Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book. Everyday Life in the 1800s

Everyday Life in the 1800s: 
A Guide for Writers, Students & Historians

Marc McCutcheon
OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2001

Chapter 1. Slang and Everyday Speech
Chapter 2. Getting Around
Chapter 3. Around the House
Chapter 4. Clothing and Fashion
Chapter 5. Occupations
Chapter 6. Money and Coinage
Chapter 7. Health, Medicine and Hygiene
Chapter 8. Food, Drink and Tobacco
Chapter 9. Amusements
Chapter 10. Courtship and Marriage
Chapter 11. Slavery and Black Plantation Culture
Chapter 12. The Civil War
Chapter 13. Out on the Range
Chapter 14. Crime

This is a lively reference book on everyday life in the nineteenth century. The details from this book can add “color, depth and realism to any fiction (or nonfiction) setting”. These details of the lives of our ancestors can certainly bring our family histories to life.

The chapter on Money and Coinage, for example, is very interesting. In the early 1800s the coins in circulation in America included: Russian kopecks, Dutch rix-dollars, French and English coins, silver dollars from Mexico and South America. Both cents and shillings were used. It was a confusing mess until 1857 when the government banned all foreign coins. In rural areas, however, many people spent their lives without ever holding any coins at all. They traded rather than sold items.

Are you familiar with these terms related to nineteenth century money?

Bit                               one-eighth of a dollar
Coppers                      slang for cents
Eagle                           a ten dollar gold piece
Half cent                     a unpopular copper coin issued from 1793-1857
Half dime                   a small silver coin issued from 1800-1805
Medio                         the Spanish half-reale; also known as fip, picayune or six-pence
Pocket full of rocks    having plenty of money
Slug                             a fifty-dollar gold piece, most widely used in CA
Two-cent piece          bronze coin issued 1864-1873; first coin with “In God We Trust”        

I am enjoying reading this book and incorporating many of its details in my writing. You might enjoy it too.


  1. "Shave and a haircut, two bits" was something I remember from old movies and TV. Now I know what "two bits" stands for!

  2. What a fun resource for telling family stories!

  3. Interesting, I wasn't aware there was a $50 gold piece.

  4. This sounds a fascinating book for anyone with an American background.


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