7 Books: £5
An average labourer in the UK today would make about £17,000pa, making these books the modern equivalent of about £42,500 or £6,000 a piece.
Obviously this was at a time before mass printing was available, but this really puts into perspective just how absolutely unattainable information was for the average person back then. Remarkable.
As I recall it was on the order of about 1/5 a typical annual income.
This being in the late 18th century, 300 years after Gutenberg, with a well-established printing trade.
Books remained staggeringly expensive.
The progress made in printing over the course of the 19th century boggles the mind. As of 1800, typical presses were still made of wood, and though printing was generally in quarto or octavo pages (4-8 impressions per side of paper), a pressman might turn out 120 - 180 impressions an hour, and I believe that's generous.
The improvements from there were:
- Cast-iron rather than steel presses. Greater strength, lighter weight, improved efficiency and mechanism. Print rates doubled.
- Steam-powered presses. The pressman no longer was responsible for physically pressing each image.
- Rotary presses. Rather than Gutenberg's repurposed wine-press design, type was placed on a drum, with sheets fed through the mechanism.
- Electric drive. Like steam, but less steamy and more sparky.
- Web presses. Rather than individual sheets, a continuous sheet of paper. This is where paper-on-rolls came into being.
- Speaking of which, paper manufacturing was improving, and costs falling, all through this period.
- At the same time literacy rates were increasing from ~10-25% ~1700 to 95%+ by 1900. The people could now read.
- Typesetting enhancements, including oil-based inks, offset-type (where the print impression is a 3rd generation from the type originally used to cast the intermediate slug), linotype, multi-colour presses, improved engraving (for images), and eventually photo-lithography.
By the end of the century a high-speed electrically-powered Linotype web press could achieve a million impressions an hour or more.
Compare with webserver hit rates and their improvement from 1990 - 2020.
High-quality steel (following Bessemer, ~1865), futher improved speed, quality, and reliability.
Possibly, though fonts were already pretty modern by the 18th century, at least in significant part. Aldus Manutius italic font was a major step forward (~1449 - 1515). German was the odd language out, still relying on blackletter fonts through the 20th century. These had been replaced by the 17th century elsewhere in Europe. See:
If you go back further, there are numerous improvements to printing, bookmaking, and typography, going back to the invention of spaces between words, mixed-case (minuscule) type, and punctuation, as well as headings, chapters, and more. A good book on the history of the book should cover this (I've glanced at several, can't recommend any offhand).
Another amazing online resource is the History of Information, which covers the topic from the dawn of speech to the present: https://www.historyofinformation.com
Britain's Public Libraries Act dates to 1850. The Warrington Municipal Library opened in 1848, the same year the Boston Public Library was founded, though it didn't actually open until 1854.
You could add in typewriters, and a number of light-duty press and duplication methods: spirit copiers / mimeographs, stencils, photostats ("xerox"), and eventually dot-matrix, daisy-wheel, laserprint, and inkjet printers.
Amazon and print-on-demand technologies also apply. Effectively a book, including binding and covers, can come out of a single machine. The Internet Archive has a print-on-demand system, though the only documentation I find of it is at the PoD Wikipedia article (photo of IA's printer-binder):
There is a trade-off in cost, speed, and access. If you've got a reasonably high-speed laserprinter, you can provide a printed copy of a book in a few minutes. There are binding options available as well, some of which are quite comparable to lower-grade commercial paperback bindings.
Amazon's book sales inclue traditional hard- and soft-cover pre-printed materials, as well as print-on-demand, and electronic books. I'd consider most of Amazon's book sales and production at least adjunct to, and in cases, directly part of, improvements in print technology. Distribution itself has been a nontrivial problem.
On the office multi-function printer, I can print booklets of up to something like 80 A3 (folded to A4) pages, with automatic stapling.
Amazon (and others) have print-on-demand for small quantities of larger volumes.
I’ve been wondering, why is it that few people study research methods outside of Ph.D. programs? My guess is that until very recently most people didn’t have access to research material... it was all at university & private libraries.
Also, this highlights how lucky we are to have Wikipedia. I’m not that old and my parents had to save quite a lot for us to have an encyclopedia at home. Few of my friends did. It cost as much as a computer.
It blew my mind that you could fit that much on a PC and I instantly knew that Britannica was going to have to adapt to emerging technologies or die.
The cheap alternative to bound books were pamphlets, generally stitched, and often comprised of a single sheet of folded paper.
An octavo pamphlet could run 16 pages (8 impressions per side). I don't know if longer materials (32 - 64 pages) were produced, though I suspect these were printed on multiple pages.
Thomas Paine's Agrarian Justice, a 32-page pamphlet, has printers marks for four sides ('B', 'C', and 'D' noted on pages 9, 17, 25, respectively), as an example, which would likely correspond to two double-sided octavo signatures:
Paine was not a medieval writer.
Even were it:
- The typical person was illiterate Households would not be producing writing materials in any quantity.
- Animal products are expensive, period. Non-animal alternatives would be used where possible.
- For short-term writing surfaces, wood, stone, clay, and at some point (possibly later in time) slate were used. The Greeks used wax-coated boards (few of which, for obvious reasons, survived).
- Woven textiles were a significant form of recordkeeping, such as the Bayeux Tapestry (11th century).
- Notable legal documents, such as the Magna Carta, were written on parchment (animal skins).
- Other surfaces included fired pottery, birch bark, and (in east Asia) bamboo.
It's not so much that vellum was cheap, as that paper simply didn't exist before ~1000. Over the next ten centuries, processes for production and reductions in price increased not only the prevalence of paper, but the total amount of written material.
Gutenberg's press coincided with new, cheaper, papermaking processes. Even so, many of the original works printed by Gutenberg were on vellum, including about a quarter of the original Gutenberg Bible.
In all of Europe as of 1400, estimates are that there were on the order of 50,000 books. Not title, but volumes in total.
There are several problems with your assertion. The most relevant is simply that written materials were rare. Unbelievably rare. The library of the University of France in the 10th century contained a total of fewer than 2,000 books, and was among the largest in Europe.
I noted pamphlets as an alternative to books: multiple pages, formed by simple folds, stitches, or staples. And ... not widely produced until the 16th century. See:
The methods however did not appreciably change until mechanised processing and printing in the 19th century, mostly after 1850. I recommend, again, Hamilton Holt's excellent, short, informative, and readable Commercialism and Journalism which describes the explosion of popular print in the latter half of the 19th century, from the perspective of 1909:
"Since 1850, the [printing] industry has increased over thirty-fold..."
As of 1000 CE, if you wanted to distribute something widely in print, you'd probably ... use a single-page woodblock (or woodcut) prints. Though even that didn't become widespread until the 1300s, and then, was impressed not on vellum, but cloth:
You might wish to aquaint yourself with some of the actual history here, and grasp for intent rather than trivial and incidental characteristics.
Most valuable books were routinely chained to desks or shelves, so you could not have a chance to grab it and run.
If I recall correctly, most early libraries were situated inside monasteries.
Well I'm not sure that's going to be an issue if we're talking about the accessibility of the text to an illiterate person. An illiterate person can't read. So we need to consider the situation only of literate people.
Interestingly, in medieval Roman countries, texts intended for public reading were written in Latin, but the lector would read it in somewhat formal popular language. This is not hugely different from the situation available in English speaking countries prior to the 1980s, when most bibles were written in a grammatically, lexically and phonetically very foreign language. Even today, our texts are still phonetically very foreign. And for general texts it was common - Greek, Arabic, Chinese - all written very differently than spoken a century ago.
A literate French-speaker in the medieval period would not have reacted to a Latin text as a foreign language. They would just have read the text with equivalent contemporary pronunciations. A recently produced text would in many cases use more customary language too, so they wouldn't need to remember the dated bookish words.
(And actually, in medieval England, there were scientific/theological texts produced in English. You surely couldn't read and understand them today because the language has changed too much, and they went out of fashion so they weren't maintained. But they existed.)
These were not free market prices. "Fair price" was moral issue within the community. You could not charge too much extra if the customer faced sudden urgent demand. And buyer was not allowed to exploit the seller either. Exploiting temporary scarcity or oversupply when bargaining would get you into trouble with the law, the guild etc. Determining the fair price level was delicate political process.
One of the other interesting things was bread and some other foods adjusted to supply and demand by changing weight not price. Each assize set the current right weight of a farthing loaf. A standard weight loaf came much later, in the 19th century!
There were also aletasters, breadmasters and a whole variety of others who would engage in sampling, and sometimes use of secret shopping, to ensure the local merchants for a particular good were producing quality, weight and not adulterating. What is less clear is whether they took their role seriously or whether it was a sinecure for free food and beer. The fines seem, in some regions, to have often been small and arbitrary, and it was often all under the auspices of the manor. Was it a valuable piece of Medieval regulation, or corruption? Well, going on how the Assizes of Bread and Ale played out, there was ample opportunity for local corruption and arbitrary fees.
Could it have been both? I mean, if I decided to work as a taster of bread and ale just to have free food, I'd still like that food to be of at least passable quality, and I would complain if it was adulterated. The incentives of employer and employee seem to align here.
One thing to bear in mind with the historiography of this is that historians think what you say is true, and it is definitely true to an extent, because food rioting and all the actions limiting the grain trade are highly visible to us. But it is worth remembering that the basis for economic life was quite different. You had the market but, if you were a serf, you were protected against total destitution (except in periods of severe population pressure) so all of this stuff wasn't quite as sensitive as you think (it also wasn't political in any sense that we recognise today, all of this was handled locally). What definitely was sensitive (and often political in a way that makes sense today) were food riots...but that isn't the same thing.
Source: http://faculty.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/gclark/papers/market... - there is tons of stuff generally measuring the cointegration of prices in medieval bulk commodities markets.
The UK did not exist in medieval England, and the medieval Dutch weren't known for trading with the Javanese and the Maori.
And yes, but neither the Javanese or the Maori grew grain (the Maori were still nomadic in this period, growing grain would have made no sense). Again: the integration has been proved for the grain markets that existed around Western Europe, the Baltic regions (and Asia if you consider Russia in this period), north Africa, and the Levant i.e. the global grain market that existed in medieval periods. No, this doesn't include China, where there was substantial internal trade in this period, but this doesn't seem to be a huge difference.
Abusing, in all senses of this verb, is much easier if you absolutely don't know, won't know and even don't relate to your victim.
Screwing, taking excessive advantage or even only playing it without respect with a total anonymous stranger is one thing, doing so with someone who may become your neighbor, brother-in-law... or who may be a friend of someone who is a friend of your father... or may be a soldier fighting on your side... is another thing.
Wherever something is wrong, something it too big -- L. Kohr.
Well that's patently untrue. The average abused child or woman actually lives with their abuser. A significant number of abused children are abused by someone who is not in their family but who knows them. It seems that people fear abusing strangers (who are more likely to report you) more than those who are close (who are more likely to say "it's not his fault").
If we analyze supplier networks, trade relations in old style bazar or markets, or even just the playing of simple two-player games, then we see that a long term relationship, or its prospect, may make it much more likely that people cooperate in some sense.
This has two effects: A code develops where blatant exploitation is unusual, even if it would be an equilibrium in a one-shot contact. Second, however, there is more leeway for small exploitations, those that can not be "identified" to be causal from the seller (price hikes elsewhere etc.).
Anyhow, your point is true (since he said all senses of the word) but I think this issue is too multi dimensional to find an analogy in home violence
zwaps' interpretation is the right one.
A tunic is two weeks' earnings. Let's say you make $36,000 a year; two weeks' earnings for you is $1500.
The invention of mill-powered looms began the Industrial Revolution, completely upending the economies of Europe.
The reality is that the loom, for as amazing as it is, is only a small piece of why that item costs so little.
Tunic, possibly wool or linen. Both of these items still come at a massive premium today when compared to a cotton or a synthetic. We have made changes and massive progress in the production of the base materials.
We have transport issues, it is unlikely that your typical tunic was an imported good. It was probably made and sourced much more locally. Today, due to the nature of production and the structure of tax and tariffs on garments it is likely that your t-shirt is fairly well traveled, with it crossing the ocean more than once (cotton to Asia, woven in one place, made into a garment in another, possibly printed on in a third before even making it to you).
There is a LOT more to the story, sewing machines, zippers (YKK is a fascinating company), elastic, pattern making, fabric cutting. The boxes that your products are shipped in, cardboard and steel, the packaging plastic - the inks for it. Dye is a whole field of science and research that has made so much progress in the last 50 years never mind going as far back as a "tunic".
The point is there is a massive iceberg under that loom, one you barely see or think about.
In a piece I'd submitted to HN a few days ago, she discussed the matter of a cheap Chinese knock-off of a 15th century gown. Somehow an item made of wool-blend, silk, and other fabrics, constructed over 250 hours, was being sold for $40.98.
Short-cuts were taken.
Aside from a host of other aspects (ownership of ideas, fraud, misappropriation of likeness, etc.), the segment is a tour de force of textile and garment techniques and technologies. As is virtually all of Ms. Banner's video archive. I've virtually no interest in the topic itself, though I'm somewhat aware of the historical significance of clothing technology and its role in the Industrial Revolution. She herself is must-watch Web-V, based on knowledge, wit, charm, diction, geek-out nerdiness, and sheer enthusiasm for her topic.
In the dozen or so videos I've watched to date, she covers many of the elements you describe (possibly excepting zippers).
In overall impact, I'd compare her work with Primitive Technology. Much of the framing is different, but the end result, someone captivated by and exceedingly competent in what they're doing, sharing it with the world, is quite similar.
BTW, I notice that you also have an interest in printing. Don't know if you've ever taken a class in it, but I did (semester-long "Introduction to Printmaking" at a local art school at night) and it was an amazing experience. I was way outclassed by everyone else who knew at least how to draw, paint, etc, but I still had a lot of fun learning about various printing techniques, types of paper, etc.
I have numerous interests. There is a madness to the method, I swear! (Or vice versa.)
History of print and media is a somewhat recent interest, though I've had numerous relevant prior experiences. Little by way of formal instruction.
The miracle of textiles is an artifact of the past. In order to make the insane supply chain make sense, the product is cheapened to the minimum viable level. Most of what happens today is financial engineering.
My old ring-spun champion sweatshirts from the 80s:90s are a much better and cheaper product than most stuff on the market today. All made (farmed, spun and sewn) by US labor in South Carolina or New York.
I have not found price to have much basis on the lifetime of a tshirt. The design/mass production of the design seems to be most of the cost. You can buy a high quality tshirt for very cheap its just the same design has been sold 500,000 times already.
Granted, you can also buy very cheap quality shirts at Wal-Mart for around that price, but those won't survive much longer than a year with regular wear and washes.
The price was $6.72 per shirt and the same pack is currently on sale for $4.27 per shirt.
Based on previous experience, I expect them to last around 100-120 washes. Worn every other week, this translates to 4-5 years.
You can still find high quality fabrics that have been turned into garments but it is rare and costly. I, as someone who is tall, am mostly locked out of these markets. Interestingly however I am more often then not forced to buy more expensive and better formal items (suits in particular).
Tbh, if you get from a decent supplier then the quality is usually fine. I am not sure why there is a stigma around non-US products. A lot of third-world countries have very skilled labour. And most of the "US-branded" t-shirts today are of very variable quality...but that is the only product these days for certainty that your clothes weren't made by a child.
But I don't think this is primarily the cost of the wool: Contrast this with shirts, where I can buy a really nice modern wool blend shirt for about a day or maybe day and a half of minimum wage, one that has all the moisture management and skin feel properties of wool but that holds up in the dryer pretty okay. I mean, I guess the same company makes some nice tights which make great undergarments for a Californian visiting a place that snows, so the problem is actually, I guess, that I'm unwilling to go out in public in tights without pants over them, and I live in a place where pants over tights is just too warm.
But I do like the feel on the older stuff that consumed more material.
Same for furniture - the cardboard+wood miracle of engineering may work for a while, but have kids or move home once and it'll be beyond its limits. The bookcase my great-grandfather made as part of his cabinet maker apprenticeship is doing fine... One joint is a little sloppy and probably needs a little maintenance, but it's moved house (and family) dozens of times...
One thing I am sure of though - for brand profit, trousers that are worn out under five years are far better than those that might last fifteen. Especially if you can trade off retained customer belief in a maker of good quality - which few of them are any more.
For heavy pants, I wear black cotton gi bottoms. I've tried to find heavy raw silk, but it's not readily available.
The transition point came in the 1950s and 1960s with the mass-marketing of synthetic fabrics and outdoor-wear, principally rip-stop nylon. Even then, a natural product, goose down, remained the preferred insulating material in parkas.
Until the 1880s, the only clothing materials that existed were cotton, linen, a few other plant fibres (jute, woven grass), wool, leather, silk, furs, and (generally for military use) metal.
In the 1880s, the first synthetics appeared: viscose rayon and cellulose (generally only used in collars and cuffs). In the decade of the 1930s, virtually all modern synthetic plastics were introduced, virtually all at Du Pont. Some of those saw introduction during WWII, though most didn't make widespread appearance until afterward.
The seismic shift in fashions from the 1940s-1950s to the 1960s wasn't just due to the everyday adoption of what had been working-man's clothing (denim blue jeans and cotton tee-shirts), but synthetic fabrics and dyes.
During the industrial revolution, it was thread-handling characteristics as well as cost which drove the adoption of cotton. Wool was too elastic, and tangled in machines (and was expensive). Silk was prohibitively expensive. Flax threads are insufficiently elastic, and would break.
Cotton threads were just right, and could be spun, spindled, and woven on early mechanical equipment. Cost was relatively low, and England / Britain has ample supplies from its colonies in Egypt and the Americas.
(I'm not vouching for that vendor, but I'm pretty sure that's what I've got. I got mine from ebay)
Boiled wool blankets are also great. Very warm. And very durable. Much like felt.
According to that site, £ 1 in 1330 would be £ 1056.57 in 2018. So the 1330 penny would be worth about £ 4.40375 today. That thatcher would make about £ 13.21 a day, and the tunic would cost £ 158.54, or about $205 in a currency we're more familiar with. For that to be "two weeks' wages" implies a yearly wage of about £ 3800, or $4900. (Of course as the linked site points out, that sort of income calculation doesn't account for non-monetary sources of consumption, which were non-negligible back then.)
I like to hold something constant as a reference point, but you have to think about what, because for instance, if you're choosing between gold, silver, bread, beer, chicken, or beef, then you have to consider that they may have changed price dramatically relative to each other so which one you use makes a big difference.
I guess an inflation calculator is good if you really know what people bought, but it seems like information would be sparse enough that might mislead you. And like others have said, buying things with money, let alone documenting it, would have been far less prevalent.
I'm not saying there's any alternative, ultimately, to the concept of an average consumption basket, just that methods of determining it might be different. When you have really limited data, you can look at it more closely, and you probably need to, to leverage the context because it's not going to be an unbiased sample.
In this case that someone is Greg Clark (Professor of Economics at UC Davis). The link goes direct to a .xlsx which reveals the "basket" and all the figures - it's a mixture of several (presumably average) wages and a "cost of living".
This is probably the research paper (2009) http://faculty.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/gclark/papers/Macroa...
Subsequently the CPI "market basket" approach dominated.
The fact that meat, especially beef, was a rarity in most diets, makes the Big Mac example not particularly germane.
I believe it's Adam Smith who noted that whilst the price of corn ("grain") is highly variable year-to-year, owing to fluctuations in crop yields, it was remarkably constant century to century.
The Green Revolution changed this, of course, though by some arguments, that relies strongly on unaccounted costs.
A currency you're more familiar with. Many of us are familiar with multiple currencies, including GBP, EUR, and, yes, USD.
To whit – you're comparing decimal GBP to predecimal pounds, shillings and pence. You might as well compare drachma.
One difference, of course, is that weaving was much more centralized to start with (spinning needed next to no machinery and a lot less training), so the economic impacts were very different.
You have a pretty captive market.
Also, why isn't Salt on the list? Wasn't that a crucial thing?
So that makes
1 penny = $40
1 crown = $200
1 shilling = $480
1 pound = $9600
(they mostly have $4 and $4.50 price points, with some smaller batches costing more)
Best Gascon in London 4d/gallon 1331  194
Best Rhenish in London 8d/gallon " " "
If I see that something is 20 shillings, does that mean it cost me a pound of silver by weight out of the ground to buy?
One Troy pound (373g) [of silver] divided into 240 pennies (making a penny about 1.55g). Exactly what a shilling is varies, between 4 and 6 pennies. [ https://regia.org/research/misc/costs.htm ]
1 pound (L) = 20 shillings (s)
Minimum £2£L3/year Late 14 cen  75
It's odd therefore to use both in a mix, but probably it just reflects typing up from a mix of sources.
Perhaps that he wrote "The list of medieval prices which follows is by no means complete or thoroughly researched" in the very first line?
It's not a professionally compiled list meant to present to your boss.
It's just a list that some guy made and put online.
edit: or half a year's wage for a laborer, equivalent to aprox £9,000 today.
Those ratios seem to have changed: apparently the benefits of greater efficiency in mining, cattle raising etc. have not be evenly distributed.
Whilst it is undeniably true that the predominant occupant of an Oxbridge college was a comparatively well-to-do member of society, I suspect that the disparity of fees mentioned reflects the disparity of charges made at the time.
: The History of the University of Oxford: Volume II: Late Medieval Oxford by J. I. Catto and T. A. R. Evans, Print ISBN-13: 9780199510122
Iron required not just mining, but smelting and working. Coal wasn't widely used until after 1700, so instead charcoal was used for fuel and coking, I need to check sources, but charcoal and coke have roughly the same energy yield per unit mass, and the ratio of coke to ore was about 1:1 in the 1950s. Charcoal itself is yielded from four to five times its mass in original wood.
So a 250# anvil, one of middling weight, would have required well over a ton of wood fuel alone.
I had fun some time back calculating the firepower of a British Ship of the Line in terms of cords of wood, based on both the cannonballs and the gunpowder (charcoal is an ingredient) involved. I believe it out-massed the ship itself by a considerable margin.
Metals are extraordinarily expensive for a pre-industrial society without abundant energy resources. Which is to say, all of them.
I guess with money stored largely in bank accounts and financial instruments, inflation becomes a more reasonable thing and the fact that it’s annoying to buy things with physical money matters less. Yet even at the start of the twentieth century banknotes could be worth a lot more than anything today (in the U.K. you only go up to £20 normally. Compare to the us where $100 isn’t abnormal, or to 1900 when 100 £20 notes could buy a moderately sized house (but there were also £100, £200 notes, and higher denominations though I doubt they were used much). I think the U.K. should remove every coin less than 10p (ideally I would get rid of everything less than 50p but perhaps there should be a 50p and 25p coin for some time) from circulation and issue some new banknotes (at least a £50 note that shops accept, so maybe a £100 note should exist too). But I guess that isn’t going to happen because no one really cares about cash.
Aim for 5p to be the lowest, to start.
Even in the Nordic countries, where there's less wealth inequality, the smallest coins are worth 8.4p (Norway 1kr), 8.1p (Sweden 1kr), 5.7p (Denmark ½kr), 4.3p (Finland 5¢).
> issue some new banknotes (at least a £50 note that shops accept
They already do accept them where they're common (e.g. touristy places in London) so the problem will solve itself, but in any case, the new £50 will be issued in 2021.
I'm not old enough to have used old money myself, but we were still using the old shillings as 5 pence pieces when I was a kid. I remember using half penny coins as well. We had a jar of big old money coins in a jar, with pennies, farthings and at least one three pence piece.