What 11 Common Objects Would Cost in 2015 if Colonial Taxation Still Existed

It’s safe to say the American colonists were pretty upset about the taxes and tariffs imposed on imported goods in the 1760s and 1770s—upset enough to start a war. But at rates like ten shillings or a couple of pounds, the tariffs hardly sound oppressive to modern ears. That is, until you do the math to modernize the prices. Here is just how much 11 everyday items would cost if they were taxed today at the same levels they were in colonial America.

1. An Issue of mental_floss Magazine; $293.56 in taxes

Paper was among the most heavily taxed goods under the Stamp Act of 1765. For a pamphlet or newspaper larger than one whole sheet, the Stamp Act imposed a duty of one shilling per page and two shillings for every advertisement. That means a 35-page (printed on both sides) issue of a magazine with 10 advertisements would cost £186.98 today, or $293.56—on top of the newsstand price.

2. A Diploma; $234.84 in taxes

Nearly $300 for a magazine seems like a bargain considering colonists had to pay the equivalent of $234.84 for a single sheet of diploma paper under the Stamp Act. Any piece of paper, skin, piece of vellum, or parchment used for a certificate of degree taken at a university or academy incurred a stamp duty of two pounds (valued £149.58, or $234.84 today).

3. A Pair of Dice; $58.72 in taxes

Under the Stamp Act, a tariff of ten shillings was added to every pair of dice sold. In today’s economy, that would leave you paying over $58 for a pair of dice. Even more harrowing, the penalty for being caught selling an illegal pair of dice (and therein bypassing the tariff) would cost you ten pounds per die—or 20 for the pair. This penalty is equivalent to over $2300 today.

4. A Deck of Cards; $5.87 in taxes

Each deck of playing cards sold in the colonies was charged an extra shilling (or $5.87 today) under the Stamp Act. While that might not seem like much compared to the exorbitant duties on dice and paper, things are put into perspective when you consider that you can buy a deck of cards today for well under $5.00—that makes the duty in excess of 100 percent of the cards’ value. Also, much like dice, the penalty for selling counterfeit cards was 20 pounds (thousands of dollars).

5. A Calendar; $1.96 in taxes

A stamp duty of four pence (or $1.96—which now seems like a bargain!) was added to one-year calendars and almanacs printed in the colonies.

6. A Pound of Tea; $1.46

Under the Townshend Acts, a duty of three pence (approximately $1.46 today) was added to every pound of tea sold in the colonies. A common misconception is that the colonists protested the tax on tea because it was too high, when if fact, the Boston Tea Party was in response to cheap, rather than expensive, tea. In order to bail out the failing East India Company, England granted the company a monopoly on the sale of tea in the colonies and set a low tax on tea in order to undercut tea smuggling to the colonies. The colonists were angered by Britain’s attempt to restrict their trade as well as impose taxes (of any sort) against their will.

7. Foreign Coffee; $350.80 in taxes

The Sugar Act of 1764 imposed a duty of 2 pounds, 19 shillings, and 9 pence on every hundredweight of foreign coffee sold in the colonies. This is even more egregious when you consider that the tariff on British coffee was a mere 7 shillings ($41.10) per hundredweight. Foreign coffee was more than eight times more expensive than British coffee, nearly ensuring the British a monopoly on colonial coffee sales.

8. Foreign White Sugar; $129.16 in taxes

A hundredweight of foreign white sugar incurred an outrageous duty of 1 pound, 2 shillings—or nearly $130—under the Sugar Act.

9. Wine from Spain or Portugal; $58.72 in taxes

A ton of wine imported from Spain or Portugal was subject to a duty of 10 shillings (approximately $58.72 today). Not so bad, right? The crazy thing about this tariff is just how bonkers it makes the duty on wine imported from other places seem. Take, for instance…

10. Wine from Madeira; $821.94 in taxes

According to the Sugar Act, on “every ton of wine of the growth of the Madeiras, or of any other island or place from whence such wine may be lawfully imported” was placed a tariff of seven pounds. That’s 14 times more than wine from continental Europe!

11. License to Sell Wine; $469.68 in taxes

Under the Stamp Act, the paper on which you printed your license to sell wine—but, significantly, not wine and spirits—was stuck with a stamp duty of 4 pounds (or $469.68 dollars today). Much like the tariff on wine itself, the absurdity of this duty comes into focus when you compare it with other kinds of liquor licenses. The paper on which you printed your license to sell spirits—but not wine—had a duty of only one pound ($117.42). And the paper on which you printed your license to sell both wine and spirits had a duty of 4 pounds—the same as the duty on your license to sell wine alone. These tariffs seem to indicate that the Crown wanted to drive the sale of liquor (which was more often English-made) over wine (which was more often foreign-made).

Why We Eat What We Eat On Thanksgiving

monkeybusinessimages/iStock via Getty Images
monkeybusinessimages/iStock via Getty Images

When Americans sit down with their families for Thanksgiving dinner, most of them will probably gorge themselves on the same traditional Thanksgiving menu, with turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and pumpkin pie taking up the most real estate on the plates. How did these dishes become the national "what you eat on Thanksgiving" options, though?

Why do we eat turkey on Thanksgiving?

It's not necessarily because the pilgrims did it. Turkey may not have been on the menu at the 1621 celebration by the Pilgrims of Plymouth that is considered the first Thanksgiving (though some historians and fans of Virginia's Berkeley Plantation might quibble with the "first" part). There were definitely wild turkeys in the Plymouth area, though, as colonist William Bradford noted in his book Of Plymouth Plantation.

However, the best existing account of the Pilgrims' harvest feast comes from colonist Edward Winslow, the primary author of Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Winslow's first-hand account of the first Thanksgiving included no explicit mention of turkey. He does, however, mention the Pilgrims gathering wild fowl for the meal, although that could just as likely have meant ducks or geese.

When it comes to why we eat turkey on Thanksgiving today, it helps to know a bit about the history of the holiday. While the idea of giving thanks and celebrating the harvest was popular in certain parts of the country, it was by no means an annual national holiday until the 19th century. Presidents would occasionally declare a Thanksgiving Day celebration, but the holiday hadn't completely caught on nationwide. Many of these early celebrations included turkey; Alexander Hamilton once remarked, "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day."

When Bradford's journals were reprinted in 1856 after being lost for at least half a century, they found a receptive audience with advocates who wanted Thanksgiving turned into a national holiday. Since Bradford wrote of how the colonists had hunted wild turkeys during the autumn of 1621 and since turkey is a uniquely North American (and scrumptious) bird, it gained traction as the Thanksgiving meal of choice for Americans after Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.

Moreover, there were pragmatic reasons for eating turkey rather than, say, chicken at a feast like Thanksgiving. The birds are large enough that they can feed a table full of hungry family members, and unlike chickens or cows, they don't serve an additional purpose like laying eggs or making milk. Unlike pork, turkey wasn't so common that it seemed like an unsuitable choice for a special occasion, either.

Did the pilgrims have cranberry sauce?

While the cranberries the Pilgrims needed were probably easy to come by, making cranberry sauce requires sugar. Sugar was a rare luxury at the time of the first Thanksgiving, so while revelers may have eaten cranberries, it's unlikely that the feast featured the tasty sauce. What's more, it's not even entirely clear that cranberry sauce had been invented yet. It's not until 1663 that visitors to the area started commenting on a sweet sauce made of boiled cranberries that accompanied meat.

There's the same problem with potatoes. Neither sweet potatoes nor white potatoes were available to the colonists in 1621, so the Pilgrims definitely didn't feast on everyone's favorite tubers.

How about pumpkin pie?

It may be the flagship dessert at modern Thanksgiving dinners, but pumpkin pie didn't make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims probably lacked the butter and flour needed to make a pie crust, and it's not clear that they even had an oven in which they could have baked a pumpkin pie. That doesn't mean pumpkins weren't available for the meal, though; they were probably served after being baked in the coals of a fire or stewed. Pumpkin pie became a popular dish on 17th-century American tables, though, and it might have shown up for Thanksgiving as early as the 1623 celebration of the holiday.

This article originally appeared in 2008.

15 Colorful Facts About Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe’s enchanting floral still life paintings are now a deeply ingrained part of American culture—so much so that they often eclipse her other colorful accomplishments. For a more complete portrait of the artist, who was born on November 15, 1887, brush up on these 15 little-known facts about her.

1. Flower paintings make up a small percentage of Georgia O'Keeffe's body of work.

Though Georgia O'Keeffe is most famous for her lovingly rendered close-ups of flowers—like Black Iris and Oriental Poppies—these make up just about 200 of her 2000-plus paintings. The rest primarily depict landscapes, leaves, rocks, shells, and bones.

2. Georgia O'Keeffe rejected sexual interpretations of her paintings.

For decades, critics assumed that O'Keeffe's flowers were intended as homages—or at the very least, allusions—to the female form. But in 1943, she insisted that they had it all wrong, saying, “Well—I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flowers you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower—and I don’t.” So there.

3. Georgia O'Keeffe was not a native of the American Southwest.


Joe Raedle/Getty Images

O'Keeffe was actually born on a Wisconsin dairy farm. She'd go on to live in Chicago; New York City; New York’s Lake George; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Amarillo, Texas. She first visited New Mexico in 1917, and as she grew older, her trips there became more and more frequent. Following the death of her husband in 1946, she moved to New Mexico permanently.

4. Georgia O'Keeffe’s favorite studio was the backseat of a Model-A Ford.

In an interview with C-SPAN, Carolyn Kastner, former curator of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, explained how the artist customized her car for this use: "She would remove the driver's seat. Then she would unbolt the passenger car, turn it around to face the back seat. Then she would lay the canvas on the back seat as an easel and paint inside her Model-A Ford."

Painting inside the car allowed O'Keeffe to stay out of the unrelenting desert sun, where she painted many of her later works. The Model-A also provided a barrier from the bees that would gather as the day wore on.

5. Georgia O'Keeffe also painted skyscrapers.

While nature was O'Keeffe's main source of inspiration, the time she spent in 1920s Manhattan spurred the creation of surreal efforts like New York With Moon, City Night, and The Shelton with Sunspots.

6. Georgia O'Keeffe immersed herself in nature.

While in New Mexico, O’Keeffe spent summers and falls at her Ghost Ranch, putting up with the region's hottest, most stifling days in order to capture its most vivid colors. (The rest of the year she stayed at her second home, located in the small town of Abiquiu.) When she wasn't painting in her Model-A, O'Keeffe often camped out in the harsh surrounding terrain, to keep close to the landscapes that inspired her.

7. Not even bad weather could keep Georgia O'Keeffe away from her work.

The artist would rig up tents from tarps, contend with unrelenting downpours, and paint with gloves on when it got too cold. She went camping well into her 70s and enjoyed a well-documented rafting trip with photographer Todd Webb at age 74. Her camping equipment is occasionally exhibited at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

8. Georgia O'Keeffe married the man behind her first gallery show.

"At last, a woman on paper!" That’s what modernist photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz cried when he first saw O'Keeffe's abstract charcoal drawings. He was so enthusiastic about this series of sketches that he put them on display—before consulting their creator.

When O'Keeffe arrived at his gallery, she wasn't pleased, and brusquely introduced herself: "I am Georgia O'Keeffe and you will have to take these pictures down." Despite their rocky beginnings, Stieglitz and O'Keeffe quickly made amends, and went on to become partners in art and in life.

9. Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz wrote 25,000 pages of love letters to each other.

When the pair met in 1916, Stieglitz was famous and married; she was unknown and 23 years his junior. All the same, they began writing to each other often (sometimes two or three times a day) and at length (as many as 40 pages at a time). These preserved writings chart the progression of their romance—from flirtation to affair to their marriage in 1924—and even document their marital struggles.

10. Georgia O'Keeffe served as a muse to other artists.

Thanks in part to Stieglitz, O'Keeffe was one of the most photographed women of the 20th century. Stieglitz made O'Keeffe the subject of a long-term series of portraits meant to capture individuals as they aged, and she made for a striking model. Though he died in 1946, the project lived on as other photographers sought out O'Keeffe in order to capture the beloved artist against the harsh New Mexican landscapes she loved so dearly.

O'Keeffe later wrote:

"When I look over the photographs Stieglitz took of me—some of them more than 60 years ago—I wonder who that person is. It is as if in my one life I have lived many lives. If the person in the photographs were living in this world today, she would be quite a different person—but it doesn't matter—Stieglitz photographed her then."

11. Georgia O'Keeffe quit painting—three times.

The first break spanned several years (the exact number is a matter of debate), when O'Keeffe took on more stable jobs to help her family through financial troubles. In the early 1930s, a nervous breakdown led to her hospitalization, and caused her to set aside her brushes for more than a year.

In the years leading up to her death in 1986, failing eyesight forced O'Keeffe to give up painting entirely. Until then, she fought hard to keep working, enlisting assistants to prepare her canvas and mix her oil paints for pieces like 1977's Sky Above Clouds/Yellow Horizon and Clouds. She managed to use watercolors until she was 95.

12. After going blind, Georgia O'Keeffe turned to sculpting.


By Alfred Stieglitz - Phillips, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Although her vision eventually made painting impossible, O'Keeffe's desire to create was not squelched. She memorably declared, "I can see what I want to paint. The thing that makes you want to create is still there.” O'Keeffe began experimenting with clay sculpting in her late 80s, and continued with it into her 96th year.

13. Georgia O'Keeffe is the mother of American Modernism.

Searching for what she called “the Great American Thing,” O'Keeffe was part of the Stieglitz Circle, which included such lauded early modernists as Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Paul Strand, and Edward Steichen. By the mid-1920s, she had become the first female painter to gain acclaim alongside her male contemporaries in New York's cutthroat art world. Her distinctive way of rendering nature in shapes and forms that made them seem simultaneously familiar and new earned her a reputation as a pioneer of the form.

14. Georgia O'Keeffe blazed new trails for female artists.

In 1946, O’Keeffe became the first woman to earn a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Twenty-four years later, a Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective exhibit introduced her work to a new generation. Fifteen years after that, O'Keeffe was included in the inaugural slate of artists chosen to receive the newly founded National Medal of Arts for her contribution to American culture.

15. Georgia O'Keeffe wasn't fearless, but she rejected fear.

O'Keeffe was purported to have said, "I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER