Of all the various sub-categories of romances within my collection, few are as fun to read as the delightfully ridiculous romance with the outrageous plot. Most of the outlandish plot romances I have are from the 1930s, with a majority but certainly not all of them representing the latter half of the decade. The Ring Cost a Dime is no mere bauble, it is a shining gem within these treasured stories. One marriage of convenience plot isn’t enough for this story; The Ring Cost a Dime has two!
My copy of The Ring Cost a Dime was a New York Rare Book Week 2019 find from Yesterday’s Gallery and Babylon Revisited Rare Books. Written by Rob Eden (aka Robert and Eve Burkhardt), The Ring Cost a Dime was published in 1939 by Gramercy. OCLC only lists one copy, at Ohio State. Combining the scarcity of this title with the excellent condition of my copy, well, there’s a small running joke that this book seems to have picked up in my family: “The ring cost a dime… the book did NOT.”
My favorite part of any Rob Eden novel worth its salt are the small amusing moments thrown in, and The Ring Cost a Dime doesn’t disappoint! In order, the three best moments of this book are: 3. Upon sharing their first dinner together, the protagonist (Janice) tells the love interest that she doesn’t like the short collars on his shirts or his taste in ties. 2. The first time Janice is in her future husband’s apartment, she goes to his bookcase and determines that she does approve of his taste in books. 1. The first time Janice writes her ex to say they’re through, she does it while on the clock at work. Using company stationery. A coworker reads it over for her and approves.
This book was the quarantine read I needed, a breath of fresh air. Discussions of wealth, women’s careers, and how finances are negotiated within relationships are incorporated into Janice Garth’s story. Her story begins with her fiancé reading the will of his recently deceased rich aunt. Yes, this story has a wonky inheritance plot! Aunt Martha Dorian left Howard one million dollars, but only if he marries his aunt’s protegee, Betty Wallace! Before this, Janice and Howard had created a careful budget with their combined and equal salaries, determining that they’d be able to marry in two years time. However, with this will, Howard insists on marrying Betty and simply divorcing her a year later to keep the money. Betty pretends to be on board with this plan until after “I do,” when she dramatically informs Janice that she intends to keep Howard. Janice is heartbroken.
Despondent, Janice takes the bus and walks home in the rain, and is pleasantly surprised when a stranger from the bus offers to share his umbrella. She discovers they are neighbors, and then her new friend, Van Emerson, admits that he’s in trouble at his new job. His employer only hires married men, so Van lied about the existence of a Mrs. Emerson to get the job. Now, Van’s new boss’ wife wants to pay a social call to Mrs. Emerson, and I think everyone can see where this is going… a second marriage of convenience!
The title for The Ring Cost a Dime comes from Janice buying a ring at a dime store to pass off as her wedding ring. When the wife of Van’s boss pays Janice a house call, she comments that it is strange Janice doesn’t have a ring. Janice says it’s getting resized and wears her dime ring to a company party. Later on in the story, Van produces a more suitable ring.
Even though it’s a sham marriage, Van immediately insists on providing Janice with a weekly allowance of $50 ($5 more than what her job pays), pays her rent, makes her the beneficiary of all his accounts, and gives her a key to his apartment. “All good wives should have keys to their husbands’ apartments” (142). So starts the married life of Janice and Van. They settle into a happy routine of sharing meals and evenings together in peaceful companionship. Meanwhile, over at Howard and Betty’s, Betty is renovating the oppressive Dorian family mansion while Howard continues to insist that everything will work out all right with him and Janice in the end.
Along the way, Van declares his feels for Janice, which she doesn’t immediately reciprocate because of Howard. They have a falling out period, but reunite at the end of the story when Van agrees to visit Janice’s family with her in her small hometown for Christmas. As soon as Van and Janice get their happy ending, a few paragraphs before the book ends, Van tells Janice to stop working. “He turned his head quickly to look at her as if he expected resistance. He got none. ‘Yes, I’ll quit working, and be a real wife.'” As a modern reader, this is a bit of a let down for me.
Just before returning Van’s love, Janice sends Howard a telegraph saying they’re through. Betty had been finally willing to move forward with the divorce but now…? There’s no resolution there, and it’s just as well. The Ring Costs a Dime simultaneously uses marriages of convenience as a major plot element and lightly condemns such unions, warning that they may stick for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer.
Announcement: I’m participating in an online group exhibit with the Grolier Club this summer! For the exhibit, I’ve shared three books, two of which haven’t been previously shared on this blog. The New Members Collect 2020 exhibit can be found here. Please check it out and as always, thanks for reading!
Copies of Rob Eden’s works are available for purchase here.