Not sure I’d trust these numbers

From a book written by a bloke who worked in the finance pages of the Mail. So, you know, dodgy numbers. Still, fun:

At the market, a pound would buy you 28 lbs of peas or beans, or six kilderkins (108 gallons) of ale, or 60lbs of best butter, or 280 lb of beef.

2lbs (910 grammes, close enough) of Sainsbury’s peas is £1.30. Or £18.20 for the 28 lbs.

Canned kidney beans are about the same price, say £18.20 for the 28 lbs.

Butter’s £3 a lb (ignoring 2.204 lb to kg) or £180 for the 60lbs.

Beef is (mince) also £3 per pound or £840 for the amount.

Full strength own label beer is £1 a pint or so. Or £864 for the amount listed.

The relative prices of beef and beer have changed little over the centuries (1630), those of beer and beans/peas rather a lot. Dunno quite what that tells us other than government being involved in beef and beer and not in peas and beans…..

15 thoughts on “Not sure I’d trust these numbers”

  1. Beef one tenth of the price of peas?

    Yep, dodgy numbers. At the very least some extremely weird condition (We ran out of peas to feed to the cows so are killing all the cows and have almost no peas to sell) that is totally unrepresentative of most of past reality.

  2. Do you buy canned beans in Portugal, Tim? Oh, of course, English. We buy our’s dried in kilo bags.That’ll make 4-5 kilos of cooked beans including the residual water. We could buy peas the same way, although S. Americans prefer lentillas. Precooked canned or frozen were science fiction, then.Shouldn’t think mince had even been heard of 1630. You bought beef by the carcass or portion of. Including bone etc. The beer sounds like a barrel price. Haven’t bought kegs of beer for ages. Spanish beer, a cana’s enough to put you off for good.. When I used to get it from the Green King depot, Caledonia Road way, it was about a third the price of supermarket bottled. Keg’s 88 pints, but don’t suppose anyone was selling kegs in 1630. They’d sell barrels. So if you’re not talking tavern price for a pint you’d need to know the mark-up expected for buying it loose. Like we used to buy wine in the market in SW France. Bring your own jerry can. Under a euro a litre, we paid. (Although they would sell in pints!)
    All of these price comparison’s, you have to factor in shopping patterns. Those have changed immensely, since my grandmother’s time. Let alone 1630.

  3. I would posit that in an age when many had trouble affording food, demand for the cheaper stuff was higher (out of necessity) hence driving up the price and making it less cheap. Now that affording enough to eat is within everyone’s reach, demand for the cheap stuff has fallen and demand for tasty stuff has increased.
    Clearly there have been great advances in agriculture since then, likely they affected different foods differently.
    Was beer even taxed back then?
    Are we comparing like with like? A can of beans will cost more than uncanned beans because cans and canning aren’t free.
    How about wastage. Canned beans don’t go off. Uncanned ones might, or might be eaten by rodents. Beef will go off quicker without a fridge than it will with a freezer.

  4. @Diogenese
    Canning in food preservation doesn’t necessary refer to tinned items. Americans talk about “canning” produce in glass jars. Food was often preserved in glazed earthenware pots, the lids sealed with wax. Canning in soldered metal recepticles dates to the C19th. More recent swaged plated steel cans more recent..
    So canned food in 1630’s entirely possible

  5. Peas was an exotic dish when first introduced to the French court of Versailles. The fashion for peas swept over to England soon thereafter. It was served at the top tables of the Gentry, before it became popular and therefor, common. Similar story with tomatoes and potatoes. It took a while for the foods from the New World to be accepted over here. So, the price of peas, without looking at the historical context, is a poor yardstick.

    And also note that at one stage Aluminium was so expensive and scares that Napoleon had a dinner set of cutlery which was used to show off.

  6. BIS 1630 is rather earlier than the 19th century. Wiki says

    “In 1809, Nicolas Appert, a French confectioner and brewer, observed that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seals leaked, and developed a method of sealing food in glass jars”

    Your suggestion of cooking food in earthenware pots and then sealing the lid with wax suggests a recipe for contamination. I doubt it was done in the 17th century otherwise Napoléon would not have launched his competition

    “During the first years of the Napoleonic Wars, the French government offered a hefty cash award of 12,000 francs to any inventor who could devise a cheap and effective method of preserving large amounts of food.”

  7. It was done in Roman times, Diogenes. A well fitting lid, can the contents when hot & seal. Canning in brine or oil would further prolong.
    The problems transportability’. It’s not a particularly durable solution. The advantage of the soldered metal can was it could stand rough handling. If you didn’t mind the lead poisoning..

  8. ““In 1809, Nicolas Appert, a French confectioner and brewer, observed that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seals leaked”
    Clever M.Appert. It’s not as if they’d been bottling wine for hundreds of years.

  9. Err, no, I wasn’t arguing that canned beans existed then. Only that I found the price of canned beans today and used it to refer to the price of beans back then. Not exact of course, but still useful as it was the change in the relative price of beer I was most interested in.

    You know, journalist, beer?

  10. At the farm gate Potatoes are £90 – £200 per tonne depending on variety, quality etc

    @Diogenes September 28, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Did you not watch your mum making jam? Jarred hot, lid screwed on, jam cools creating vacuum which tightens lid seal. Hence warnings on jar lids – if you can depress…

    Seen cheese encased in wax?

    For wax: cooked food pressed in earthenware pot, liquid wax poured over it. No O2 – food preserved.

  11. “Err, no, I wasn’t arguing that canned beans existed then. Only that I found the price of canned beans today and used it to refer to the price of beans back then.”
    I can’t see what you’re going to learn from that, Tim. You’re using your concept of shopping now to apply to a period nearly 400 years ago. We’re probably much closer to 1630, here. I buy beans 10kg at a time, from the market for 15€. We see beans as an everyday staple rather than something you put in one particular recipe.That makes about 40kg of cooked beans. 37c/kg So 4,76€ for 28lb. Say £4.40 Even in Portugal, I shouldn’t think there’s many Portuguese housewives buying kidney beans in tins. They’ll buy the dried & cook because beans figure more prominently in Portuguese food. It’s likely they featured more prominently in the English diet of 1630. England had its own version of cassolette. And, of course, you’re using the dearer red beans whereas the english would have been using the cheaper white.
    It’s the same with the peas. Frozen podded peas didn’t exist in 1630. The options were dried or market fresh in the pods. If you’re going for the latter you’d have to allow for the weight of the pods thrown out when the frozen peas were processed.
    I’ve come up against this sort of thing in history, before. In the 1400s a pie bought at the fayre cost 6 pennies. At the same time the rent on a farm smallholding was 4 pounds 8 shillings a year. It doesn’t make any sense. You can rent a farm for the cost of 200 pies? Try renting a farm now for £500. There’s obviously something wildly wrong with the assumptions.

  12. @ Bis
    Try buying a pie at a fairground well away from a town today and compare it with the price that you would pay at Aldi or the local equivalent.
    Despite being adequately-heeled I have on occasion gone hungry because I wasn’t prepared to pay the extortionate prices that are charged by those with a local monopoly. Yesterday I could have bought a beaker of coffee with an egg roll *or* a portion of chips for £5: I chose not to.

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