This was put together by Benson Gray of Falmouth, Maine. It was assembled from catalogs out the Old Town archives with help from several collectors.
With permission of the Old Town Canoe Comany.

Canoe prices over time

By Benson Gray

(All rights reserved.)

Have you ever tried to convince yourself or anyone else that buying a wooden canoe is a good investment?

Would you like to know approximately how much the first owner originally paid for your antique canoe(s)?

Did you ever wonder how the Consumer Price Index compared to something more interesting?

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes" then the chart shown in, Figure One (31K GIF image) might interest you. It shows the prices of an eighteen foot Guide Special Model from the Old Town Canoe Company over the past century in the upper line with circles. The lower line with squares is the price from 1913 adjusted annually by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The fact that the actual price today of $3395 is about five times the inflation adjusted price of $584 implies that canoes may be a good investment relative to inflation if these trends continue. However, you may want to consider some of the reasons behind these numbers before you transfer your entire retirement account into canoes.

Several factors led to the choice of an eighteen foot Guide model with open gunnels, canvas covering, and a keel in CS grade as the focus of this analysis. The first factor is that it has been included in every Old Town Canoe Company catalog known to exist. This ranges from the $26 one on page six of the 1901 Indian Old Town catalog shown in Figure Two (159K GIF image) to the $3395 one on page 7 of the 1997 catalog. Another factor which led to the selection of this model was its place in the middle of the range of canoe prices. The continuously changing mixture of models and options makes the calculation of an overall average canoe price impractical. However, an 18 foot Guide with open gunwales and a keel in CS grade has always been priced near the center of the price range so it does represent a typical price for all canoes. The last factor is that many other canoe manufacturers made similar models and often used the same name. The prices tended to be very competitive so the charts in Figures One (31K GIF image) and Three (31K GIF image) could provide a way to estimate the price of a canoe from builders other than Old Town.

The letters "CS" stood for "Common Sense" and this grade is still available today. It was originally the middle grade between the top of the line AA grade and the no frills GS grade. The letters "GS" are presumed to stand for "Guides' Special." The AA grade was discontinued in the 1950s and the GS grade only lasted until the 1940s.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) was included on these charts to provide a basis for comparison between canoe prices and the U. S. inflation rate. It is compiled regularly by the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics based on the annual price changes in a fixed collection of consumer goods. This has been calculated as far back as 1913.

The chart shown in Figure Three (31K GIF image) is an expanded view of the information from Figure One (31K GIF image) for the period from 1913 to 1970. It shows that prices closely followed the inflation rate through most of the financial gyrations of World War I until the beginning of the Great Depression in the late 1920s. World War I produced the largest annual price changes for both the Consumer Price Index and Old Town canoes. The largest annual inflation rate was 17% in 1917 and the largest deflation rate of 11% in 1920. This was followed by the largest year to year canoe price increase of 34% in 1919 and the largest decrease of 20% in 1921. Several years had multiple price changes like the ones stamped on the front of the 1920 catalog shown in Figure Four (230K GIF image). The highest prices reached in any given year were used in the charts shown in Figures One (31K GIF image) and Three (31K GIF image).

Several years had multiple price changes like the ones stamped on the front of the 1920 catalog shown in Figure Four (230K GIF image). The highest prices reached in any given year were used in the charts shown in Figures One (31K GIF image) and Three (31K GIF image). The canoe prices began diverge from the CPI inflation rate slowly over the next fifteen years until 1944. Then prices jumped 23% in 1945 and continued to out-pace inflation at a moderate rate until 1967 when the canoe prices really took off for the next thirty years.

There are undoubtedly many reasons for the canoe price changes but the people who made these decisions are no longer around to offer any explanations. It can be presumed that one of the primary factors was a decline in production which drove down the economies of scale. This point was emphasized during the energy crisis of the early 1970s when each canoe had to pay for one half of a barrel of oil to heat the factory during the winter. Clearly the price of each canoe could have been greatly reduced if the production levels could have allowed this and other fixed expenses to be spread across more canoes. The current levels of production (and better weather sealing of the factory) have reduced the heating oil expense to around four and a half gallons per canoe today. The drop in production associated with the start of Great Depression could account for the first departure from the general rate of inflation in the early 1930s. The second departure during the 1940s may reflect the transition into wooden boats and the introduction of aluminum canoes. The final departure in the late 1960s might correspond to another large drop in wood canoe production as fiberglass arrived.

There are very few consumer durable goods which have not changed dramatically in the past century. Most transportation, toys, furniture, and other major products are very different now from what they were in 1901. However, a wooden canoe from the Old Town Canoe Company today is nearly identical to the ones that they started advertising when Theodore Roosevelt was President.

I would like to thank: Joe Amoroso, Sue Audette, Stuart Fall, Braley Gray, Ruth Gray, Seth Gray, Laurie Hasty, Tim Hewitt, Steve Krautkremer, Sara Stockwell, and everyone at the Old Town Canoe Company for their help in preparing this information.

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