Thursday, July 03, 2008

Buying Power of 14th Century Money

What was 14th century money worth in today’s dollars? That’s tricky, because it depends on what you were buying. In the second half of the 14th century, a pound sterling would:

Support the lifestyle of a single peasant laborer for half a year, or that of a knight for a week. Or buy:
Three changes of clothing for a teenage page (underclothes not included) or
Twelve pounds of sugar or
A carthorse or
Two cows or
An inexpensive bible or ten ordinary books or
Rent a craftsman’s townhouse for a year or
Hire a servant for six months

It should be obvious from the above list that the conversion rate depends a great deal on what you buy. A husbandman or yeoman servant spent most of his budget on food and clothing, which have become relatively cheap since the industrial revolution. For that basket of goods, a pound sterling might buy $500 worth of goods today. On the other hand, a knight or noble might spend a quarter of his income on servants, and much of the rest on handmade luxury goods, things that were relatively cheap then and expensive today. For that bundle of goods, a pound might buy $1,800 worth of goods today.

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