Monday, October 6, 2008

Comparing Pounds, Shillings & Pence Nowadays

Reading David Shenk's admirably lively "The Immortal Game"-- a history of chess-- I found this footnote. The URL has changed from when he wrote it, but redirecting to a slightly altered website, it's "Purchasing Power of British Pounds from 1264 to 2007."

You do need the year that the currency originated in and the year you're converting it to. This may mean some guessing now and then, reading fiction set less precisely than history. Still, I suppose it's much more accurate than the roughly 1:20 ratios I keep in my head for a century back that always make me wonder about their accuracy.

For medievalists and Irish-immersed lads like me, this could be invaluable. I get mired in "Ulysses" or "Tristram Shandy" or Dickens -- made worse as an American-- easily befuddled by the calculations. Is a shilling in 1890 like a quarter today? $2.50? Is a quid in 1600 equivalent to, say, $5000 today? I have no idea, and never do, really, but with this gizmo, the answers may be easier to reckon.

Illustration: Eric Gill, 1915. Tate Gallery. "The Purchasers."

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