Hawaii Sticker Shock: Food/commodity prices in 1823

Yup, it always seems like we pay more for things because we choose to live in Hawaii.

Missionaries landing in Hawaii nearly 200 years ago faced the same sticker shock, according to accounts written at the time.

I found the chart that follows in a folder of notes my mother wrote out back in the mid-1960s from books, letters, and diaries in the library of the Hawaiian Historical Society, where she was working at the time. She was apparently tracking down first hand descriptions of what and how people ate during the period for her longtime friend and mentor, UH nutrition professor Carey D. Miller, who was keenly interested in foods of Hawaii.

The prices are from 1823. They were paying $3 a gallon for wine in Hawaii, while the same item “in America” cost just $1.20. Similar disparities appear on most items. Only oil was available in Hawaii at the same price as in America. Whale oil, perhaps?

I’m not sure what all the abbreviations of quantities mean. Perhaps others can help out here.

Anyway, have fun with the shopping list.

food prices 1823

7 responses to “Hawaii Sticker Shock: Food/commodity prices in 1823

  1. ohiaforest3400

    “bbl” used with reference to Indian meal and fish usually means “barrels.” The “bbs” in the first line may be a typo in that regard.

  2. Cwt and C refer to 100-weight. So 500 lbs of sugar in Hawaii (at $20 per 100-weight) cost $100, versus $50 for the same amount on the continental U.S.

    Pearl ash, BTW, was a leavening agent, generally replaced in the late 19th century by sodium bicarbonate (a.k.a. baking soda).

  3. Richard Gozinya

    Today’s post was listed as a “must read” by Matson.

  4. I wonder the consequences of the Jones Act upon prices.

  5. i hope the missionaries doubled checked their receipts at Safeway!

  6. Well done, gives fresh perspective to the “Price of Paradise.” And, no, Steve, there was no Jone act in place then.

  7. For a contemporary sticker shock, compare Safeway’s newspaper ads on Wednesdays (Safeway.com) in Honolulu and Sacramento, my new home. The markup in Honolulu for the same items in the ads averages about 25 percent, with some items in Honolulu costing twice as much as in Sacramento. My Facebook posts for the “benefit” of my Honolulu friends have alluded to the Jones Act as a contributor to the higher cost, but Hawaii’s isolation and high-priced real estate are other reasons.

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