I found an interesting way to convert the price of a New Testament bible in 1522 to current dollars.
How does this sound for a price of a New Testament? About $900 for the first and second printing, and around $2,700 for the third printing.
If that grabs your interest, let me explain how I got to that answer.
Prior to Martin Luther translating the New Testament from Latin to German, the only bibles around were in Latin, hand transcribed before the Guttenberg press revolutionized printing, and only available to priests and monks. Even at that, monks had to go to the library to read the likely only copy in the monastery.
Luther translating the bible into German, combined with the merely 70-year-old Guttenberg press technology, meant that the bible was literally opened up to the people.
Prices for the first three printings
Eric Metaxas provides us the key to price those first few printings of the brand new text.
He explains on page 270 of his book, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, that the first printing of the book cost half a gulden for an unbound copy and a gulden for a bound copy.
A gulden was approximately the cost of a butchered pig, according to the book.
The first printing of 3,000 copies in September 1522 sold quickly. A second printing of 2,000 copies in December also went fast. It was sold out by the time a third printing was run in March 1523, although the text does not provide the size of the run. The price for the third printing was triple the first run, so that means a bound copy went for 3 gulden.
Price today for a butchered hog
What would it cost to buy a butchered hog today? The internet is so cool…
The Revival Farm explains a live pig may weigh in at 300 pounds. That is the live weight. After slaughter it will have a hanging weight of about 210 pounds. That is the weight that is used to calculate price. After cutting the pig into retail size portions, there will be about 170 pounds of meat.
They sell a quarter pig for $4.75 a pound hanging weight and a half pig for $4.50 a pound hanging weight. With that progression, I’ll guess you could get a whole pig for about $4.25 a pound.
What would that look like?
- 300 pounds – live weight
- 210 pounds – hanging weight
- $4.25/pound hanging weight (my guess)
- $892.50 – cost of a slaughtered pig
- 170 pounds – packaged weight
- $5.25 – average cost per pound of packaged meat
So that is a good framework for figuring out what a prepared pig would cost.
Of course the yield would have been higher in the middle ages since folks back then would have used more of the pig that today would get thrown away. I’ll ignore that component. Also will toss out of the discussion that pigs today are probably bred and fed better with resulting far higher yield than back in the Middle Ages.
How about a couple more data points?
R Heritage Farms explains they charge $4.00 a pound hanging weight plus $50 slaughtering fee.
A live hog runs from 250 to 300 pounds. Hanging weight runs from 200 to 220, with yield of 130 to 140 pounds.
What would that look like?
- 250-300 pounds – live weight
- 200-220 pounds – hanging weight
- $4.00/pound hanging weight
- $50 / hog slaughter fee
- $850-$930 – cost of a whole slaughtered pig
- 130-140 pounds – packaged weight
- $6.53-$6.64 – average cost per pound of packaged meat
They also describe the approximate amount of different cuts you will get, such as 10-12 pounds of chops, 8-10 pounds of bacon, 15-18 pounds of ham, 14-16 pounds of roast, and more.
Dressed out in retail cutting, a whole hog will fill a 5.3 cubic foot freezer.
Timberlane Organic Farms walks through the same process.
Their price is $3.50 a pound hanging weight plus a processing fee of around $100 (they don’t give a hard number for the fee).
Here is their example:
- 250 pounds – live weight
- 175 pounds – hanging weight
- $3.50/pound hanging weight
- $100 / approximate processing fee
- $713 – cost of a whole slaughtered pig
- 110 pounds – packaged weight
- $6.48 – average cost per pound of packaged meat
Timberlane also explains if you were to buy the meat found in a whole hog at the store, it would cost over $900. So the processed whole hog would be around $700 and same cuts at a store would be around $900.
So, that gives these reference points:
|live weight||cost||# into freezer||$/pound|
|300||$ 893||170||$ 5.25|
|250||$ 850||130||$ 6.54|
|300||$ 930||140||$ 6.64|
|250||$ 713||110||$ 6.48|
That puts price tag for a butchered hog into the range of about $900.
Approximate price tag of the first-ever-in-the-world
New Testament in a language everyday people could actually read
If a gulder is about equal to a butchered hog and a butchered hog is around $850 or $900, lets say $900, then the first printing of Luther’s New Testament would have had a price tag of about $900 in today’s money and today’s economy.
The book was so popular that a bound copy from the third printing was going for 3 Gulden, or about 3 butchered hogs, or about $2,700.
A current printing of The Luther Bible of 1534, which would have included the Old Testament as well as the New Testament runs 1,888 pages long. The New Testament only would have been perhaps about one-fourth as long. I have no clue how densely a book was printed at the time, but that gives you a vague idea on size. For some sort of reference, see the photo at top of this post.
That is a huge amount of money for a book. However, keep in mind at the time that no bible had ever been available in anything other than Latin, and this was the first time non-priests could actually hold a bible and read it for themselves.
Considering those factors, $900, or even $2,700, would be a wonderful bargain.