In my list of factoids about the year 1919, I had some misgivings about including, “Congress reduced the price of a first-class postage stamp from 3 cents to 2 cents.”
It was notable because of the rare price reduction, which has not happened since. However, in our time of 44-cent stamps, it might seem more notable that stamps once cost a few cents. I can almost hear an old record player in the distance, warbling about the good old days.
Cue the misgivings.
If you want to compare prices across a long period of time, you need to adjust for inflation. Considering the general rise in prices between 1919 and now, maybe today’s stamps actually cost less than those of 1919.
It turns out, they don’t. A 1919 stamp would cost 24.7 of today’s cents. That is close to the lowest inflation-adjusted price for a first-class stamp in the past 150 years (21.3 cents in 1920).
But before we resume our tune about the good old days, let’s go further back, to 1878. The inflation-adjusted price of a first-class stamp was 49.2 cents, the high across the past 150 years. So, for stamp prices, the old days had some good and some bad.
Wm. Robert Johnson has a chart showing the price of U.S. first-class stamps from 1866 to 2009, both in prices of the time and inflation-adjusted prices. He also provides the underlying data, which I used in this post.