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old money, new value: a conversion.

 
 
littlek
 
Reply Wed 3 Jan, 2007 11:06 pm
how much would $7000 in 1840 be worth in today's dollars? Anyone? I tried a couple google searches, but I must not be using the right keywords..... thanks!
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Type: Discussion • Score: 2 • Views: 14,231 • Replies: 16
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Slappy Doo Hoo
 
  1  
Reply Wed 3 Jan, 2007 11:19 pm
Here you go. I looked up "inflation history."

http://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/compare/
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tommrr
 
  1  
Reply Wed 3 Jan, 2007 11:26 pm
http://www.halfhill.com/inflation.html

According to this, it would be worth $207,822.01
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tommrr
 
  1  
Reply Wed 3 Jan, 2007 11:29 pm
but that is in retail costs...Slappy's find is probably more what you are looking for
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littlek
 
  1  
Reply Wed 3 Jan, 2007 11:38 pm
Wow! A woman in 1840 (Lucy Stone) made $7000 over 3 years publically speaking in favor of equal rights. That translates to "$1,574,248.93 using the unskilled wage" rate according to Slappy's site. That's a lot of dough!

Thanks to you both.
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dadpad
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Jan, 2007 01:28 am
A good guide is to price a staple comodity. how many loaves of bread would $7,000 buy, how much would it cost to buy that many today?
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Jan, 2007 10:43 am
dadpad wrote:
A good guide is to price a staple comodity. how many loaves of bread would $7,000 buy, how much would it cost to buy that many today?


This is by far the more reasonable way to approach this question. One of the problems one runs into in determining what an amount of money was worth in any given historical period is that simple references to inflation do not take into account price inflation--or deflation.

In 1765, at the time of the Stamp Act crisis in the American colonies, specie (gold and silver coins) was hard to come by in the American colonies. In Virginia, the chronic shortage of specie meant that transactions for more than small change were most often calculated in pounds of tobacco. Tobacco was the major monoculture in the colonies, and Virginia was then the largest producer of tobacco. Peoples' salaries, for example, would often be calculated in so many hundred weight of tobacco. Patrick Henry first made his name as a lawyer by defending against a member of the established (Anglican) church who was suing for an increase in his wage--which was calculated in hundred-weights of tobacco--because of the slump in tobacco prices which had suddenly and dramatically affected the economy of the colony. (Henry lost his case, sort of--the jury awarded the preacher damages of one penny.) So, since for tax and records keeping purposes, the value of hundred-weights of tobacco would be converted to pounds, shillings and pence, based on the last official valuation of a hundred-weight of tobacco, what the real value of someone's salary or estate would be could fluctuate wildly.

Dadpad's reference to the value of consumer goods is far more reliable a method. It is not universal, however. So, for example, a man with 40 pounds sterling in income in Boston would be well off in 1765--that would support a man and wife, six children and two live-in servants. In Philadelphia (in the midst of prosperous farm regions in Delaware and Pennsylvania), it would have been worth somewhat more. But in London in 1765, 40 pounds would have bought considerably less, because of price inflation. That would be 14 shillings a week, and that's two shillings four pence in a six day work week--and would be just enough (barely) to keep a common laborer and his family. A loaf of bread such as we know in the United States was a penny loaf, and working men in Europe in the 18th century ate from three to six pounds of bread a day--they often got little else to eat other than bread, which in a complicated way explains the crisis which lead to the French Revolution, and the political crises in France in 1830 and 1848. Two shillings four pence is 28 pence--so a man had to find three to six pence for his own bread, and the price of bread, and perhaps a little butter or cheese for himself and his family out of that, along with rent. Small wonder that working class people rarely ate meat or fish.

In 1840, a common laborer (in the United States) made about 40 or 50 cents a day, and could live decently on that--except in cities such as New York or Boston, where food stuffs were expensive. They would be less expensive in cities such as Philadelphia or Chicago, near areas of large-scale food production. New York ought to have been cheaper, being near the "Garden State" of New Jersey, but there was significant price inflation there because of the large population, making it a seller's market. But on a generous basis of 50 cents a day, that's three dollars a week (in a six-day work week), which is $156 per annum. Seven thousand dollars is almost 45 times as much as a common laborer would make in a year. That is a considerable sum. If one calculates based on a minimum wage (in practical rather than legal terms) of $7.50/hour, that would be over $15,000 per annum, multiplied only by 40 makes a sum or $600,000. Roughly speaking, i would calculate, therefore, that $7000 in 1840 had roughly the buying power of a half-a-million dollars or more in today's world.

It is important to keep other things in mind as well. There was no income tax in 1840, so she would have kept almost all of her money. However, public speaking meant travel, and if she wished to lodge herself decently and feed herself well in a world of slow, smokey railways and dirt roads, and filthy, bed-bug infested inns or very expensive hotels, she would have paid a great deal more proportionately in travel expenses than would be the case today--and no one thought in terms of defraying someone's expenses when they were invited to speak somewhere. By the same token, however, with that in mind, sympathetic residents of communities in which she spoke very likely would have offered lodging and board while she was in a town or city, and would not have expected her to pay. In most cases, her travel expenses would have been largely expended on coaches, hansoms (horse-drawn taxis) and railways, which were as expensive in the terms of 1840 as are airliners and urban taxis today--and considerably less comfortable.

At home, her style of life could have been very expensive. People owned, usually, far less outerwear--changing one's linen daily was a perquisite of the wealthy--even they did not necessarily rely on a closet full of clothing for a new outfit each day. A man probably had two or three winter suits and two or three light-weight suits, and that if he were well-off. A woman might have a half-dozen dresses, if she were well-off. There were two options for clean linen daily--paying a washerwoman to come into the house each day (only the truly rich kept live-in washerwomen), or sending laundry out. Public services such as laundries were expensive, because they were labor intensive, soap and bleach were expensive, and water would be heated on the premises, using wood or coal. Eating would be expensive for the well-off, because they expected to eat three or even four times a day (the poor and working class did well to eat twice daily--upon arising and before going to bed), and they expected to eat meat at least once a day (if the working class ate any meat at all in America, they ate cheap, fatty pork). For that purpose, she likely had a cook, and the cook would want at the least one girl (scullery maid), both of whom likely were live-in employees, for whom meals and clean linen would be provided. To travel about town, she would either have kept a coach or carriage, which meant at least two live-in men, and a coach house and one or more horses, who would have to be fed and shod--or she would have had resort to expensive livery stables.

The poor and the working class rarely bathed, rarely changed their clothing (if devout, they might attempt to keep on set of good clothing--their "Sunday go to meeting" outfit), and might have only one set of bed linen (bed curtains, bed linen and blankets and "comforters" were sufficiently valuable that they are almost always listed in the wills of the well-off)--if they had any bed linen at all. Even the well-to-do would have bathed infrequently by our standards--daily bathing was a sign of true wealth, and usually was labor intensive, requiring the attendance of from one to three servants. This woman might have made really good money, but if she lived comfortably, she spent a lot of money, most of it on labor and "found" (the food given to servants and laborers) to assure her comfort.

The truly rich relied upon huge numbers of servants. In a really wealthy household in America or England, there would be a butler, who would supervise at least one footman, and usually two to six footmen. There would be a housekeeper, who would supervise at least two maids (an upstairs and a downstairs maid), and usually four to six maids, with an additional "lady's maid" for each adult woman in the house. Children would be supervised by a governess and an additional maid. The Cook ruled over a minor kingdom of her own, usually with two kitchen maids, and from one to four "girls." In addition, the Butler would supervise service at meals, for which he would enlist the services of two or more of the footmen, and two or more of the kitchen maids--they would receive relays of food from "knife boys," from one to four, who were in the charge of the senior footman. In addition to the kitchen maids and girls, there would be one or more scullery maids, girls who were "girls-of-all-work" and whose major responsibility would be dish washing and scouring posts and pans, usually assisted by the knife boys. Higher level employees--the butler, the housekeeper, the cook and the governess--would have a small room of their own. Maids and footmen would be lodged in small rooms with two or three person per room. Scullery maids and knife boys usually slept on a bench in the kitchen. The final large labor division would be for transport. This would, in a truly rich household, mean a coachman, two footman, and two to four postilions (boys who stood on a platform at the back of the coach or carriage, and jumped down to lower the steps or to run errands). They would also be lodged and fed at their employers expense--and usually were lodged in rooms above the coach house and stables. Larger estates would probably also have from one to six gardeners. All of them would be fed at a servant's table, except the knife boys and scullery maids, who were the "bottom feeders" of the household, they literally ate the table scraps from the main table and the servants table, and might have to fight for it, or have the choicer bits taken from them by the footmen and the kitchen maids.

All of those employees would entail the expense of "livery"--they would be clothed at the expense of the employer, and the butler, front of the house footmen and maids would probably have clean linen each day. This would likely mean a washerwoman and one to three girls. A household of this type could employ from a dozen to thirty or more servants.

What that $7000 was worth to that woman would have been determined by how well she lived--and each step up in ostentatious comfort would entail very large increases in expense, because all comfort in those days was labor-intensive, and included at least feeding servants, and probably clothing them as well.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Jan, 2007 11:03 am
By the way, i based my more modest calculation of the buying power of Miss Stone's $7000 based on the fact that she lived in Massachusetts, which would have been considerably more expensive than if she had lived in, for example, Illinois or Alabama. Miss Stone's biography suggests that she was a convinced Congregationalist (her brother was a Congregationalist minister in Massachusetts), so she might have lived modestly. However, he biography also says she was born in 1818, and would have been 22 in 1840. In 1839, she was attending a "female seminary," and matriculated at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1843. She graduated in 1847, and had had to work as a housemaid to defray her costs. I rather doubt if she was doing public speaking in 1840. She founded her suffragist newspaper in Boston in 1870, when the cost of living would have made $7000 worth far less. Then again, as i've already taken notice, she probably lived modestly. You can read about Lucy Stone at About-dot-com's Women's history section.
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tommrr
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Jan, 2007 11:49 am
What would have been the average wage of this staff? I would assume (dangerous thing, I know) that it would be rather low and offset by any room and board that came with the position.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Jan, 2007 11:50 am
Maybe she made the money and then gave a big chunk of it to the cause rather than keeping it for her own benefit? (Interesting discussion.)
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Jan, 2007 12:07 pm
tommrr wrote:
What would have been the average wage of this staff? I would assume (dangerous thing, I know) that it would be rather low and offset by any room and board that came with the position.


The "prestige" of the position would have more to do with the remuneration than any value which could be put on the labor. For example, knife boys and scullery maids might get a half crown a week (two shillings six pence), if they were lucky, by about 1850. Many, however, worked simply for their board, and hoped to advance to a more lucrative position. Poor families who had trouble feeding all their mouths would feel themselves lucky to put a boy in a wealthy household as a knife boy--he'd probably eat better with table scraps than he could hope to do at home. The cook would be well paid, usually--by 1850, anywhere from 40 to 100 pounds per annum, paid quarterly--plus room and board and clean linen. However, the kitchen maids would not be well-paid--because they would be "back of the house." Upstairs and downstairs maids would make much better money, because they would work in the presence of the family and their guests, but would also be under a good deal more pressure to be seen and not heard, and to never place a foot wrong. The butler and housekeeper would be the best paid--as well or better than the Cook, and the indoor footmen would likely be paid well, better than gardeners or carriage footmen. It is hard to say precisely what they would have made, though, because (as ought to be obvious) a footman on a rural estate in Yorkshire would make a fraction of what a footman in a stylish house in London would make, and yet be better off in terms of buying power. What people earned had more to do with the "station" of their employers, and the region in which they worked than did the terms of service--a first-class butler, housekeeper or cook who had been "given a good character" might easily earn ten times or more in London than in a provincial town.

By 1850, a rural laborer would think himself well paid at one shilling a day, while a London laborer would want at least a half crown (two and six) a day, and a known, reliable laborer might make three shillings or even three and six a day--and still be hard pressed to keep a family. Actually, wages for "outside" servants (those who came each day to work, and returned home each evening) were lower simply because those who employed "outside" maids or cooks or washerwomen were families who simply couldn't afford to pay them that much. Even "outside" servants, though, would be fed, and probably twice in a day--they might not even eat at home on work days. However, their clothing and linen requirements would be less stringent, and not supplied by the employer. In the United States in the mid-19th century, outside servants were more commonly employed than residential staff. "Going into service" was looked down upon in the United States, and it was often immigrants who did the work, and they were usually outside servants, getting one meal a day and half or less than a day laborer would make. Because they already spoke English, outside servants in the United States were usually English or Scots, but overwhelmingly, they were Irish--Irish Catholics had few employment opportunities in the United States at a time when they were despised both for being Irish and not being Protestant.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Jan, 2007 12:12 pm
sozobe wrote:
Maybe she made the money and then gave a big chunk of it to the cause rather than keeping it for her own benefit? (Interesting discussion.)


She established her suffragist newspaper in Boston in 1870--it is likely that much of her money went into her suffragist initiatives. She was married, and in the terms of the day, her husband would have been responsible for supporting her, although the law also held that her property would be at his disposal. I suspect with this woman, though, that the money she earned was her own to do with as she pleased.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Jan, 2007 12:27 pm
Tommrr, i wasn't really trying to dodge your question . . . OK, i was . . . but i've read widely varying figures, and haven't made a particular study of it. Many, many people "in service" worked for very little, banked as much as they could, counted on generous gifts at Christmas, and a good settelement when they got too old to work any longer. The "upstairs" servants made as much or more than day laborers, and were fed and housed. "Downstairs" servants made much less, and not because of any valuation of their labor, but just because they didn't go into "public" areas--literally: to appear "upstairs" without having been sent by a senior employee (butler, housekeeper or cook) would very likely mean instant dismissal, and without a "character" (what Americans would call a reference). That would likely condemn a man to a life of hard labor as an unskilled worker, or crime. For a woman, it might mean hard labor in a laundry, piece-work as a seamstress (and only if she were very, very good), or crime, most likely prostitution. There was very little of justice in the system.

The Brooklyn Bridge was built between 1869 and 1884. The wages paid were incredibly high--very few unskilled workers were employed, and all others earned from two to three dollars a day, and lived well even in expensive New York. Public television did a special on the centenary of the bridge, and included a filmed interview of an old black man (made in the 1950s, i believe) who had worked as a water boy on the Brooklyn Bridge project. He said he was paid a dollar and ten cents a day--unheard of wealth. He'd have needed it to live decently in New York, and he'd have earned it probably by working ten or twelve hours a day, six days a week, with ten minutes in the middle of the day to eat whatever he could afford to bring with him. His money probably went to his family, who were very lucky to have put him in such a high-paying job.
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tommrr
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Jan, 2007 12:33 pm
Quote:
Tommrr, i wasn't really trying to dodge your question

Well, in your answer, and careful dodging, you actually DID answer my question. I had thought that the positions were mainly low paying, except for the main servants, and the reason people sought and held them were for other reasons, many of which you carefully laid out.
I wasn't looking for an exact dollar amount, just what kind of compensation these people received.
If that is how answer while dodging, I'd like to hear you answer something directly.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Jan, 2007 12:37 pm
tommrr wrote:
If that is how answer while dodging, I'd like to hear you answer something directly.


Be careful what you wish for--when i'm on solid historical ground, i can and do go on for pages.
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hamburger
 
  1  
Reply Thu 4 Jan, 2007 12:45 pm
i sure hope littlek didn't spend all that money foolishly in 1840 .
i'm sure she kept some of it under her pillow .
hbg
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Sissycat
 
  1  
Reply Wed 17 Feb, 2010 11:05 am
In Ireland in 1845, before the crop failure a 50 kg sack of potatoes cost 16 pence. During the winter the price more doubled to 36 pence.In 1804 the most dominant industry in the country was agriculture and an avrage wage for farm workers was 8 pence a day.

I've been trying to find the price of bread in 1845-1850, but failed. Can anybody help me? I'm like Littlek not very good at finding the right key words.
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