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This page points to resources for determining prices, costs and values.

It covers -

section marker     introduction

This site features a range of price data from the 1420s onwards and offers comparisons regarding investment over the past three hunmdred years, for example commenting that in real terms the prices paid for some collectibles (particular Old Master painting, sculpture and ceramics) during the 1720s or 1890s have never been equalled, despite contemporary hype about "the most expensive painting". It also expresses some prices for consumer products and the scale of industrial investment in pounds sterling or euros rather than US dollars or Australian dollars.

Making sense of those figures is a challenging task, complicated by factors such as -

  • inflation
  • interest rates and return on capital
  • purchasing power
  • relativities

This page accordingly points to some sources of data (and some online calculators) that give a broad sense of prices for consumer and other items, wages and values in Europe, North America and elsewhere over the past two hundred years.

Points of entry into literature on prices, incomes and purchasing power include John McCusker's How much is that in real money?: a historical price index for use as a deflator of money values in the economy of the United States (Worcester: American Antiquarian Society 2001) and Brian Mitchell's European historical statistics, 1750-1975 (London: Macmillan 1980).

section marker     currencies

EH.Net offers indicators of the comparative value of US money - Purchasing Power of the Dollar, 1665 - Present and What is the Relative Value? Five Ways to Compare the Worth of a United States Dollar, 1789 - Present.

The US set the price of gold at US$20.67 per ounce from 1834 until 1933; the UK set it at three pounds 17 shillings and 10.5 pence from 1844 until 1914, resulting in an exchange rate of US$4.867 to the pound.

section marker     prices

EH.Net also provides indicators of the purchasing power of the UK pound 1264-2002, UK average earnings and prices 1264-2002 and the annual real and nominal GDP for the UK 1086-2000. For Canada from 1914 see the inflation index here.

For a European converter prior to 1700 see the Marteau project's Early 18th-Century Currency Converter.

The Global Price & Income History Group (GPIH) at UC Davis features data for several foodstuffs and non-foodstuffs for Istanbul 1469-1914, prices in Paris 1500-1870 and some prices and wages in Spain 1500-1800. There is no online value converter for Australia and New Zealand.

The Economist offers 'the Big Mac Index' -

Burgernomics is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity, the notion that a dollar should buy the same amount in all countries. Thus in the long run, the exchange rate between two countries should move towards the rate that equalises the prices of an identical basket of goods and services in each country. Our "basket" is a McDonald's Big Mac, which is produced in about 120 countries. The Big Mac PPP is the exchange rate that would mean hamburgers cost the same in America as abroad. Comparing actual exchange rates with PPPs indicates whether a currency is under- or overvalued.

It has been claimed that inflation in the US between 1880 and 1914 averaged 0.1% per year.

section marker     wages

Tools for tracking or making sense of wages include -

  • International Institute of Social History global wages & prices | here
  • a US inflation calculator | here
  • the US Bureau of Labor calculator | here
  • Measuring Worth (UK and US) | here
  • How Much is That (UK and US) | here

section marker     other resources

Other resources include -

  • International Institute of Social History index to sites | here

Piet Eichholtz's A Long Run House Price Index: The Herengracht Index, 1628-1973 paper (consistent with Robert Shiller's research on US home prices from 1890) notes that — adjusted for inflation — real property values on the Herengracht in Amsterdam between 1628 and 1973 increased by 0.2% per year.

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version of July 2008
© Bruce Arnold | caslon analytics