Inflation factors during the Civil War and an indication of relative wages in the 1860s.

Manassas National Battlefield Park. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

An insightful indicator of wages during the Civil War can be found in The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy, by William C. Davis. Book also has useful indicators of inflation through 1863.

The northern economy was quite strong during the Civil War, with demand for skilled and unskilled workers in industry creating more lucrative job opportunities in the civilian world than being in the army.

While the pay for a soldier was $13 a month, the author says a man could make four times that much money merely by working as “a sign maker or a clerk in a dry goods store” (location 26210). That stat is credited to American Annual Cyclopedia, 1863, p. 413. A 30 second search on the ol’ internet suggests the book can be had for between $60 and $100.

The ratio of 4x suggests a dry good store clerk could make somewhere around $50 a month.

Continue reading “Inflation factors during the Civil War and an indication of relative wages in the 1860s.”

When pondering the horrible violence of the Vikings, consider the oh so refined civility of the English in the 1700s – part 7

Swinging from the rope was only the second of five painful steps used by the English to punish High Treason in the 1700s. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Yes, we all know the Vikings were horrible, terrible brutes.

Consider the ‘blood eagle’ form of execution. Quite an astounding way to slowly kill someone while imposing exquisite pain.

As you consider that idea, compare those nasty Vikings to the so very civilized and refined and cultured English of the 1770s.

Page 23 of Killing England: The Brutal Struggle for American Independence, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, contains a vivid description of the punishment awaiting anyone convicted of High Treason. I’ll paraphrase:

Such a terrible, horrible person would first be dragged to the gallows by a horse. Then the condemned soul would be hung by the neck, but not until dead. No, the executioner made sure a lot of life was left for several additional steps.

Continue reading “When pondering the horrible violence of the Vikings, consider the oh so refined civility of the English in the 1700s – part 7”

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:

Continue reading “What was the price of gold in 1522 in relation to today’s dollar?”

Price tag for the first New Testament printed in vernacular expressed in terms of the cost of a butchered hog

Bible includes the Old and New testament. The 1522 edition included only the New Testament. “Luther Bible” by todd.vision is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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.

Continue reading “Price tag for the first New Testament printed in vernacular expressed in terms of the cost of a butchered hog”

The incredible wealth of Mansa Musa, the ancient emperor of Mali

Image courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.
Map of Mali courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.

Barron’s suggests Mansa Musa, the Emperor of Mali in the 1300s, was the richest man who ever lived.

Since I firmly believe that I am richer today than John D. Rockefeller was back in 1916, I would also insist that I am, right now, richer than Mansa Musa was in 1324. But that isn’t the point of the story. I’ll mention travel costs momentarily.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

The 7/23 article from Barron’s gives a glimpse into ancient finances by wondering Who Was the Richest Person Who Ever Lived? / The Emperor of Mali lived on top of a 14th century Goldmine so prolific that it probably made him the richest person who ever lived.

Musa Keita I is referred to as Mansa, or Emperor, Musa. He was born somewhere around 1280 and died somewhere around 1337. He was the ruler of the Mali Empire which stretched across Western Africa.

Consider the economic resources in the area: gold and salt.

Continue reading “The incredible wealth of Mansa Musa, the ancient emperor of Mali”

Are you richer today than John D. Rockefeller was in 1916? The answer is, um, yes.

Would you trade your place in life today for life occupying the Gould-Guggenheim mansion when it was completed in 1912? Even if a billion dollars was tossed into the trade? Photo by Adobe Stock.
Would you trade your place in life today for life occupying the Gould-Guggenheim mansion when it was completed in 1912? Even if a billion dollars was tossed in to sweeten the swap? I would not make the trade.  Photo by Adobe Stock.

I suggest you are in fact richer today than John Rockefeller was 100 years ago. If it were possible for Prof. Don Boudreaux to switch places with John Rockefeller’s life and even if he could have a billion dollars after he arrived back in 1916, he would not make the switch. He would rather live as a comfortable professor today than be a billionaire 100 years ago.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

I agree.

Here are three posts to explain this strange idea: first, what life was like 100 years ago, why Prof Boudreaux would not make the switch, and then why Coyote Blog wouldn’t either.

(This post may seem to be out-of-place on my blog discussing accounting and auditing topics. This discussion is part of my enjoyable research on ancient finances and a related thread of how much life has improved over the last 200 years. Since I discuss finance at this blog, it actually fits.)

An article in The Atlantic on 2/11/16 describes America in 1915: Long Hours, Crowded Houses, Death by Trolley. The article is drawn from a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics: The life of American workers in 1915If you enjoy this brief discussion, I heartily recommend you read the full BLS report. It is a fun read, but then, I am an accountant.

I will update a few of the stats in the Atlantic article where the author took a shortcut. When I browsed through the BLS report, I noticed some sentences which were repeated nearly verbatim in the article, which is okay since the report is a public document.

A few highlights:

Workers in factories averaged 55 hours a week. The fatality rate across the economy was 61 deaths per 100,000 compared to about 3.3 per 100,000 today.

Continue reading “Are you richer today than John D. Rockefeller was in 1916? The answer is, um, yes.”

A long time ago, accounting supervisors really were slave drivers.

You think you have a rough boss….

Jacob Soll explains in his book, The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations, that in ancient Athens, around 500 years B.C. accounting and auditing was an integral part of the business and political world.

(Cross post from Nonprofit Update.)

There were complex accounting systems that included public audits to create accountability. There were a number of staff working for the public treasurer to keep an eye on funds. Many people, including freemen and slaves were trained in accounting. However,

Continue reading “A long time ago, accounting supervisors really were slave drivers.”