Old receipts offer a tab to Buffalo Grove's past
Store receipts from a century ago can contain considerable archaeological value, with the scrawls of dry goods clerks as rich with historical data for aficionados of local lore as an ancient hieroglyph for an Egyptologist.
That's the premise behind "What We Learn from the General Store Receipts," a program set for Oct. 6 at the Vernon Township Community Service Building, 2900 N. Main St., Buffalo Grove.
The free event promises to provide a glimpse into Buffalo Grove life in the immediate aftermath of World War I.
Marina Mayne, registrar and collections manager with the Buffalo Grove Park District's Raupp Memorial Museum, will present receipts from Buffalo Grove's general store during the Thursday Community Days program held from 12:30 to 2 p.m.
JCC Chicago and CJE SeniorLife are offering the program along with a free light kosher-style lunch. To register, visit jccchicago.org/communitydaysnws.
Deb Fandrei, museum supervisor, said the receipts dating from 1917 to 1919 are taken from one of the museum's permanent exhibits. The museum, which is dedicated to chronicling the social history of the village, has several thousand receipts from the store, which was located near the current Deerfields Bakery.
"There are so many, we haven't counted them all," she said. "But one of the things we have been gradually doing over the past few years is digitizing the receipts and looking at them to see what they can tell us about what people were buying and who was buying things and just in general what life was like back then."
To an aspiring history detective, the receipts offer clues into the habits of area denizens at the time.
For instance, people making clothes were buying buttons and ribbons. Others needed long underwear to deal with the harsh winters. People feeding their families were shopping for spices and flour.
The receipts also reveal some interesting trends.
"People were buying just an astonishing amount of dried herring," Fandrei, said.
Some items had to be looked up, including a product called Yeast Foam, "basically another just another way to buy yeast," she added.
The idea conveyed by the sheer variety of items listed is that the general store sold a bit of everything. A perusal of the costs will likely fill the modern consumer with envy. But payment was sometimes not just a matter of dollars and cents.
"The other interesting part of it, from our perspective, is the fact that sometimes people paid in cash, but sometimes they paid in eggs or in butter," Fandrei said.
In some cases, she said, people were bringing in 100 dozen eggs.
The practice was so common, she said, that there was a place preprinted on receipts "for whoever was ringing up to put in how many eggs that the farmer brought in, or how many pounds of butter that they brought in, in the credit columns."