Relative Wealth of Literary Characters

Determining wealth of literary (and other historic) people in today’s values

Created by:

Bethany Dietrich, Reference & Instruction Librarian

Julia Cowles, MLIS, University of Washington


Coin purse

Have you ever wondered just how rich Mr. Darcy was? Or if 20 guineas would be enough in today’s money to let Pip dress like a gentleman?  And how much would Mr. Gatsby pay today for an evening gown that cost $265 in 1922?

This guide has been designed to help you answer these types of questions, and you don’t have to be a whiz at math or economics either!

Be forewarned - it is challenging to make exact comparisons between differing monetary and economic systems, and various ways to calculate exist. Make sure to compare answers from different sources, but also be consistent and apply the same source to all value questions from the novel(s) you are studying . Also remember that some items that were harder to manufacture or obtain in the past may be less costly and more accessible now.


British Flag   British/UK sources                 


MeasuringWorth.com - http://www.measuringworth.com/

1270 to present for relative value and purchasing power of UK pound. Also includes a conversion calculator between UK Pounds to US Dollars, 1774 to present. Provides a range of answers with explanations of variations.


Currency Converter and Buying Power from The National Archives (UK) - http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/

1270 to 1970 (in 10 year increments) and converts to 2005 values.


Currency converter - http://www.anthonytrollope.com/books/money/

Covers 1840 to 1888. Also includes information on Victorian money and moneylenders.


Convert Pounds Sterling to Dollars - http://www.uwyo.edu/numimage/currency.htm

Convert from source years (1264 to 1983) to target years (1913-2014).


The Victorian Web - http://www.victorianweb.org/economics/wages.html

For a brief discussion on the monetary culture of Victorian England.


How Wealthy is Mr. Darcy? - http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number12/heldman.htm

A paper by James Heldman, Dept of English, Western Kentucky University. Monetary values have been converted to US dollars for 1988.


Decimalization of British Currency - http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/films/1964to1979/filmpage_decimal.htm

In 1971, the British government switched from it’s old system of currency where the pound was made up of shillings and farthings and converted to a decimal system with 100 pence to a pound.  While the pound roughly stayed the same, pre- 1971 literature may reference the old currency system.  

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/films/1964to1979/filmpage_decimal.htm Additional table on the full decimalization conversion system.

http://www.royalmint.com/discover/decimalisation/decimal-debate There was a long history of debate before the decision to decimalize was taken.  


The Guinea and It’s Value - http://www.royalmint.com/our-coins/ranges/guinea

The guinea was an actual gold coin and it’s value fluctuated widely, but is generally recognized as being valued as 21 shillings or £1.05.

Examples

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860)

“First,” said Mr. Jaggers, “you should have some new clothes to come in, and they should not be working clothes.  Say this day week.  You’ll want some money.  Shall I leave you twenty guineas?” (18.83)

  1. Translate guineas to pounds.  20 x 1.05 = £21
  2. Use British Currency Converter such as:  http://www.anthonytrollope.com/books/money/ £21  from 1860 = £926.73 in today’s money
  3. To convert to American $ use a converter such as: http://www.uwyo.edu/numimage/currency.htm £21 from 1860 with target year of 2014 = $2,011.68

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (published in 1811, but set between 1792 - 1797)

"Perhaps," said Elinor, smiling, "we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?"

"About eighteen hundred or two thousand a year; not more than that."

Elinor laughed. "Two thousand a year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end." (17.8-12)

Using this source - http://www.uwyo.edu/numimage/currency.htm  and picking 1795 as our source year we see that Marianne’s competence of 2,000 pounds a year would be roughly equivalent to $230,749 in 2014 US dollars. Elinor would be happy with $115,374.


The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope (1873)

...And she suffered, too, from the box,--to such a degree that she turned over in her mind the thought of leaving Lizzie, if any other possible home might be found for her. Who would willingly live with a woman who always travelled about with a diamond necklace worth ten thousand pounds, locked up in an iron safe,--and that necklace not her own property. (20.26)

Depending on the converter being used, the results can vary greatly.

  1. £10,000 in 1873 = £400,200 in today’s money according to http://www.anthonytrollope.com/books/money/

  2. A similar conversion using http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/results.asp#mid with slight date differences based on the limitations of the converter results in £10,000 in 1870 = £636,900 in 2005

To ensure the clearest understanding, use the same conversion source for each novel or series of novels you are working with.


American Flag  American/US sources


MeasuringWorth.com - http://www.measuringworth.com/

1774 to present for relative value and purchasing power of US dollar. Also includes a conversion calculator between UK Pounds to US Dollars, 1774 to present. Provides a range of answers with explanations of variations.


Inflation calculator - http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/

Calculates buying power- can make comparisons from 1913 to 2014. Information on how the calculations work can be found here http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/frequently-asked-questions-faqs/#HowInflationCalculatorWorks


Cost of Living calculator - https://www.aier.org/cost-living-calculator

From 1913 to 2014. Compare with above inflation calculator.


Consumer Price Index - https://www.minneapolisfed.org/community/teaching-aids/cpi-calculator-information/consumer-price-index-1800

Shows how to do your own calculations using data from 1800 to 2014.


Examples

The Rise of Silas Lapham – William Dean Howes – pub 1885

"Well," said the Colonel, with a large toleration of tone and a deep breath that expanded his ample chest, "we spend more on our houses nowadays. I started out to build a forty-thousand-dollar house. Well, sir! that fellow has got me in for more than sixty thousand already, and I doubt if I get out of it much under a hundred. You can't have a nice house for nothing.” (4.43)

Work it out using the formula and CPI data found here: https://www.minneapolisfed.org/community/teaching-aids/cpi-calculator-information/consumer-price-index-1800

Our formula would be:

2015 Price = 1885 price x (2015 CPI/1885 CPI)

2015 Price = 40,000 x (720.3/27)

2015 Price =  $1,081,925

Using the same process we find that:

$60,000 in 1885 is worth about $1,600,666 in 2015.

$100,000 in 1885 is worth about $2,667,777 in 2015.


Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Published 1925, narrative is set in 1922)

"I like to come," Lucille said. "I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address – inside of a week I got a package from Croirier's with a new evening gown in it."

"Did you keep it?" asked Jordan.

"Sure I did. I was going to wear it tonight, but it was too big in the bust and had to be altered. It was gas blue with lavender beads. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars."  (3.23-25)

Using this inflation calulator http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/ we find that Lucille’s $265 evening gown might cost $3,686.45 in 2015.

Or using the formula and CPI data from here as we did for the Silas Lapham example - https://www.minneapolisfed.org/community/teaching-aids/cpi-calculator-information/consumer-price-index-1800 we get a similar answer of $3794.



Babbit by Lewis Sinclair (1922)

Finkelstein asserted that five dollars was not too great a sum, not for a really high-class lighter which was suitably nickeled and provided with connections of the very best quality. (5.29)

Using this cost of living calculator https://www.aier.org/cost-living-calculator  we find that a $5 lighter in 1922 might cost $73.75 in 2015. Compare to the answer you get here: http://www.measuringworth.com/uscompare/relativevalue.php


Last updated: 3/10/2015

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