Calculate Modern Values of
Historic Concertina Prices
Randall C. Merris
and Robert Gaskins
“How Much Would That Be in New Money?”
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  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
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.
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 (EH.net) 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
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.
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
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.