16 March 2013


I was doing this for myself (you know, the one project I won't shut up about, the one where you build shit?), but I figured maybe somebody else could use it, too.

In real life, based on this Hodges list, 1 pound (L) is worth 20 shillings (s), and 1 shilling is worth 12 pence (d). 1 penny is also worth 4 farthings, if you're curious. There's a footnote that the names are equivalent to the French Livre, sous, and denier, which come from the Latin liber, solidus, and denarius. I don't know, maybe you're interested in that sort of thing, but personally, none ofthose names make any sense. Makes me wonder where the damned farthing comes from, though.

The prices are all given in that format, which is fine, because check this out.

You know that copper coins are what regular folks carry around, because that's what you see in movies and stuff, and that's what we have in our little copper pennies. Pretty neat, right? (We shall leave aside the fact that denarius were made of silver, for this argument.) But how much is that actually worth? I mean, it's cool that you have various kinds of coins, but the fact that nobody knows how much that shit was actually worth leads to stupid shit like a club costing gold coins, or that club and a given dagger costing the same amount. Really? A bit of wood costs the same as a forged iron blade? It's important to have the right scale, because it gets you a little closer to the real world and, as everybody knows, the real world is a whole hell of a lot stranger than the stuff we come up with in our "fantasy" worlds.

So, copper.

A couple of copper would be a day's wages for a skilled laborer, and enough to make sure that he's got plenty to eat at the end of the day. But how much is a copper worth, exactly?

Well, we can do what sort of what they do to figure out inflation in real life. We can make a big ol' shopping cart of stuff that you can still find today, and compare the prices. Then we divide it up per item, so we figure out how much each costs. Going back to the list prices, we can then figure out exactly how much purchasing power you've got with any given coinage. Sounds easy enough, right?
So you're telling me I can buy a castle with this stack of gold? Cool!

Let's take an item or two from each category, just to be safe.

We'll take an axe (5d), spade, and shovel (3d for the two of em) from "Tools".
Let's skip horses; I know luxury goods were more expensive and besides, we can calculate anything in Pounds later.
From "Food and Livestock" we'll take a gallon of cheap wine (4d) and a gallon of cheap beer (.75d).
We'll take a pig (2s) and a dozen eggs. We can also take 80 lbs of cheese (3s 4d), although I'm not entirely sure what you'd do with 80 lbs of cheese, exactly.

Running Total: 18.75d, 2s. Please notice I'm leaving the rounding for later, I don't want to get too complex yet.

We'll ignore books, because the printing press hadn't been invented yet, and you know that dropped prices substantially. We'll also ignore education, because most people simply wouldn't have had one. It does remain expensive, I'll give you that, but not "completely and totally out of reach for 85% of people" expensive as it once was.

On to clothing. A well to do peasant might spend 6d on shoes, and 8d on a chemise, which I am reasonably sure is a nice shirt. You can still buy those.

Running Total at:  36d, 2s so far.

A cheap sword might be 6d. Muskets are listed but I'll ignore them because I'm looking at the 1300s here. Plus, you can buy a sword online and you can't really buy chain mail. I mean, you can, but that's a little more complex and you probably want to custom-order that. Plus it's expensive as hell.

Six silver spoons would be 14s, a candle might be 1.5d, a barrel is 3d, a pillow is 1d, and a mattress would be 2d. So we have a total of 44d, 14s for all that. That's 168 pennies, total, for quite a lot of things.

In modern day terms:
Functional Sword: $200
Fully Grown Pig: $200
Decent Shoes: $50
Mattress: $200
Silver Cutlery Set: $60
Axe: $40
Shovel: $30
Spade: $30
Gallon of Cheap Wine: $30
Gallon of Beer: $30
Dozen Eggs: $1
80 lbs cheese: $400 or so
Modern Total: $1270

So using this you get roughly $7 per penny. That puts us at ~$84 for a silver coin, and $1680 for a gold coin.

That settles that, then. I'll round to $10 for a copper coin, $100 for a silver, and $2000 for a gold coin, and that gives me a good conversion rate to use the rest of the chart. I now know that a sword, back in the day, would cost roughly $40 if I bought one today, and that I could buy a pig for, well what do you know, $200 bucks.

I don't know if any of this has been useful to you, but I know it has been for me. Now I know that copper is actually a pretty good prize, and that the divide between peasant and king has been none to exaggerated.


  1. Where the farthing comes from is kind of interesting, if you like that sort of thing. It was first minted in the 13th century and, because it comprised a quarter of a penny's worth of silver, it was less than a centimetre in diameter. The previous practice had been to mint pennies with a cross on one side, and when people needed change they'd just cut them into quarters.

    1. I am going to use that information immediately.

      That is awesome.