What was the price of gold in 1522 in relation to today’s dollar?

Gold Florin (Fiorino d’oro) coin issued circa 1256 in Florence, Italy. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Previous post explored a comment by Eric Metaxas in his book, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, that the first printing of Luther’s translation of the New Testament cost half a gulden for an unbound copy and a gulden for a bound copy.

In that post I calculated that the implied value of a bound New Testament, hot of the press from the first printing, cost something in the range of about $900 in terms of today’s currency.

I’d like to work through what that implies about the value of gold back then.

What is a Gulden?

It is a gold coin used in Germany. A few minutes of research does not quite explain its weight or purity. The most helpful thing I found is an article from Money Museum which describes a number of Medieval Currencies:

  • Gulden: Photo on page 19 is of a Gulden. These were minted starting around 1500. They were modeled on the florin. This name was used to describe several different coins.
  • Goldgulden: Photo on page 15 is of a ‘golden gold one’ coin used in 1559 and later. The repetitive gold is used to distinguish this from a silver coin which was also called a gulden.
  • Florin: Photo on page 13. The florin from Florence became widely popular and is the most famous of the medieval coins, according to the article. These were minted starting in 1252.

Gold content of Florin and Gulden

The Florin was minted from 1252 through 1533. Wikipedia says the coin had little change in metal content during that time, which is amazing to me. Imagine that if you can – no debasement in the currency for nearly 300 years.

It weighed in at 3.5 grams, or 0.1125 troy ounces, according to the Wikipedia article.

Guesses on value of Gulden and Florin

Let’s toy with that for a moment.

  • Assume a Gulden weighs the same as a Florin, since the Gulden was modeled on that coin.
  • Gulden = Florin = 0.1125 troy ounces, or rounded to 0.11 ounces, or rounded further to a tenth of an ounce.

What is the current value of the amount of gold in a Gulden and Florin?

  • $1,276.80 – Gold spot price on 10/24/17 per Wall Street Journal
  • x 0.1125 – troy ounces of gold in one Florin
  • = $143.64 – gold content of a Florin or Gulden at 2017 spot prices

That is not a useful measure of what gold was going for back in 1522.

What is the implied value of gold in 1522? Let’s look at the question from the perspective of the purchasing power of one Gulden. Metaxas’ book says that would buy one butchered hog.

  • $900 – value of butchered hog today
  • ~$900 – value of 1 Gulden, calculated as ~1 Gulden = 1 butchered hog, therefore 1 Gulden = $900
  • / 0.1125 – troy ounces of gold in one Florin, assuming a Gulden weighed the same as a Florin
  • = $8,000 – implied price of one troy ounce of gold in 1522 based on 1 Gulden equaling 1 slaughtered hog at approximate price to buy a dressed out hog today

So that implies a price of gold in 1522 in Germany, a part of the Holy Roman Empire, at around $8,000 in today’s currency.

That is consistent with what I’ve learned about the value of gold and silver in the ancient world having a far higher relative value than today.

I’ve listed all my assumptions and calculations so you may adjust them as you wish.

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