How to tell the 1930s from the 1980s

I did a double take when I saw the caption for this picture this morning.

Were these guys really at an auction sale in 1983?

No, they weren’t. The picture was taken in 1938. A transposition of numbers pushed the time of the picture forward 45 years. I was able to find the picture on the Library of Congress website and verify that. The Lawrence Journal-World also had the right date on its website.

So what were the clues that the caption was wrong?

Overalls and suspenders have been a farmer’s uniform for many years. Men’s fashion in general doesn’t change that much from year to year or even decade to decade. The hats do seem out of place for the 1980s. They are plausible, though.

Look at where the men are sitting, though. It’s a running board, something that was far more common in 1938 than in 1983.

Look closer and you’ll see the giant fender and the side engine vents. Even the windows date the vehicle. I can’t place the exact model, but here’s an idea of what it looked like.

The New York Times had a similar transposition problem last month. In that case, the 1980s became the “1908s.”

No, that makes no sense, but the eyes play tricks on you when you are in a hurry.

My suggestion: Apply logic. And always double-check.

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