That's 2 shillings and sixpence in old money
June 28, 2006 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Ever wondered what old amounts of money would be worth today? Or what you could buy with your current salary if you went back 200, 400, or 600 years? Now you can find out with a tool that converts English currency from 1270 onwards into today's prices. Based on Treasury records, it tells you that Mr Darcy's £10,000 a year would now be worth nearly £350,000, or that your house would only have to be worth the equivalent of £500 now to qualify for the vote after 1832.
posted by greycap (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It'd be cooler with other currencies.
posted by rollbiz at 12:02 PM on June 28, 2006

I used this site when reading the Aubrey-Maturin novels. I was compelled to figure out how much we were talking about when Capt. Aubrey was doing his wheeling & dealing.
posted by rolypolyman at 12:12 PM on June 28, 2006

I've been using this site for the same information about American currency. (Not that I have any money, but sometimes it's nice to read about it.)
posted by LeLiLo at 12:18 PM on June 28, 2006

I'm really surprised, shocked even, that Darcy's 10k is only 350k today. There seems something wrong with that. Pemberly was certainly not the house of someone whose capital only brought in that much.
posted by OmieWise at 12:40 PM on June 28, 2006

No no no no. I hate these reference works that determine the rates of inflation for various years and then blindly convert the money up and down. There are too many variables for a statement "x dollars then is worth y dollars today" to ever be true. Some things get more expensive over time others cheaper, and the portion of our incomes we spend on different categories has changed wildly, and heck most people on the planet only entered the cash economy in the last 150 years.

The best way to place old figures in perspective is to ask what a certain sum would have bought at the time. "X dollars, enough to buy 1000 acres of prairie," or "the cost a new car that year." I thought the linked site was going to do that when I saw the "Buying Power" link, but what they do there is blindly convert the money first then see what it would have bought, compounding the error.
posted by LarryC at 12:47 PM on June 28, 2006

On (not) previewing: Omie has run into exactly the problem with this kind of site.
posted by LarryC at 12:49 PM on June 28, 2006

The real change is the cost of labour. £350k p.a. could be enough to run an estate like Pemberly if you didn't have to worry about paying much in the way of wages to the associated servants/gardeners/labourers etc.
posted by patricio at 1:01 PM on June 28, 2006

The problem with these kinds of conversions is that it is very hard to find a good stable basis for comparison. What does it mean to be "rich" nowadays? Well, let us say it means having the power to own several fancy cars, a yacht, more than one residence, lots of cool gadgets like big screen TVs and HD-DVD players and so forth. Now, the richest man in England in 1800 wouldn't have been able to own the cars, probably wouldn't have thought to own a yacht, would certainly have had at least one country residence and one city residence, both of a scale beyond the reach of the "ordinary rich" nowadays, and wouldn't have had any of the gadgets. On the other hand, even an ordinarily "comfortably off" person in 1800 would probably have had more servants tending to their needs (and in more varied and intimate ways) than all but the super-rich do now.

So what do we compare on? The price of staples? But staples are something of which you require only a certain amount. The average "poor" American probably consumes more calories per day than the average nobleman in the early C19th, but that doesn't mean that they're "richer" than that nobleman.

Or one could go for a standard like "how much does one hour of a trained workman's time cost"--but a standard like that would tend to suggest that there were many more "rich" people in the past than there are now--which seems unlikely on the face of it.

(On preview: redundant)
posted by yoink at 1:05 PM on June 28, 2006

Oh Mr. D'arcy. *swoon*
posted by Alex404 at 1:12 PM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Relevant Slate article about why simple inflation models are misleading.
posted by kickingtheground at 1:15 PM on June 28, 2006

I used this site when reading the Aubrey-Maturin novels. I was compelled to figure out how much we were talking about when Capt. Aubrey was doing his wheeling & dealing.

That's funny, because I just saw what 750 pounds would be worth in 1810-- because Maturin borrows that much from Jack at the beginning of Desolation Island. According to that site, it's about $25,000!
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:20 PM on June 28, 2006

This page has links to several "how much did things cost back then" websites. For instance, Daily Money Wage Rates of Building Craftsmen and Labourers in Southern England 1264 - 1954.
posted by bentley at 1:36 PM on June 28, 2006

wait, how many sheep stones will 100 pounds get me?
posted by nola at 2:13 PM on June 28, 2006

Reminds me rather of an adorable old lady on a TV programme here in the UK:
"It cost three pence, or thruppence in old money".
posted by edd at 3:02 PM on June 28, 2006

i love the buying power thing too--in 1870, 45000 pounds would buy

4,923 x wages
Days (craftsman wages in building trade)
1,491 x wool
Wool (per stone
489 x wheat
184 x cow
65 x horse

posted by amberglow at 3:08 PM on June 28, 2006

The best way to place old figures in perspective is to ask what a certain sum would have bought at the time.

LarryC, you did check out the Buying Power section, right?
posted by linux at 4:14 PM on June 28, 2006

Linux: Maybe I am wrong, but what that section seems to do is to convert todays money into that of yesterday, then show what the converted amount will buy. It still has the bogus conversion built in.
posted by LarryC at 6:16 PM on June 28, 2006

I believe LaryC has a valid point - it's very hard to do a straight switch between now and then because buying power isn't a straight conversion but should be based on a number of socioeconomic factors.

For example, in London in the 1660's, clothing was still quite expensive (I believe Sam Pepys paid £16 for a suit) , but food was relatively cheap (a few shillings for a meal of roast-beef and claret for a few of your closest friends at an ale-house) as the Industrial Revolution had not yet come to prominence over the largely agricultural England. (For comparison, a lady's maid could expect to earn about £5 a year as an excellent wage).

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the post very much. Thanks!
posted by ninazer0 at 6:31 PM on June 28, 2006

I know this. If I could take my current savings back to my university years I could have a SERIOUSLY GOOD TIME. And the sad thing is, that makes me weep for what I cannot have.

In the wise words of Sir Henry Rawlinson: if I had all the money I'd ever spent on drink... I'd spend it on drink.
posted by Decani at 7:13 PM on June 28, 2006

In a related vein: All-time top domestic box office grosses, adjusted for ticket price inflation. (Not surprising that a movie released in 1939 still comes out on top.)
posted by Rhomboid at 2:27 AM on June 29, 2006

In 1900, my monthly pay could buy me two cows.

In 2005, my monthly pay could buy me two cows.

Therefore, we are living in 1900.

It's amazing what you can do with this telegraph machine, isn't it?
posted by Katemonkey at 5:21 AM on June 29, 2006

That's great. The property we're buying has a 999 land lease from 1877 with a £4 a year rent, interesting to know that was about £200 back then.....
posted by brettski at 7:53 AM on June 29, 2006

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