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.”

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.”

Roman legionnaire’s pay over time. Increases are an indication of debasement of currency.

Marching Roman legionnaire reenactors. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Pay for a legionnaire soldier in the Roman army increased substantially over time, from 225 denarii a year around the turn of the millenium to 600 denarri in the early 200s.

The amount of silver in a denarii was also steadily reduced over that same time. That is called inflation, which as we know from other reading, was driven by Roman Emperors intentionally debasing the currency as a way to help finance the empire.

A Wikipedia article, “Imperial Roman Army” provides data to analyze the gross pay and real pay over time.

First, let’s look at the declining value of a denarius. Here is the silver value of each coin, measured as the number of denarii minted from each pound of silver, along with my point estimate of the year of the change:

Continue reading “Roman legionnaire’s pay over time. Increases are an indication of debasement of currency.”

Estimate of price of silver and gold in Viking Age

In Viking Age, 1 ounce of gold was equal to 8 ounces of silver. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
In Viking Age, 4 cows were worth about 8 ounces of silver. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
In Viking Age, 24 sheep were worth about 8 ounces of silver. Okay, okay, I count about 31 sheep in the photo, but you get the idea. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

To give you a rough picture of relative values during the Viking Age, the items in each of the above photos would have approximately equal value:

8 ounces of silver = 1 ounce of gold = 4 cows = 24 sheep

This post calculates my estimate of the price of gold and silver during the Viking Age. The point estimates from my long string of assumptions are:

  • $550 for an ounce of silver
  • $4,400 for an ounce of gold

Some comparisons of relative values of precious metals and products are discussed in Units of measure and relative value in the Viking Age.

To develop an estimate of precious metal prices, I’ll use the data from Hurstwic. They are a group that provides training on Viking combat techniques.

They provide some estimates of relative value and provide multiple data points that can be cross referenced.  I’ll keep my eye open for other reference points.

Here is what they provide on their page, Towns and Trading in the Viking Age. Yet another shaky simplifying assumption is that this analysis assumes data from Iceland early in the 11th century is somewhat representative of relative values across the Viking age. Here are their estimates:

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Units of measure and relative value in the Viking Age

Viking harbor with longboats in Bork, Denmark. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Before trying to quantify some sort of dollar value for items during the Viking era, let’s look at some relative values. My approach will be to find a way of comparing the prices of items during the Viking Age in relation to each other. Value of cows or sheep today will be added into those relative values. That will provide some sort of rough methodology for gaining some sort of understanding of prices.

Notice the vagueness of my description and the number of qualifiers? This is a very rough process and could easily be wrong. However, I will give it a shot and I will show my work so you can assess my methodology and revise it as you wish.

Here is what I’ve found for indications of relative prices and exchange rates.

Iceland in 1200

The Viking Answer Lady provides a variety of information for Units of Measurement from Viking Age Law and Literature. There are not a lot of exchange rates that I will use, but will pick up a few.

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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?”

Guess on volume of trade in Gotland during Viking Age

Viking gold coin” by arnybo is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Viking, by Tre Tryckare, copyright 1967, has some fun speculation on the volume of annual trade in a major Viking trading town in Sweden.

The large island of Gotland, off the eastern shore of Sweden, is about 1,229 square miles in size. It was a major trading center during the Viking age. Page 51 of the book says that of the 200,000 silver coins found in Scandinavia from the Viking Age, about half were on the island of Gotland. This includes, according to the text:

  • 40,000 – Arabic
  • 38,000 – German
  • 21,000 – Anglo-Saxon

The text has some fun speculation on the possible amount of trade. Two critical assumptions, which are listed so you can revised them as you wish:

Out of 1,000 silver coins received in trade, an unknown number were buried for storage and 1 of those has been found. This wild guess assumes that there was 1,000 coins of income for each 1 coin found,

One Anglo-Saxon coin had purchasing power of 10 or 20 schillings. At the then exchange rates of 1967, this would be roughly comparable to somewhere around $3.00.

Before decimalization of British currency, there were 20 schillings to a pound. Today (10/17/17) one pound converts to US$1.32.

Here is the string of guesses:

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