Professor John Munro passed away on December 23, 2013. This site is maintained and kept online as an archive. For more infomation please visit the Centre for Medieval Studies

Professor John H. Munro
Department of Economics
University of Toronto
150 St. George Street
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G7

MEDIEVAL AND EARLY MODERN TEXTILE PRICES: Explanatory Notes on Using These Excel Files

Updated on Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The following tables, in Excel files, provide prices for medieval and early modern textiles: woollens, worsteds (or say), and cottons, for England and the Low Countries, for the period from ca. 1330 to ca. 1560, taken almost entirely from archival sources. The data are presented in both annual form and in quinquennial or five-year means (and sometimes in decennial or ten-year means).

The Flemish and Brabantine cloth prices are taken from the annual civic treasurers' accounts: for the purchases of cloths for the town government: from the burgemasters and schepenen (aldermen) down to lowly officials, including night watchmen. In the following accounts, for Part A, only those purchased for the upper echelons of the town governments have been listed. In Part C, for the individual towns of Flanders and Brabant, all textile purchases are recording, and grouped in columns for the recipients.

The English cloth prices are taken from :

(1) the college registrar accounts for Oxford and Cambridge and Winchester: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quality woollens for choristers and servants

(2) The English Customs Accounts in the Exchequer: The National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office, in London).

The Sources for the Textile Prices, in PDF format: Archival and Published Statistical Sources

The prices and values are expressed in four formats:

The Use of Harmonic Means in the textile-price tables:

In calculating quinquennial or decennial means, I have used the standard arithmetic mean for nominal prices and their related index numbers (with the common base: mean of 1451-75 = 100). But I have instead used the harmonic mean in order to measure the relative value of the various textiles in terms of: (1) the purchasing power of a mason's daily wage -- i.e., the number of days' wages for a master mason or journeymen to purchase one unit of cloth; and then (2) the number of 'baskets of consumables' (of Flanders, Brabant, England) whose aggregate market value equalled the price or value of each unit of textiles under consideration.

To quote one statistical authority on this issue: the harmonic mean is 'a calculated average computed by finding the reciprocal of the arithmetic mean of the reciprocals of the numbers to be averaged'; and 'in economic computation the harmonic mean is used in averaging such data as time rates and rate-per-dollar prices' or here, the rate per daily wage or the value of the consumer basket. The harmonic mean is always slightly less (by varying amounts) than the corresponding arithmetic mean; but it is the only method that provides consistently valid results.

The mathematical equation for the harmonic mean is: HM = 1/ [ &sum (1/r1 + 1/r2 + 1/r3 + ... 1/r n) ] / N, where r is the value and N is the number of years in the series averaged. In most of the Excel files that number is 5: for quinquennial means.

It can also be used in index numbers for, say, real wages: the purchasing power of the nominal, money wage = Nominal Money Wage Index divided by the Consumer Price Index. If five-year means of real wages were calculated for the base period of this index i.e., 1451-75 = 100, then the mean value as the average of the five 5-year periods in this base period would equal exactly 100.00 only if the harmonic mean is used. See Harold Sloan and Arnold Zurcher, A Dictionary of Economics, 3rd edn (New York, 1953), pp. 149-50; and also F.C. Mills, Introduction to Statistics (New York, 1956), pp. 108-12, 401.

For prices, wages in Flanders, Brabant, and England, and the Consumer Price Indexes for these three regions, go to this web site.

The nominal money-of-account prices are given for the 'piece' of woollen cloth (or others): as defined below. For definitions and explanations of the coinage systems and related moneys-of-account, go to this web site.

Compositions, Dimensions, and Weights of Late-Medieval and Early-Modern Woollens and Says:

- in England, the standard woollen broadcloth of assize was 24 yards long by 1.75 yds wide; but the yard in the 'cloth of assize' contained 37 rather than 36 inches. Thus the medieval English cloth yard = 0.9398 metre, rather than 0.9144 metre (as does the modern yard of 36 inches).

- in the Low Countries, the standard woollen broadcloth by the fifteenth century was 30 ells (21.0 metres) in length and 2 ells (1.4 metres) wide, though they had been longer, up to 35 ells, in the 13th and 14th centuries. More detailed evidence on the compositions, dimensions, and weights of the textiles in the medieval and early-modern Low Countries and England, are contained in the following two Excel files:

My publications in the history of late-medieval and early modern textiles, may be found via the following links:

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