When reading British prose, e.g. a novel by Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) or P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), I would like to understand the real cost of money there, which have been changed over time, of couse. It simple words, "How rich is the man who have 100 pounds? Is he rich at all?" What is the best way for it without using Google each time? - This is my question.

I have tried to use a calculator on the National Archives site, but it seems the prices for specific goods are not good indicators, because they have been changed differently from each other. To compare, here are things you could buy for 300 pounds in 1900 and in 1950:

horses: 10
cows: 30
stones of wool: 555
quarters of wheat: 234
wages of a skilled tradesman: 909 days

horses: 1 (10 times less)
cows: 4 (7.5 times less)
stones of wool: 67 (8.28 times less)
quarters of wheat: 50 (4.68 times less)
wages: 211 days (4.3 decrease)

Sorry if my question sounds unprofessionally. Yes, I don't have any knowledge of economics, but I like literature.


1 Answer 1


You can try the original source in your question - which is the Bank of England.

Instead of looking at a single product, or a bunch of rather unimportant items, you can look at a broad level of inflation from a basket of goods.

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Therefore, 300 pounds in 1900 are the equivalent of 1077.06 in 1950 - that means that the you would need 1077.06 pounds to buy the same amount of things that you could have bougth with 300 pounds 50 years earlier.

Two warnings:

  • Personal consumption patterns change a lot: a horse may have been a lot more useful in 1900 compared to today; pretty much everyone owns a smartphone now, but these were not available until the late 1990s.
  • The average (and even more so median) wage changes as well. What may have cost a fortune back in 1900, may have increased in price a lot, yet it may be a lot cheaper in terms of fraction of income needed to buy the product.

Just imagine a "supermarket" in 1900, compared to today.

  • $\begingroup$ I believe cell phones became available in 1990s but smartphones came later than that. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 6:09
  • $\begingroup$ It depends how you define smartphones I suppose. The first handheld device with touchscreen, phone features, email, fax and predictive texting was available in 1994, and designed by IBM. $\endgroup$
    – AKdemy
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 10:42

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