking it up?

Fascinating topic, Anita. Now I know why I have so much stuff from the nineteen-fifties sitting around; it's not just nostalgia, it's inspiration!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Karyn, a shekel is a monetary unit used in Israel. It's also mentioned in the Bible in Eze 45:12
' The shekel is to consist of twenty gerahs. Twenty shekels plus twenty-five shekels plus fifteen shekels equal one mina.'

So now you know. LOL

Actually, as of 11:30 this morning, the Isaeli sheqel was worth 28 cents Cdn or 27 cent US on the intl market.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Yes, Helena, I have a shinplaster, too but I don't keep it on my desk because I don't have one the time/location of my wip.

We'll see if anyone else knows...

Ah - so there is a reason you're writing in that era after all... it's the era of 'your heart'. :)

Janet said...

I have no neat monetary words to add to the discussion :)

Great post, Anita - glad to see you have 'bits' and pieces to inspire you as you revise Emma's Outlaw. My visual inspiration are the motivational quotes scribbled on post it notes and stuck to my wall. And the big post it note with my monthly goals - where I can see it every time I sit at my computer.

PS - you gave me quite a fright today as I thought it was Connie's turn. I rechecked my schedule and wiped the sweat from my brow in gratitude that I didn't have to create a post for this blog tomorrow. There was a bit of a panic :)

Anne Germaine said...

Fascinating! Great post Anita. The only interesting money word I know is "doubloon". Pirates always have dubloons.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Sorry for the scare, Janet. Connie called me on Tues saying her computer crashed and asked if I'd take today.

I was going to ask what everyone's writing inspiration is but I think we've asked that so many times I tried for a different tack this time.

But inspiration can come in any form so thank you for mentioning yours.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Anne - yes, pirates always have doubloons! Fancy you mention that... the guest blogger we have coming on Feb 13th is ML Tyndall who writes fantastic inspirational pirate books. She's one of those 'edgy christian' authors who's pushing the limits. I had to keep looking at the spine to ensure it was an inspy book I held in my hands. :)

When I wrote my short (1000 words)
story about a female pirate, it was because I had been going through some trade dollar coins with images of female pirates on them - like Anne Bonny, Mary Read and Grace O'Malley. However, it's interesting that the majority of female pirates were Chinese woman

Thanks, Anne.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
For inspiration I have a plaque on my desk with the word "Deterimation" written on it. It reminds me to just keep going.

So, money words. Rubel, dracma, euro, franc, lira, peso, pound. That's all I can come up at the moment.

Have a great writing week.
Jana

Anita Mae Draper said...

Determination is a good word for inspiration, Jana. A simple nudge that it takes work. Good.

Rubel, dracma, euro, franc, lira, peso, pound

Yup, good money words, too. (rouble, though vice rubel)

Actually, the drachma, franc and lira aren't in use any longer now that they have euro dollars over there.

Also, the 'Lady Liberty' that's on the Morgan silver dollar is the same 'Madame Liberte' that's on France's old franc. They, as well as the Statue of Liberty were all inspired by an 1830 (I think) painting of Madame Liberty in a state of undress waving a flag and leading the men into battle. Quite a riveting and inspirational painting.

Thanks for reminding me of it, Jana.

connie said...

Hi Anita!
Thank you very much for taking on my blog date so I could be thoroughly distracted and frustrated full time by my #@%^&* computer. I got it back today.
I like pieces of eight, be they what they may. Half crowns (where is the other half?) Florins - (sounds Italian to me, but then Hamlet's friend was Rosencrantz)
The farthing is my favourite with thripence (sp?) a close second.
My favourite money saying is 'a day late and a buck short'.
Thanks again.
connie
Janet - I wouldn't do that! (:O)

connie said...

A peculiar piece of history -
Charles II (1660-85) had 39 mistresses. He didn't take any more because he jokingly said that the Anglican church (Church of England) had 39 articles of faith. He was head of the church (all monarchs are) and so he had one mistress for each article. One lady refused him and he was so impressed, he made her the model for the English form of Liberty which has appeared on various English coinns over the years.
By the way, he had 16 illegitimate children. He gave them all titles. And so, a great many of England's dukes, duchesses, earls etc are descended from Charles's bastards
connie the trivia lady

Anita Mae Draper said...

You're welcome, Connie. That was fast for your computer.

I like the old British monetary system too, and have a crown, half crown (2 shillings 6 pence), florin (2 shillings), shilling, six pence, three pence, penny, half penny and farthing(1/4 penny) in my collection. I have some pennies from the 1800's but my fav is an 1896 three pence with a very good image of Queen Victoria.

I like the Irish coinage better, though because of the animal designs.

When you say, the 'English form of Liberty' do you mean Britania? Or another female image?

Thanks for talking numismatics with me Connie.