Tuesday, June 11, 2024

More on: How much is a cappuccino at the cafe near here?

 I have to hand it to you... 

... the SRS Regular Readers are an amazing crew.  I was so impressed by comments y'all made that I HAD to let the commenting period run a little longer.  

Arthur Weiss wrote a lovely, very detailed analysis of how he searched for it.  I'm quoting his entire comment here because it's so nicely done. 

For something like this, searching in English is less likely to turn up anything. We are talking almost 70 years ago - when mass tourism hadn't really started. So anything written in English would have been in an old guidebook - Fodors or similar. I did a quick search and couldn't find anything online from the 1950s. (There may be - it was very quick books.google.com search).

Which means that anything is likely to be in Italian. So how do you say "price of coffee" in Italian - go to Google Translate and you get "prezzo del caffe". (I went for caffe - not cappuchino. According to Wikipedia this only became popular in the US in the 1990s. I suspect that back in the 1950s you asked for Coffee - not cappuccino, espresso, Americano, or whatever). I then got a different search expression suggested in the quick tips: "Quanto costava un "caffè" nel "1955?" - and that gave me a snippet saying - but for 1954: "Un giornale costava 25 lire, un biglietto del tram 25 lire e una tazzina di caffè 40. Un chilo di pane 150, un litro di benzina 138 lire."

This means the average price for a cup of coffee in Italy was 40 Lire. (Gas was 138l per ltr and a tram ticket was 25l). Unfortunately the link this came from didn't work for me: https://muvias.it/1954-la-plastica-e-il-boom-dei-consumi.

Using this approach I also found this site which gives prices for Italian bars in 1977 plus a graph of inflation from around 1950. In 1977 prices were

Coffee: 300 lire

Caffe Hag: 350 lire

Correct coffee: 400 lire

Cappuccino: 400 lire

Using a rough calculation for inflation - of around 5% between 1955-1969 and then 15% to 1977 gave a price of 270 Lire so the 40 Lire sounds about right. Cappuccino would have been a bit more.  AND of course Cafe Florian would have charged a premium so I'd expect a Cappuccino to cost around 100 Lire in 1955.

According to the Banca d'Italia historic conversion rate web site, 1 USD was worth 624 Lire - meaning that coffee would be around 15c. That seems a real bargain - although perhaps not, because of inflation - 15c (at an average of 5% over the last 68 years) comes to over $4 per cup in today's currency.  

Nicely done.

Let's see, next up, Ramón:  He leveraged Arthur Weiss's comments, and used the search in Italian startegy for: 

     [ prezzo del caffe Venezia 1955 ] 

and found a video with a fascinating discussion of the price of coffee in Italy over the years.  The killer chart can be found here (link to video)--check out 8:34 in the video.  This suggests that the price of a coffee (that is, an espresso) would have been around 40 Lira. 

Then, a quick search for a historic Lira to USD conversion table shows us that the exchange rate was 624L = $1 in 1955.  (Or around $0.15 for an espresso, ignoring inflation.)  That sounds cheap, but remember that in 1955 a cup of coffee in the US was $0.31.  (See the historic "cup of coffee over the years" chart.)  It wasn't an espresso, but at least it's comparable.  

And, voila, it's the same answer that Arthur found.  

That's not quite the exact price of a cappuccino, but it's a pretty close estimate, and I'm happy with that.  In today's coffee market (in the US), an espresso is around $2.75, while a cappuccino is about twice that, or $5.50. If a cap is 2X an espresso, we can reasonably guess that a cappuccino at Caffe Florian in 1955 would have been around $0.30, or just about the same as a cup of regular coffee in the US.  

Earning a "Beyond the Call of Duty" Award, one of our SRS friends also emailed Caffe Florian to ask if they still had a menu from the 1950s, and they wrote back saying that they no longer had archival menus around.  Try elsewhere.  Still.. many points for asking!  


Krossbow also makes an excellent point about Caffe Florian vs. Caffe Chioggia: Even though I thought (and several sources say) that Summertime was filmed on location at Caffe Florian, this clip from the movie makes it pretty clear that the camera position had to be in front of Caffe Chioggia. (At the very beginning, Katherine Hepburn walks past the Campanile San Marco and is clearly on the north side of the loggia, across from the Palazzo.  She has to be at Caffe Chioggia.)   Thanks for the clarification. FWIW, IMBD also lists Caffe Chioggia as the shooting location.  

Hepburn's walk from the side of the Campanile to Caffe Chioggia

Krossbow also contacted the "Ask a Librarian" service at the Library of Congress (which I've written about before). But they weren't able to find much either. 

Nice work by everyone!  

 Keep searching! 


  1. re: Vernal Falls revisited…
    ~400' - 83' differential…
    can't see the forest for the trees
    “from him who sees no wood for trees/ And yet is busie as the bees/ From him that’s settled on his lees/ And speaketh not without his fees”.
    the government explains:
    google explains (ITN?):

  2. Eadweard Muybridge
    interesting take -