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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Our Mother's Cocoa: 1940

Our Mother's Cocoa: 1940

February 1940. A grocery store in Salem, Illinois. View full size. 35mm nitrate negative by Arthur Rothstein for the Farm Security Administration.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

Our Mother's Cocoa

Is there somewhere that you can still buy Mother's Cocoa or does it not exist anymore?

Our Mother's Chocolate Cake

Not with caramel icing, but maybe it is the same cake base.

Our Mothers Cocoa Cake: 1/4 c butter, 1 c sugar, 2 eggs beaten, 2 1/2 tbsp Our Mother's Cocoa, 1/2 c sweet milk, 1 1/2 c sifted flour, 3 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp vanilla extract. Turn into greased floured 8x8x2 pan 350F 45 min.

Our Mothers Cocoa Icing: 2/3 c Our Mother's Cocoa, 1/2 c boiling water, 1 lb confectioners sugar, 2 tbsp butter, 1 tsp vanilla.

Our Mother's Cocoa

That company was bought out by the people who sell the "World's Best Candy Bars" that schoolkids are all the time selling for fundraisers.

Cake Recipe

Does anyone have the recipe that was on the back of the Our Mother's Cocoa can that was a chocolate cake with a caramel icing? OR does anyone know how/where I could get (like company info, etc.)?

9½ Cents a Pound

I love the fact that the Oleo was 9½ cents a pound. Not 9. Not 10. The penny has so little value nowadays. BTW, my father used to call it oleo or oleomargarine. Haven't heard that in ages. It's nice to see that word again. (But, I'd rather eat butter.)

[I guess that leaves just gasoline as the last consumer item priced in fractions of a cent. - Dave]


That's what jumped out at me. But then, while in the sixth grade in 1959, I won the Oklahoma state spelling bee. Winning word, "Chrysanthemum."


I'm less interested in the prices than the dazzling quality of American advertising, especially in old photos. Walker Evans for one used the striking graphics of ordinary commerce to excellent effect, but it looks great even among less famous photographers.

Food prices

You might want to consider the wages in 1940 to 2007.
My father in law said he was getting $25.00 per week about the time this picture was taken.

If you want to be precise

If you want to be precise with the price differentials of the comparable food items between then and now, you must first establish the degree to which the dollar has decreased in 'buying power'. Following that not exactly direct calculation, then the actual differences in prices on the various items from then until today would be more accurate and valid. Although, you can get a good idea on which items will reflect real differences by using Tracy's method of noting the ratios. It's not a simple one to one comparison, such that you can say everything is so much more expensive these days. Just as you can't compare wages directly.

All that over one photo of food prices...? Yeah, I know. Big deal.

food prices

I was curious about how the 1940 prices compare to 2007 prices, so I checked them against my local grocery store. (I live in a town of 40k in NC. I chose the prices of the store brand.)


pork shoulders .10 lb/ 1.49 lb (whole shoulder)

potatoes .25 per 5 lb/ 3.99 per 5 lb

eggs .19 dz/ 2.29 dz

oleo (margarine) .095 lb/ .79 lb (I should've looked for corn oil marg, this had a high proportion of soy.)

rolled oats .10 40 oz./ 2.29 42 oz

syrup .23 5 lbs/ 1.99 1 lb

onions .15 10 lb/ 2.99 3 lbs

apples .25 6 lbs/ 3.99 3 lbs

grapefruit juice .19 46 oz/2.79 46 oz

Most of the 2007 foods are around x11-x23 increase over 1940 prices, but the syrup is x47 and the onions are x66 more. I guess this reflects the labor costs, though the juice is only x15 more. 2007 apples are x32 more, but the Feb 1940 apples would've been from the 1939 crop. It is possible that the 1940 prices are sale items and don't represent usual prices.

Mmmmm, old fashioned head cheese

Mmmmm, old fashioned head cheese on special! Deeelish!!! So much better than any of those MODERN type head cheeses.

Pork Shouders

Callie style pork shouders?

The store owner's calligraphy may be better than mine, but not spelling. (Oh yeah? Then why did I have to check whether there's 1 or 2 L's in calligraphy? OTOH, Google lists about 61,000 web instances of "shouder," so it's a common typo.)

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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