Posted 01 June 2005

Calculate Modern Values of
Historic Concertina Prices

Randall C. Merris

and Robert Gaskins


“How Much Would That Be in New Money?”

Enter a year between 1830 and 2000: and then the amount:
pounds: / shillings: / pence:

Year 2000 value in sterling: (in pounds and decimal pence)


To use the calculator above, begin by entering the year of the value you want to translate. The calculator covers the years 1830 to 1999, thus including the entire period of concertina history. If you enter a date between 1830 and 1970, you will then have an opportunity to enter “old money” in pounds, shillings, and pence; if you enter a date between 1971 and 1999, the entry box for shillings will be grayed out, so you can enter only pounds and (new decimal) pence. All entries should be whole numbers—no decimal points, no partial-pence. Then click on the button that says “Compute the value in 2000”, and the year 2000 value in pounds sterling will be calculated and displayed. Any input values can be changed, and the button clicked again to recalculate. Results are displayed in “new money”, down to the (decimal) penny; obviously the conversion can't be nearly that accurate, so it’s generally appropriate to round off the result and to think of it as being a ballpark figure.


The history of concertinas covers more than 170 years, during which long period the effective value of a pound sterling has changed quite a lot. It is difficult to get an appreciation for the meaning of prices expressed in terms of a century and a half ago. We present here a calculator that can be used to translate prices and wages from 1830 and later to a uniform comparison level of year 2000 values.

For example, in the Wheatstone Concertina Ledgers from the Horniman Museum, on page 1 of Ledger C1047, 01 January 1851, there are prices paid of 15 guineas (a "guinea" is one pound one shilling), 10 guineas, and 5 guineas. Now, the difference between £5-odd and £15-odd doesn't sound like all that much. But if we translate to current values of money and think of the prices as ranging from £3,000 to £9,000 we see that the difference in quality levels among the models could be really extremely large.

Looking at the Wheatstone Concertina Ledgers again, on page 53 of Ledger C1055, recording cash payments for 17 January 1846, there is an entry for “Charles Burgess for a months wages due the 10th”, and Charles Burgess signs to acknowledge receipt. One's first thought is, why require a signature for the pocket change of 13 shillings 4 pence? The calculator shows that Mr. Burgess’s month's wages were equivalent to about £365 in the year 2000. In the same book, a Mr. Saunders regularly collects either £3 or £4 per week, with occasional anomalies. The calculator shows that he was being paid the equivalent in modern money of about £90,000 per year. With that number in mind, we are more likely not to be misled into thinking that Saunders was a minor figure, and to take seriously that he may have been the reed-making expert or supplier in the Wheatstone company.

In his 1888 publication The Concertinist’s Guide, John Hill Maccann, in recalling great concertinists of the previous generation, mentions that “One of the greatest artistes was Giulio Regondi, who on September 26th of the same year [1837] received Forty Guineas for the performance of two Fantasias on the Concertina, at the Birmingham Musical Festival.” If we plug the year 1837 and the amount forty guineas (40 pounds and 40 shillings) into the calculator, we see that the youthful Regondi (then aged about fifteen) was being paid the equivalent of £25,000!

To take a different concertina-making company, Charles Jeffries (Sr.) died in 1906, leaving an estate valued at a net value of £6,673; the calculator tells us that this is the equivalent of over £2 million in the year 2000.

Some historical perspective may also provide context for the rising prices of concertinas in recent years. One duet instrument, Wheatstone serial number 25457, was recently sold by a dealer for £1,500. This might seem expensive (and was higher than would have been expected in past years), but if we look at page 19 of Ledger SD01, we see that the instrument was made 05 January 1912, a model No. 36 (octagonal raised metal ends, 46 key Maccann Duet). We can then look at Chris Algar’s Wheatstone pricelist dated slightly earlier (c. 1910), to see that a model No. 36 sold new for £16.0.0. (It still has the same price in a slightly later pricelist which we have dated c. 1915, so that price in 1912 is well-attested.) Plugging the date 1912 and the amount £16 into the calculator above reveals that its original price tag on the Wheatstone & Co. shelves was equivalent to just over £4,500 at year 2000 values. So even at the current higher prices, this professional-quality instrument is selling at about one-third of what it sold for new in 1912.

What is Calculated

There is more than one way to translate prices and values from past times into the present.1 For different purposes, different translations may give a more-useful or less-useful comparison, so some judgment is needed. For concertinas, we have decided that the most meaningful comparison is to relate prices to "average earnings" (technically "average nominal earnings").

Comparing to average earnings takes into account two different changes over the time period: (1) the change in the value of the currency, and (2) the change in the real earnings rate. This latter reflects changes in productivity, including the effects of capital investment, technology innovation, education, and health, plus changes in employment levels in different occupations. Using average earnings to calculate equivalent prices preserves "the amount of work needed to buy" a product. That is, if a concertina at the the time it was new sold for a sum equal to two months of workers' average earnings in that year, the calculator will translate to the modern value equal to two months of workers' average earnings in the year 2000. Or, saying the same thing in another way, if a concertina originally sold for 15% of workers' average annual earnings, the calculator will translate to 15% of average annual earnings in the year 2000.

Average earnings includes all wages and salaries (including overtime), non-cash (in-kind) payments such as lodging and meals, bonuses, commissions, and piece-rate or performance payments, averaged over all workers from the lowest-earning casual laborers and servants up to the highest-earning doctors and barristers. This comparison allows for changes in the occupation and industry structure of the employed population. Used as a comparison measure, average earnings maintains in the later year the ratio of the specified amount to average earnings for the earlier year. This measure is a good choice to obtain relative value for income or wealth, and for fairly expensive discretionary purchases.

Over the period 1830 to 2000 the pound lost over 98% of its purchasing power, so it would take over £60 in 2000 to roughly equal £1 in 1830. During the same period average real earnings increased more than 10 times. Multiplying these changes together gives a factor of increase of more than 600; workers' average earnings in 2000 expressed in modern pounds were 600 times as large as workers' average earnings in 1830 expressed in 1830 pounds. The calculator shows this: enter the year 1830 and the amount £1, and the calculator tells you that the equivalent amount would be £611.34 in the year 2000. (Neither change happened smoothly or uniformly, so the calculator uses different data for every year.)

We have selected the year 2000 to be the comparison date for all older prices and values, since it is a convenient comparison date. In a decade or two, it will be easy to again translate from prices expressed in terms of the year 2000 into any later date. Prices in sterling have not changed a great deal since 2000, so the translation into "year-2000 pounds" is close to the current value.

British currency prior to 1971 was very different from what it is now. The pound sterling had long been divided into 20 shillings; each shilling in turn was divided into 12 pence, so there were 240 pence to the pound. There were smaller coins than pennies: there were half-pennies, farthings (one-quarter penny), and even half-farthings, all known as late as Queen Victoria's reign. There were a large number of denominations of coins: the most common included the penny, two pence, three pence, six pence, shilling (12 pence), florin (24 pence), half-crown (30 pence), crown (5 shillings, or 60 pence), half-sovereign (120 pence), and sovereign (240 pence, or £1). The guinea (one pound one shilling) had been a coin in earlier ages, but by Victoria's time had become purely notional—though many prices were still quoted in guineas, especially for fashionable consumer products (such as concertinas) and for professional fees. All this changed on 15 February 1971 when the pound was “decimalized”. After that date, a "new pound" consisted of 100 "new pence". Various coinage was transitioned to the modern system, soon replaced with new coins of value 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, and £1.


1 This calculator is based on historical data series created by Lawrence H. Officer, “What Were the U.K. Earnings Rate and Consumer Price Index Then?”, Economic History Services, February 2004, on the web at Copyright (c) 2004 by EH.NET.

Professor Officer has assembled substantially more data than is reflected here, including series needed to revalue historic prices in several different ways, and his website contains discussion of how the data series were assembled and how they can be used. We wish to thank Professor Officer and the Economic History Services ( site for permission to use his data on average nominal earnings 1830–2000. Any mistakes beyond the accuracy of the underlying data are our responsibility. [ Back to text ]


Randall C. Merris ( ) is an economist at the International Monetary Fund and an amateur Anglo concertinist. He has been an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago; has taught economics and finance in the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University; and has consulted with Asian governments on economic policy and financial reform. He writes mainly on economics and occasionally on the concertina and its history.

Robert Gaskins ( ) has studied and taught the use of computers for research in the humanities and linguistics, and is co-author of a textbook on computer programming for students of languages, literature, art, and music. He has also managed the computer science research section of an international telecommunications R&D laboratory, invented a graphics application program and led a startup enterprise to develop it, and headed the Silicon Valley business unit of a personal computer software company. He divides his time between San Francisco and London, where he is learning to play the Maccann duet concertina.

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pocket adding machine, sterling, circa 1900
“The Pocket Adding Machine”,
sums up to £99999.19.11 3/4,
UK, circa 1900 (invented 1889).


The historical data series underlying this calculator are used by permission from Lawrence H. Officer, “What Were the U.K. Earnings Rate and Consumer Price Index Then?”, Economic History Services (, February 2004
© 2004 by EH.NET.

This article is © 2005 Randall C. Merris and Robert Gaskins.

Links to related documents

horniman-wheatstone-concertina-ledgers Wheatstone Concertina Ledgers on the Web
by the Horniman Museum
Historical business records from C. Wheatstone & Co. are held at the Library of the Horniman Museum in London. The earliest ledgers from the Wayne Archives contain company sales records from the late 1830s to the 1860s (though with some large gaps) along with production records from the 1860s to the 1890s and some early records of wages and other payments. Later ledgers from the Dickinson Archives contain production records from 1910 to 1974, again with some gaps. All known ledgers have been digitized (some 2,300 pages in total) and made available free on this website for private research.

Search Wheatstone Concertina Ledgers powered by Microsoft
Posted 15 April 2003; Updated 15 June 2005
» go to website
pricelists-concertinas Concertina Pricelists
collected by Chris Algar
A unique collection of nearly 40 pricelists for vintage concertinas, mostly found in old concertina cases. From internal evidence it is possible to date the Wheatstone pricelists with more or less accuracy, but the Lachenal pricelists and others from dealers still have some uncertainty in dates.
Posted 07 March 2005
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