p-prices-srcs-art - 5/10/00
Period price sources article. Sources for period price information.
"A review of useful sources for Period Prices" by Lord Anton de Stoc,
mka Ian Whitchurch.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
(Also expected to be pulished in the Lochac A+S magazine)
A review of useful sources for Period Prices
by Lord Anton de Stoc
One thing of interest to myself, and I think to some others, are the prices
of common goods and services in various times and places in our period.
Quite a lot of information exists about this, but it is not always easy to
find if you don't know where to look.
This article is a brief survey of some useful resources for this.
"Practical" uses include costing of feasts and such - I think it is a very
cool thing to be able to take the menu for a feast and say with some
confidence "This feast for forty persons would have cost such and such
maraviedis in Castile in 1544, being equal to so and so grams of fine
Many of these books should be found in good University libraries - I have
only searched the University of Sydney and the University of Canberra. I
would be most interested in feedback from people who know of other sources,
especially for France and Germany.
Several issues exist across all these sources. The first is the multitude of
weights and measures used in various times and places in our period. The
second is the multitude of currencies in use in Europe at the time.
The solution to this very period problem was to use fictional monies of
account - if you have nine different monies in your cashbox, you translate
the value of each of them to a fictional money to do your accounts.
A table of the major monies of account and their value over time in grams of
fine silver exists in Volume Four of the Cambridge Economic History of
Europe (article by Braudel and Spooner, table entitled "Devaluation of
moneys of account"), which is reprinted on p528 of volume 1 of Braudel's
"The Meditteranean and the Meditteranean World in the time of Phillip II".
Unfortunatly the table only goes back to 1440 or so (most of Braudel's books
have various good stuff scattered within it about prices and such, but it is
not the focus of his books).
I advise people to, as far as possible, translate all prices to their weight
in fine silver, and then at the end into your favorite money of account.
A standard work for all this sort of thing is the Cambridge Economic History
of Europe. Read it, study it, love it. It's a standard work, and should be
The sources below all quote their sources for primary documentation -
usually the accounts of institutions such as university colleges and
The single best source I have found is Postumus' "Inquiry into the History
of Prices in Holland". This is a two volume work, with volume one being a
list of closing prices on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange preceded by a
discussion of weights, measures and currency values. Unfortunatly, 99% of
the data in this volume is out of our period, although the occasional value
from 1589 or so is quoted.
The second volume is concerned with the annual prices for all sorts of
everyday goods for a period going back in some cases to the fourteenth
century. The prices are taken from the records of hospitals, orphanages and
suchlike. An example is p212, which deals with the prices of the St John's
annexe of Leiden Catherderal between 1471 and 1500 for Beer, Carbones,
Black, Blue and Red Cloth, Lead, Lime and Linen. A short discussion precedes
each section about regional weights and measures that apply to the
institution whose prices are being recorded.
This book is simply wonderful. Note that if you are searching for it, try
the card catalog as well. I think I was the first person to look at Sydney
Uni library's copy since 1955 or so.
Another similar work is Beveridge's "Prices and Wages in England from the
12th to the 19th Century" (Longman's 1939).
Similar to Postumus, it deals with absolute and relative price series for
everyday commodities, raken from the records of Eton and Winchester Colleges
and the college of St Bartholemew at Sandwich.
It also has a good section on Naval Victualling, taken from the records of
the Navy Office - most useful if you are constructing a set of accounts for
a privateer or other warship. That section also includes a discussion on how
the suppliers actually got their money, which can be summarised as "Late, if
at all". Needless to say, the suppliers compensated for this by charging
much more for goods provided to the Navy on credit.
A third work is by AJS Gibson and TC Smout "Prices, Food and wages in
Scotland 1550-1780", which very good stuff for people interested in 16th
century Scotland. It includes daily pay rates for Builders Labourers in
various cities (as an aside, the daily wage of a Builders Labourer is used
as a standard in Price History research, as it is a pretty fair proxy for
the wage of an "average" worker). At the 1587 pay rate in Edinburgh of 3
shillings a day (p313), our BL could buy 2 pints of Bordeaux wine (p63),
about 4.5 pints ale (p61) or 4.5 lbs wheat bread (p55 - ave of Sep, Oct, Dec
A companion work for Scotland is Gemill and Mayhew's "Changing values in
Medieval Scotland". I only had a very brief look at this (the library was
closing), but it looks to be of a similar quality to the other works above -
lots of good data running back to the 1250s.
The last of my generic price references is Earl Hamilton's classic "American
Treasure and the Price Revolution in Spain 1501-1650". This work should be
available at any university with an economics faculty. In many ways, this
book was a model for much of the price history work that came afterwards.
It contains extensive discussion of regional weights, measures and
currencies, and lists of the prices of many everyday commodities for various
Spanish regions (Valencia, Castile, etc), as well as wage rates for various
jobs in these same regions.
An example is our 1587 Builders Labourer, this time in Valencia. He is paid
58.6 diners per day (p399).
This buys him 1.8 cantaro of wine (18 (!) liters) (p356), or 2.5 docena (30)
eggs (p356), 0.2 arroba (2.4 l) of olive oil (p356) or one of a pair of
shoes (p356) (I think our Scottish BL should move to Valencia).
Finally, Wood's "The Kings Army", which deals with the Royal Army during the
Wars of Religion in France in the mid-sixteenth century Wars of Religion.
This work deals at length with the mind-boggling costs of warfare in the
sixteenth century, and has a most excellent chapter on the use and logistics
of the artillery of the time.
It cites the cost of the Royal Army on campaign in the field at 1.32 million
livres in January 1568 (p283)- or about 30 million grams of fine silver
(based on a quick lookup on the "Devaluation of moneys of account" table on
p528 of Braudel's Med, which puts a livre tournouis at 20 grams of fine
silver at around 1560). 30 tons of silver, in short. Per month. And the
annual revenue of the French state was 14.8 million livres in 1574 (p296).
Little wonder each of the Wars of Religion ended with the Hugenots defeated,
but with the Royal Army immobilised basically due to lack of cash.
Using B.N. (French National Archives) documents (p283), he also cites the
cost of a unit of 5250 lansquenets being 67 000 livres per month (150 000
gfs, or 150 kilos of good silver), while a 16 gun train cost about half
He also gives the monthly pay rates in livres for various ordinary soldiers
and artillerists (p106) - an infantry captain got 106, a gentleman of arms
33, an infantry sergant 20, a gendarme archer 17, a lanspessade
(?handgunner?) 12-14, an infrantryman 8-9 and a low paid infantryman 7. To
compare to the artillery, a labourer got 6, a gunner 10, a teamster 15 (more
than a handgunner ...), an overseer 21, a clerk, medic or chaplain 36 and an
Officer of artiller 94.
My final reference is Baldwin's "The Government of Phillip Augustus", which
whilst good, lacks references to primary source price data. He quotes
another work (Audoin "Essau sur l'armee") as stating in 1200-1202 Knights
cost Philip Augustus 72 paris deniers per day, mounted sergants 36, mounted
crossbowmen 48-54, crossbowmen 12-18 and foot soldiers 8. Also according to
Audion, King John was paying 30% less for the same jobs to his troops in
Normandy - which may go much of the way to explaining why John lost.
Finally, a note on experimental library questing. Locate a book you want,
then look around the shelves near it for interesting titles, or authors you
know of. Flick open a target book, and check out the bibliography and look
for footnotes that refer to archive references for primary sources. If
neither is up to scratch, put it back. If it looks OK, take it back to the
desk for further review. That is how I found Wood's most excellent book
("The Royal Army") - I was looking for something by Lucien Fevbre, and found
Anton de Stoc
ADDENDUM: I am looking for a transcription, preferably tranlated to English, of a Bill of Exchange. Believe it or not, I just cant find one - despite all the references to them being essentially built on one standard pattern.
Copyright 2002, Ian Whitchurch, 27 Atherton St Downer ACT 2602 Australia. <Ian.Whitchurch at dewrsb.gov.au>. Permission granted to reproduce for not-for-Profit purposes, provided that the work is properly attributed.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.