University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Sitio Conte in Real Time: January 22, 1940


By: Lee Roueche

January 22, 2015

5 lbs onions $.30
10 tins Maxwell’s coffee 1# $6.00
6 paq. Salada tea $1.50
1 bag Flour Gold Medal 98# $3.25
25 lbs Chinese rice $1.50

Receipt from Compañia Kito Chen, S.A., January 22, 1940

On this day 75 years ago, J. Alden Mason went grocery shopping. So what do you feed a small army of diggers and day laborers in 1940 Panama? Check out the receipt from Kito Chen, S.A., a Chinese wholesale retail food company in Panama City, Panama.

As the receipt show’s, Mason purchased quite a variety of nonperishable foods and some general goods like toilet paper and washing soap. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of familiar brands on this list, like Fleishman yeast, Campbell’s Soup, Heinz, and Ivory soap.   Mason spent a grand total of $170.75 with this first food order for the expedition camp. Which, according to historical price calculators found online, equals somewhere between to $2,799.451 to $2,852.942  We arrived at these numbers based on Mason’s notes (and on Lothrop’s recommendations) that most of their camp accounts were kept in American dollars, accepted widely in Panama at the time.

Considering Mason’s work team could fluctuate between 7 and 30 laborers, depending on the scale of work to do for the day, I wonder how long it was before they had to restock the “Heinz Tomatoe Katsup,” the “Premier’s tongue” (whatever that is!), the “Maxwell’s coffee,” or the “Sardinia Honeymoon” to name a few?

01-22-1940_kitchen-list_101-22-1940_kitchen-list_2

1 The Inflation Calculator
2 Historical Currency Conversions


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