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Expert Advice: 1939

Expert Advice: 1939

September 1939. Graceville, Minnesota. "High school boy talking to druggist." Medium format acetate negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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In-band signaling

To davidk's question: I have seen some retailers use the last digit or two of the price to indicate the status of the item in question. For example, if the price ends in 99 cents, that's the regular price. 98 cents is a sale price, and 97 cents is a one-time special buy or a discontinued item. This was probably more common when you didn't have a computer to keep track of the current selling price for you, or label printers that could print new labels quickly for the beginning and end of a sale.

In this case, perhaps the 9-cent or 8-cent prices are items that are in an ad, maybe in the front windows of the drugstore, or in the newspaper. When the sale is over, it's easy to look at the shelf and quickly see which prices need to be changed back to a 5-cent or 10-cent price.

Love the Coty boxes!

At the time this picture was taken, my mother was in her mid-teens; she's now in her 90s. And for as long as I can remember, she's always had one of those very same boxes close by! Loved looking at all the other stuff in this picture, but those really made me smile!
(BTW: my first thought on seeing this picture was of a movie scene with a 1940s kid in a drugstore: "um, I'd like some toothpaste, and gum, and a bottle of Listerine, oh, and a pack of Trojans, and some shampoo, and ... ")

Floyd? Is that you?

I say it is Floyd the Barber.

Brings back memories!

When we were young our mother would not buy toothpaste. We had tooth powder instead. Apparently, we loved to squeeze the toothpaste tube to the point that our consumption of toothpaste went ballistic. Our mother, who had experienced harsh times during the "dirty thirties," moved to stop this waste.

We had to sprinkle a little of the powder in the palm of one hand and dab a wet toothbrush into it. Eventually, as we got older, toothpaste was reintroduced in our home. Oh, happy day!

5 & 10

I understand why retailers use prices like $1.99 – it makes the price seem more dollar-y than two-dollar-y. So if a merchant, like this druggist, calls a spade a spade, and has most prices rounded out to 5 or 10 cents, then why would he still have the occasional price ending in 9 or even 8? I get using one system or another, but I don’t get the combination of the two.

Wrong Caption

I love your site, and I love your captions, but surely this one should be captioned "Genius Bar".

[Perhaps a brief review is in order! - Dave]

Re: Guess the Product

I think you're right; looking at the enlarged photo, just below the druggist's elbow, there are some containers that resemble the one he's holding. I believe they say Colgate Tooth Powder.

Coty Airspun

The round orange box with the powder-puff motif hasn't changed since Airspun was introduced nearly a century ago. The loose powder (excellent product) smells like L'Origan, one of Coty's signature fragrances. Coty was about classic femininity then and still is today.

Yes Harold,

we really do need 50 types of toothpaste AND powder.

But -- are you sure?

It'll work on jock itch? Last time you sold me tooth powder.


Floyd the Barber sells acne cream.

Guess the Product

I'd say it's Colgate tooth powder.

Tooth powder

You don't see that used much anymore; toothpaste has pretty much displaced it.

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