Homespun cloth used for money in Viking Age Iceland.

Viking woman standing near Drakkar on seashore. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.  Illustration is highly consistent with other things I’ve read describing women’s clothing during the Viking Age. Notice the brooch securing the outer wrap, hair ornament, inner and outer garment.

Money is usually defined as something that is a medium of exchange, a measure of value, and a store of value.

For example, I sell you something in return for “money” which I can then immediately buy something from someone else. Or, we can use “money” to set a value for something you have. Or, I can sell something now, store the value in “money” and then buy something of equal value later.

In Iceland during the Viking Age there was not enough silver to use it as “money.” So, other things, especially homewoven cloth was used as substitute.

In Viking Age Iceland, Jesse Byock gives a good explanation of how cloth was used as a measure of value and medium of exchange.

Posts in this series:

Homespun cloth used as “money”

Continue reading “Homespun cloth used for money in Viking Age Iceland.”

Prices of slaves on the eastern shore of Maryland before the Civil War.

Harriet Tubman Memorial Statue in Harlem, New York. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Watched the uplifting and depressing movie Harriet last night. Second time I’ve seen it. Fabulous tale about the efforts of Harriet Tubman in liberating herself from slavery, then liberating most of her family, eventually freeing about 70 people from slavery.

After watching the movie again, wanted to pull together a recap of the posts on this site which discuss slavery. Most of this discussion is based on Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero, by Kate Clifford Larson, which is the first adult biography of Harriet Tubman published since 1943.

A thin sliver of highlights from the book, primarily about the pricing of slaves:

Continue reading “Prices of slaves on the eastern shore of Maryland before the Civil War.”

A wild guess on the parts of King Solomon’s wealth that can be quantified – part 4

What would that stack of gold have been worth 1,000 or 3,000 years ago? Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Let’s try bringing together the previous guesses (can’t even call them estimates) of the value of those portions of King Solomon’s wealth that are mentioned in scriptures which we can make a feeble attempt to quantify.

An estimate of the value of chariots, horses, 200 large gold shields, 300 small gold shields, and place settings made of gold:

Continue reading “A wild guess on the parts of King Solomon’s wealth that can be quantified – part 4”

Guess at value of 1946 estate expressed in 2019 dollars


The values assigned to my grandfather’s estate when it was probated are listed here.

My determination of a adjustment factor of 13 to bring 1946 prices forward to today is shown here.

The extended string of assumptions I’ve made shows a rough guess of the estate:

  • 1946-  worth $8,085 gross, with $7,785 after the administratrix fee due to my grandmother.
  • 2019 – worth about $105,000 gross and about $100,000 after the only listed liability.

Detail of the assets are:

Continue reading “Guess at value of 1946 estate expressed in 2019 dollars”

Consumer price index from 1940 through 2019

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

For an indicator of the changes in prices from the World War 2 era through today I pulled CPI information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This info will roll into my comments on the probate document for my grandfather’s estate.

It is also useful for general information.

The furthest into the table I can link is here:

The data is the CPI for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) from 1940 through 2019 from Series Id: CUUR0000SA0.

Select data:

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Military pay rates during World War Two compared to 2019

WWII reenactors at 2012 Chino Air Show (plus one participant from the audience). Photo by James Ulvog.

What were the pay rates during World War Two in contrast to pay rates in the U.S. military today? What is the ratio of today’s pay compared to WWII?

The Navy CyberSpace website provides 2019 U.S. Military Basic Pay Charts.

That same web site also helpfully provides 1942-1946 U.S. Military Pay Charts.

Both pay scales list the rate of pay for all officer and enlisted ranks, ranging from starting to over 30 years experience.

Continue reading “Military pay rates during World War Two compared to 2019”

Pay rate for privates in each of America’s wars

Portrait of a squad of uniformed World War 2 American combat soldiers. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Pay for American soldiers during each major war is provided by We Are the Mighty.

Their article, This is how much troops were paid in every major American war, provides the pay for a private in the major wars fought by the U.S. The then-current pay is also adjusted to an equivalent amount of money in 2016. Don’t know how they made the conversion to 2016 dollars. I usually want to look at the conversion rates, but won’t dive deeper for this post.

This info does provide some way of comparing pay rates across time.

Here is the great info they provide:

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One usuable indicator of the value of a Viking sword. How many weapons you could buy today for that price?

Viking warrior with sword and shield standing near Drakkar on the seashore. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

What was the price of a Viking sword at the time? How about expressing a price then in some unit of measure we can grasp today? I have looked on the ol’ net but haven’t found any good guesses. Previous post discussed one indicator that I couldn’t process.

Hurstwic website describes one sword that had a reported value.   Chapter 13 of Laxdæla saga says a sword given to Höskuldur by King Hákon was worth a half mark of gold.

Hurstwic says that is equal to 16 milk cows.

Continue reading “One usuable indicator of the value of a Viking sword. How many weapons you could buy today for that price?”

Cost and time to cross the Atlantic has dropped by more than 90% in the last 500 years.

Columbus’ Ships. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Transatlantic travel time has dropped radically in the last 500 years.  Time to transit the Atlantic has dropped about 99% and cost has dropped about 95% by my calculations.

Let’s look at several data points for cost and time, then calculate one indicator of improved quality of life.

(Article cross-posted from my other blog, Outrun Change.)

Human Progress provides fun data points on August 2, 2018 in their post, A Reminder of How Far Transatlantic Travel Has Come.

Columbus’ first trip

The 1492 trip by Christopher Columbus took two years of lobbying before the king and queen of Spain approved 2 million Spanish maravedis to fund the trip. A professor has calculated that would be comparable to about US$1,000,000 today.

The cost seems low to me. I’ll look at that more later.

Crew size was 87 according to this article. The accountant in me is driven to calculate the cost per crewman.  That would give an average cost of $11,494. I’ll round that to $11,500 and ignore any adjustment for several crew members who died on the trip.

His trip took two months, nine days, which I calculate at 70 days (30+31+9).


Mayflower. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Continue reading “Cost and time to cross the Atlantic has dropped by more than 90% in the last 500 years.”

Salary for top level military leaders during and after the American Civil War

Postage stamp images of Union Generals. From left to right; William T. Sherman, U.S. Grant, and Phillip Sheridan. Courtesy of Adobe Stock.

This may not be ancient finances, but salary paid to the senior level military commanders in the 1860s and 1870s provides a worthwhile point of reference.

William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life by James Lee McDonough is a delightful biography of the general. Gen. Sherman was a prolific letter writer. This book looks at his thoughts and feelings by diving into his personal and official correspondence.

The book also provides multiple comments on his compensation level and financial conditions. For his entire married life he struggled with finances, with his large and growing salary never been able to quite keep up with his wife Ellen’s taste for the good life.

Following posts will mention some comments in the book on cost of nice housing, gifts to public figures, travel times, and logistics.

Compensation levels

While serving in the Army in California, Sherman formed a partnership and funded a retail store. He was making $70 a month. Each of the three men in the partnership chipped in $500 and drew out $2,000, make a profit of $1500 each.

Continue reading “Salary for top level military leaders during and after the American Civil War”