Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How to subscribe to the Minerva Library in 1807

Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Loretta reports:

Nerdy History people can learn a lot from the advertisements in early 19th century women's magazines.  Unfortunately, while the magazines are easy enough to find online, only a few contain the advertising pages.

This one came from one of those rare copies, the 1807 La Belle Assemblée.

Was this expensive?  For some, prohibitively so.  To give an idea of the subscription costs:

First, a little background.
Before decimalization—
£1 = 20 shillings
1 guinea = 21 shillings

 Using one system of valuation, £1 comes to about £70 in today's money  (or about $110).

Looking at value in terms of wages:  The highest paid servant in a household, according to The Complete Servant, was "A French Man-Cook." For this position, the authors recommend a salary of 80 guineas (£84) a year.  At the other end of the scale, one of the lowest paid in the household, a nursery maid, got 7 guineas/year.  And this was in 1825, when wages had risen quite a bit.


Anonymous said...

didn't it cost a fortune to hire a post chaise, too? this would be why servants could never afford to travel or escape! I can see why the U.S. decided on the establishment and benefit of public libraries - so not only the rich could read and/or self-educate. very interesting

Anonymous said...

Fascinating! I love that the cheapest rate allowed you to borrow two novels, but nothing else ;>). Susan E

Isobel Carr said...

The cost of buying books and magazines was also quite high. My little dog fancier's magazine from 1820 was 1s, and I've seen listings for books running from 3s.6d (The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, in boards) up to £4.6s (The Nature of Things, 2 vo embellished with engraved frontpieces, in boards), though most seem to be around the £1 mark.

Library Spy said...

Note you could read a play for tuppence a day. Did borrowers see that as good value? Old canon plays could be had for sixpence although contemporary texts more expensive but nothing like novels. William Lane, proprietor of Minerva considered theatrical amateurs an important sector of library users.

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