Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Historical/Modern cost of swords Reply to topic
This is a Spotlight Topic Go to page 1, 2  Next 
Author Message
Lucas LaVoy




Location: New Orleans, LA
Joined: 08 Mar 2008

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 33

PostPosted: Mon 10 Mar, 2008 10:06 am    Post subject: Historical/Modern cost of swords         Reply with quote

Hey all,

This is my first post; I've been a longtime lurker here as I'm one of these people who shares a fascination for swords but hasn't been able to overcome that first cost barrier and purchase a replica or antique of good quality. Still...talk is free, so I hope nobody minds if I throw out a new topic.

My question actually has to do with the same cost-barrier I mentioned. Specifically, I wonder whether the cost of a well constructed, functional blade has gone up, down, or remained relatively constant over the centuries. One would think that everybody in the middle ages would have preferred to possess an elegantly balanced and ferociously sharp sword, but historical accounts seem to restrict ownership of fine weapons to the professional soldier and the upper classes (at least for some periods); I couldn't say whether this is due to political factors or economic ones, or both.

By comparison, I checked a random group of 5 Albion models (across their 3 production lines), and their average cost seems to be around $1,100 USD. The median household income in the US is $48,000 (OECD 2006), meaning that an excellent sword today costs about 2.3% of the median household income. So, expensive, yes, but not so much so as to restrict ownership to "professionals" or the very rich. I don't know what the comparable numbers are for various historical periods, but I'd imagine they show a lot of variance. It's probably a fair guess that factors like mechanization of production, homogeneous high-quality steels, etc. have brought down the cost; still a lot of professional knowledge about creating them has presumably been lost, and there are almost certainly fewer full-time sword smiths today than in the past. So, maybe a great weapon is in fact more accesible to the average person today than it was 1,000 years ago. Thoughts?
View user's profile Send private message
Brian Johnson




Location: Firth, Idaho
Joined: 02 Feb 2008

Posts: 9

PostPosted: Mon 10 Mar, 2008 11:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just my 2 cents, but.......
I think that the cost of ownership for a quality sword has definitely come way down in modern times. Just from a swordmakers standpoint, the invention of very powerful and efficient modern belt grinders and buffers would make a tremendous difference. It takes me generally around 15-18 hours of labor to construct a very basic one hander with no scabbard. Addition of anything fancy or decorative significantly increases production time. There is limited information available as to the exact construction of medieval sword grinding machines, but the drawings I have seen seem to indicate that they were pretty slow. Combine this with the tedious task of hand polishing the blade, and I could see the total production time possibly increasing 8-10 times.

Also, steel is no longer a precious commodity. In most modern swords, the majority of the cost is in the labor required to make it. The total cost of raw materials and supplies for a basic sword is usually less than $70. In medieval times it may have required just as much labor to manufacture the raw billet of steel as it did to turn it into a sword. Another thing to consider is that swords were not made start to finish by one craftsman. The guy who made the blade usually wouldn't make the hilt. Since each party involved in the process had to turn a profit, the end price would probably reflect that.

Im not sure who said this, but I heard that purchasing a medieval sword was roughly equivalent to purchasing a nice car in modern times. The people who really needed them for their livelyhood could probably afford one, but it would be a significant investment. How many of us modern humans can cough up an extra 10-20K for something we don't necessarily need?

Again, this is just my 2 cents. Hopefully someone with more knowledge of medieval craftsmanship will fill in the holes here.

Unfortunately, those who continue to live by the sword will inevitably get shot by those who dont.
View user's profile Send private message
Sean Smith





Joined: 31 Mar 2004

Posts: 93

PostPosted: Mon 10 Mar, 2008 11:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As Brian said, the actual cost is far different than the "perceived" cost. If a sword and armour was needed to keep you alive, you would care far less about the relative cost, vs "disposable" income. We look at buying swords after paying the car payment, mortgage on our house, and other essentials. They would have seen it as one of those essentials, making the amount they were willing to pay far different than what we would.

Part of the cost increase may be due to some regulation on arms and armour during the time. Kind of like the medieval FDA. They weren't selling $50 wallhangers back then.
View user's profile Send private message
Colin F.




Location: Bradford, UK
Joined: 30 Oct 2005
Reading list: 10 books

Posts: 134

PostPosted: Mon 10 Mar, 2008 2:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I was in a lecture that was given by Matt Easton at this years SWASH. It was about swords in England during the medieval period, who used them, how much they cost etc. Most of his findings were from coroners reports which had to stipulate how much the property of each piece of arms and armour was worth.

So, it is his findings I will tell you here, so I'm not taking any credit for this.

He found that swords could cost as little as 2p and as much as £2000 (can't remember which king, but one bought 6 swords worth £2000 each... castle building money!). One coroner reported that an aketon, sword and buckler was worth 3 shillings and 6p. To put that into context, the average archer earned about 6p a week. So swords could cost anything and probably the level of quality fluctuated accordingly.

hope this helps!

Colin

Melchett - "In short, a German spy is giving away every one of our battle plans."
Cpt. Darling - "You look surprised, Blackadder."
Edmund - "I cerainly am, sir. I didn't realise we had any battle plans."
View user's profile Send private message
Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

Posts: 656

PostPosted: Tue 11 Mar, 2008 8:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Colin

You reported that according to Matt Easton,"... swords could cost as little as 2p and as much as £2000 (can't remember which king, but one bought 6 swords worth £2000 each... castle building money!). One coroner reported that an aketon, sword and buckler was worth 3 shillings and 6p. To put that into context, the average archer earned about 6p a week. So swords could cost anything and probably the level of quality fluctuated accordingly."

As you said, these are his findings and not yours but I can't help but feel that there is some context we're not getting here.
You can buy a junker car for parts for $100.00 and the promise to remove it or you can pay astronomical sums for luxury cars and collectors cars but that doesn't really tell us what cars cost, in a sense those things aren't really cars anymore. I used the word context and I think that is the crux of the issue. The reporter's questions, you know? Who, what, where, why? A knight's sword and armor were expensive, we know that because they would often have to ransom back their weapons after jousting, like drag racing for title cards. Going back to earlier times a pattern welded blade must have been costly because of the labor and skill that were required to make it. Conversely the gleanings of corpse robbers after a battle might come pretty cheaply!

Elsewhere someone is asking about the respect and status of a smith, I don't know what it may have been in medieval times or earlier but in historic times a blacksmith's apprenticeship was ten years, that's longer than we require today for a medical doctor! Clearly a smith's time and labor must have been valuable. How much time, how much labor? Then we come to materials. How much did charcoal cost, how much was needed? How much did iron cost? How much iron was needed to make steel? According to myth Sigurd's sword was made of steel that had been filed down and fed to chickens and re-amamalgamateded repeatedly to purify it to the point that it was able to slice through an anvil! Add the cost of the chickens! Just kidding! How much money did it cost a smith to set up a smithy? Angus Trim is having a "sale" to pay for new machinery, that tells us something right there.

We could figure this out if we wanted to be specific about context and do some digging, I think.



Ken Speed
View user's profile Send private message
Sean Smith





Joined: 31 Mar 2004

Posts: 93

PostPosted: Tue 11 Mar, 2008 9:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Colin do you have any dates that you could put towards the different reports? Or a paper/report by Matt Easton? Curious about the relationship (if any) between levels of increased military times, and non-buildup times. Aka. if lots of swords left on Crusade (figure 1100-1180's) the supply in Western Europe would dry up (to a degree), and would take time to even out the supply and demand.
View user's profile Send private message
Colin F.




Location: Bradford, UK
Joined: 30 Oct 2005
Reading list: 10 books

Posts: 134

PostPosted: Tue 11 Mar, 2008 1:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Smith wrote:
Colin do you have any dates that you could put towards the different reports? Or a paper/report by Matt Easton? Curious about the relationship (if any) between levels of increased military times, and non-buildup times. Aka. if lots of swords left on Crusade (figure 1100-1180's) the supply in Western Europe would dry up (to a degree), and would take time to even out the supply and demand.


Argh, for the want for better notes (I typed some on a text message draft on my phone... yes I know, I need to be more prepared).

This was during the high medieval period (not defined by specific dates) and this was in England only, not Scotland or Wales and based almost purely on coroners reports. I'll see if I can get some more notes off him or ask him to come onto the board and tell us his findings.

sorry I can't provide more info and context.

Colin

Melchett - "In short, a German spy is giving away every one of our battle plans."
Cpt. Darling - "You look surprised, Blackadder."
Edmund - "I cerainly am, sir. I didn't realise we had any battle plans."
View user's profile Send private message
Sean Smith





Joined: 31 Mar 2004

Posts: 93

PostPosted: Tue 11 Mar, 2008 2:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Even that helps to define a fair bit more. I appreciate you asking him, and hope for more info.
View user's profile Send private message
James R.Fox




Location: Youngstowm,Ohio
Joined: 29 Feb 2008

Posts: 253

PostPosted: Tue 11 Mar, 2008 2:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sirs-The sources I have seen say the a knights fee was expected to support him,( I"ll try and get more specifics) and in England a fee was supposed to be 40 poinds (of silver) per anumn remember, in those days, everything but a oenny was basically a unit of account ( The exception was gold, where the gold coins were named, and everybody lucky enough to have one knew what a gold Angel or gold Florin was worth.) Pennies were struck from a pound of silver, 240 pennies to a pound.Pennies were cut into halves and quarters to make change, and most had a cross mark to guide the knife. If I remember right, the usual gold -silver rate of exchange was 9:1. Since a knight had to buy his own war horse (they were never ridden otherwise), riding horse,armour, sword and lance, and his squire's equipment, this is a streach, alough a penny went quite far. In King Joh's times a knight was paid 3p a day,I think,
Ja68ms
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Shawn Duncanson




Location: Spokane Wa
Joined: 05 Dec 2003

Posts: 49

PostPosted: Tue 11 Mar, 2008 6:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

about coroners reports...nothing historcal to add but;

Wouldn't the gear that moved through his office be a bit "used"
Some of the 2p gear could have been badly damaged or rusted as it sat in its owners viscera for a while on the battle feild. Also people would probobly not pay full price for a sword that came off a dead guy. So I agree that the coroner report is useful, but the cheapest stuff is now "well used cheap stuff off a dead guy" bargain bin material. I also realize that our older relatives would not be squeemish but some might be superstitious about the well used material.

Not all who wander are lost.
View user's profile Send private message
Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

Posts: 1,831

PostPosted: Tue 11 Mar, 2008 6:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm copying this from another thread I replied to some time ago. Hopefully the links are still good.

Here is an example of the types of things I stumble on when looking for other things. The following links are massive in the content they contain and leads they offer. This text was from a post I made elsewhere a couple of years ago. Edited for brevity.
Quote:
Quote:

13 Dec. 1382
Nicholas Darel, hostiller, was summoned to answer Tidemann Wauschede for a debt of £22 10s, the balance due on the purchase of two hogsheads of steel in 1377, the price being £28 10s, of which the defendant had paid, £6 on account at the time of sale.

The defendant pleaded that the only debt he owed was one of £22 10s due on a bond, and he was willing to make his law that he owed no other debt (Footnote 9) , and as the plaintiff had not produced any bond for the £22 10s, he prayed judgment as to whether any action lay against him. The plaintiff then acknowledged that there was no other debt than the, £22 10s, but as the bond was lost he could not produce it. If the defendant would pay this debt, he would give him a general acquittance or enter into any security the court might require that he would not sue the defendant on the bond, if he found it. He prayed that the defendant answer further. The latter said he did not wish to make any further answer.

Accordingly, in default of an answer, it was considered that the said Tidemann recover the said £22 10s, that the defendant be committed to prison and that the plaintiff give him an acquittance on his leaving prison or paying the debt. Afterwards on 13 May 1384 the plaintiff came into court and asked that the defendant be released from prison since they had come to an agreement.


Now, when did they start using pipe and butt?

Pipe/Butt = 2 hogsheads; 1/2 tun; 4 barrels; 126 U.S. gallons Puncheon = if wine: 84 U.S. gal if beer/ale: 72 U.S. gallons
Tun = 2 pipes; 4 hogsheads; 8 barrels ( if wine)252 U.S. gallons

Why is 14th century Britain using volume to measure steel? Things that make you go… hmmmm



What is missing there is a better description of the steel and in what form it was being sold. A good solid look at guilds and actual paid wages are always good guages of economy. England (just to use a constant example) made great strides in unifying internal commerce (mostly through taxes) from the time of the Norman conquest to the 14th century, when structure was well in place. You can find a lot of solid data within these links. From simple keyword searches to more extensive perusal of the individual records, there is a lot there.



http://www.british-history.ac.uk/
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.html

The first link is really terrific because you can bookshelf articles. I had not been there in awhile and was reminded upon returning just how scattered my collective thought is.

Edit
Here is a search result of the third link that I have seen before
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/medievalprices.html

I'm not recalling where I got the 12 shilling for a sword thought, nor a time frame. It may well have been a sum that reflected something else. The author of that list is kind of vauge about his references as well.

Cheers

GC

~~~~~~~~

A note added here that the British History online site has been updated and is a bit more user friendly. I need to spend some more time over there.
View user's profile Send private message
Max Maydanik




Location: Sunnyvale, CA
Joined: 29 Apr 2007

Posts: 24

PostPosted: Tue 11 Mar, 2008 7:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Couple of points:
Battle sword is a disposable tool of war. Well disposable may be too strong of a word, but when you try to cut with a relatively thin strip of metal through other metal objects, wooden shields and bones, eventually the sword is going to break. Most of the swords that we have in the museums never have been drawn in the battlefield and served as ceremonial weapon. Would you invest your lifesavings into something that is going to need a replacement after a year or two? and if you do, where are you going to get money to buy a new sword when you need a replacement?

As we looking at the relative cost of the swords, we must realize that 21 century average household is a lot richer than average 14 century family. Middle class was almost non existent before 18 century. So the fact that more people can buy a sword these days does not necessarily mean that swords have gotten cheaper, just average populous has more money.

- What do you prefer: a reconstruction of historical fencing or a real swordfight?
- Historical reconstruction of course. In the real swordfight, they just look at each other, mumble something and then ..a deathblow.
And in a historical reconstruction you have to think, plan your strategy and count points.
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Steven H




Location: Boston
Joined: 10 May 2006

Posts: 545

PostPosted: Tue 11 Mar, 2008 7:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello,

Here is a link to Matt's discussion of the same on the Schola forum.

In short:
Archer pay = 3-6d a day
Most swords = 10-24d

Jeffrey Hull, in an article on the quality of swords, estimates the average price of a sword as 41d (2s 5d) and the average price of full harness as 276d (1L 3d).

Peter Reid in Medieval Warfare cites the pay scale in the Hundred Years War period as:
Foot soldier (billmen): 2d
Foot archer: 3d
Mounted archer: 6d
Man-at-arms: 12d (1s)
Knight: 24d (2s)
Banneret: 48d (4s)

Putting in their minimum of 40 days service and not counting the customary bonus pay or pillage even the lowliest soldier soldier could buy a new sword each campaign with money to spare even at the price Jeffrey Hull cites.

Professional carpenters also made 6d a day in this era, so we can think of most soldiers in the English army as being roughly equivalent to a modern middle class professional independent contractor. Buying a new sword accounted for at most a weeks wages. Replacing all of your kit maybe all 40 days pay (at worst) leaving bonus, loot and 300 work days left that year.

The gear simply didn't represent an unreasonable investment for professional soldiers.

Cheers,
-Steven

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
James R.Fox




Location: Youngstowm,Ohio
Joined: 29 Feb 2008

Posts: 253

PostPosted: Tue 11 Mar, 2008 7:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Max-very true about the average family being wealthuer today than in the 14th cenr. This was my point, a sword was a major investment that a knight was supposed to repair/replace, and his horses and armour were the same. Although I do believe nobles and king sometimes felt responsibility for horses and equipment lost in battle .Phippip VI replaced as much as he could for his poorer knights, although that had the practical application of keeping an army in the field . This is according to Prof Sumptions' history of the Hundred yeats war, vol I. Also, by law, a knight could require his tennants to help pay his ransom, and to help with the knighting of his oldest son, purchasing horses, armour and weapons, plus the ceremony.
Ja68ms
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Daniel Staberg




Location: Gothenburg/Sweden
Joined: 30 Apr 2005
Likes: 2 pages
Reading list: 2 books

Posts: 562

PostPosted: Wed 12 Mar, 2008 1:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Storey's thesis Technology and Military Policy in Medieval England, c.1250-1350 http://medievalhistory.mysite.wanadoo-members.co.uk/thesis.html contains extensive information about the price of arms&armour in the 1250-1350 period.
View user's profile Send private message
Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

Posts: 1,831

PostPosted: Wed 12 Mar, 2008 5:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Daniel,

Randalll appears to have done quite a nice effort. That one makes it to my bookmarks this time, IIRC, it has been referenced previously and I somehow glossed over it and had forgotten it.

Cheers

GC
View user's profile Send private message
Blaz Berlec




Location: Podgorje, Kamnik, Slovenia, Europe
Joined: 26 Aug 2003
Reading list: 1 book

Spotlight topics: 4
Posts: 386

PostPosted: Wed 12 Mar, 2008 10:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Repost from two years ago, I think the numbers are very informative. These are prices from Slovenian coastal areas, which were closely tied to Venetian republic (and their archives luckily survived).


About the sword prices - I thing the debate requires a topic of its own. But I'm too lazy right now to start it. Here is a short list of values of several middle age items I copied from Tomaz Nabergoj's book (in Slovenian, so this is a rough translation):

Prices around 1330:

horse 1 - 12000 denarios = 15,62 swords
horse 2 - 8640 denarios = 11,25 swords
ox 1 - 4800 denarios = 6,25 swords
chalice - 3840 denarios = 5 swords
barrel 1 - 3630 denarios = 4,73 swords
barrel 2 - 3168 denarios = 4,12 swords
ox 2 - 2880 denarios = 3,75 swords
ox 3 - 2520 denarios = 3,28 swords
long overcoat - 2400 denarios = 3,12 swords
ceremonial overcoat - 1920 denarios = 2,5 swords
tunic - 1920 denarios = 2,5 swords
bed - 1920 denarios = 2,5 swords
sword - 768 denarios
plate bevor - 768 denarios = 1 sword
hair jewelry - 640 denarios = 0,83 swords
crossbow - 576 denarios = 0,75 swords
piece of cloth »barhant« - 448 denarios = 0,58 swords
studded club - 132 denarios = 0,17 swords
spear ronchonus - 64 denarios = 0,08 swords



After this list a sword (standard military one, not embellished) was not very expensive equipment. A mason that built in 8 months a wall and a roof of a house in Piran (Slovenia) in 1338 (no material included) received payment in value of 15 swords. Barrel maker that in 1330 made an ash barrel in 15 days could buy 2.5 swords for his payment.

Compare this to a penalty for threatening a citizen in Izola in 1360 with weapon - 6000 denarios. Almost ten swords! Ouch. And they took the weapon too...


Extant 15th Century German Gothic Armour
Extant 15th century Milanese armour
Arming doublet of the 15th century
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Robin Palmer




Location: herne bay Kent UK
Joined: 21 Dec 2007

Posts: 138

PostPosted: Wed 12 Mar, 2008 11:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi all

Off the top of my head I read somewhere that a Saxon pattern wielded sword cost I believe either a cow or three slaves which is pretty expensive.
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Colin F.




Location: Bradford, UK
Joined: 30 Oct 2005
Reading list: 10 books

Posts: 134

PostPosted: Wed 12 Mar, 2008 12:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steven H wrote:
snip


Thanks Steven, I was just about to post that!

Melchett - "In short, a German spy is giving away every one of our battle plans."
Cpt. Darling - "You look surprised, Blackadder."
Edmund - "I cerainly am, sir. I didn't realise we had any battle plans."
View user's profile Send private message
Sean Flynt
myArmoury Team


myArmoury Team

Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Joined: 21 Aug 2003
Likes: 10 pages
Reading list: 13 books

Spotlight topics: 7
Posts: 5,900

PostPosted: Wed 12 Mar, 2008 12:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This document of 1622 is the best I know of because it not only lists the prices of arms and armour, but also lists the prices of many everyday goods--clothing, tools, etc., and is written with a specific audience and destination in mind. That gives us an excellent idea of the relative value in a specific time and place:

http://www.learner.org/channel/workshops/prim...plies.html

Here's a very brief summary from my article on the Virginia Muster:

Samuel Purchase's 1622 list of the goods colonists should bring with them recommends one sword at a cost of 5 shillings—the same price as the two iron skillets he recommended, half the price of one heavy wool suit and just under one-third the price of one "compleat, light" armour. By contrast, a musket was very expensive at 1£, 2s.

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Historical/Modern cost of swords
Page 1 of 2 Reply to topic
Go to page 1, 2  Next All times are GMT - 8 Hours

View previous topic :: View next topic
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum






All contents © Copyright 2003-2018 myArmoury.com — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Basic Low-bandwidth Version of the forum