To protect the guilty I'm not going to name any names, Gentle Reader, and I'd like to state up front that currency is certainly not
my expertise. But I was reading a book recently of the
alt-historical romantic variety. The hero visits a whore in Victorian
London, 1883. For her pains he "pulled out far more notes than planned
and handed them to her."
I had to put the book down.
bank notes are drawn on a bank more like a cashier's check than paper
money today, which means the whore would have to go into a bank to
redeem her notes or find herself a very non-suspicious tradesman, in modern times this is a little like
trying to break a $1000 bill.
Second, NO ONE regularly carried
notes or paid for anything with notes until well after the 1920s.
Culturally, no one would carry that much money into the kind of area
of London where whore houses are located. People paid with coin, mostly the
wealthy actually paid via their butler or valet or abigail's coin, or on
account, because it was beneath them to actually handle money.
Even, as the author was trying to get across, this was a highly generous gesture, NOT WITH PAPER MONEY HE WOULDN'T.
writers all make mistakes. I have made more than my share. And there
comes a time when every historical author must stop researching and
begin writing (or the book never gets written). I do understand and believe that some modernization is necessary in alt-history genre fiction because most readers want their books to be fun and entertaining. It is our business, as authors to provide that. (Now for genre's like historical fiction or biographies or what have you this is a different matter. We are speaking in terms of managing expectations, rather like finding the correct cover art.)
However, I do think something as basic as currency should be
second knowledge if you are going to write in any alternate time period.
It's like getting the clothing correct. (In another unnamed steampunk
novel, a corset was referred to as a "bodice". FYI, both terms areont the whole, incorrect . At the time, a corset would have been mainly referred to as stays. The
"bodice" is the top part of a dress. Thus, I spent the entire scene
confused into thinking the character in question was swanning around
with her top half fully dressed, rather than entirely in her underthings
as was intended. But, I digress . . .)
On Victorian Money (from Baedecker's London 1896)
- sovereign or pound (gold) = 20 shillings
- half-sovereign (gold) = 10 shillings
- crown (silver) = 5 shillings
- half-crown (silver) = (2 shillings & a six penny piece)
- double florin (silver - rare) = 4 shillings
- florin (silver) = 2 shillings
- shilling (silver & same size as a sovereign) = 12 pennies
- six penny (silver) = 6 pennies
- three penny (silver) = 3 pennies
- penny (bronze) = 4 farthings
- half penny = 2 farthings
I know, I know, overly complicated. Think back to that wonderful scene with the money exchange in Room With a View
when Cousin Charlotte comes to visit Lucy's family.
"In England alone of the more important states of Europe the currency is arranged without reference to the decimal system."
~ Karl Baedeker, 1896
In 1896 1 sovereign was approximately: 5 American dollars, 25 francs, 20 German marks, or 10 Austrian florins.
Bank of England issued notes for 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 pounds or more.
They were generally not used in ordinary life most people "dealt in
coin." Gentlemen and ladies, when shopping, either had a servant with
them to handle the coin (including gratuities & all fares), or paid on credit (AKA
account). A shop would then send a bill around to the townhouse at the
end of the month on Black Monday, which would be paid by the house
steward, accountant, or personal secretary. A gentleman handling his own
money is either no gentleman or engaged in nefarious activities like
gambling or trade.
Baedeker advises letters of credit (AKA circular notes)
drawn on a major bank for travel, to be exchanged for local currency
upon arrival. He also advises never carrying a full days worth of
coinage about your person.
It's important, as historical writers, for us to grasp a larger picture - so allow me to attempt to put this into perspective...
Middle class wages per annum:
- A Bank of England Clerk £75 to £500
- Civil Service clerk £80 to £200
- Post Office clerk £90 to £260
- Senior Post Office clerk £350 to £500
lets say a middle class wage was anything from £75 to £500 a year,
that's £1.44 - £9.61 a week for a relatively comfortable lifestyle.
Since there is no £1 note, to "pull out far more notes than planned" as
our unnamed author writes above, and give such to a whore, means at
least £5 per note. More than one means at least £10. Not only should
this character not have been carrying that kind of money, he just tipped
that woman better than one week's salary for the upper middle class,
today that's something on the order of $2,500.
A gentleman of
lower standing, say a younger son with a Living could expect something
similar to upper middle class £350-500. Titled or large landed gentry
could pull in anything from £1000 to £10,000 a year. A dowry for landed
country gentry's daughter of few means would be about £100 a year.
Still, even the highest aristocrat wouldn't tip in notes, ever. If for
no other reason than it's the kind of thing the neuvo riche, or An
American might do. (It's worth noting that poor were a great deal poorer,
earning shillings per week or less.)
on, this same author writes "cost me twenty quid to delay matters" of
bribing a coroner to delay a funeral. That's a heavy bribe, about $5000.
I couldn't find any information on coroner's pay in Victorian times
(the job was either uncommon, not yet official, or went by another name)
so let's say grave digger, which is well below middle class, so a £20
bribe would probably be about a year's income for the
Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. Or should I say "out of my chest"? Chink chink.
So, if you have a Victorian setting (really, anything up through the 1920s) what do we pay with?
Yes, that's right children, coins
This is also a rather depressingly clear indication of how Gail Carriger spends her weekends. I am such a dork.
"I may be a chump, but it's my boast that I don't owe a penny to a single soul – not counting tradesmen, of course."
~ Carry On, Jeeves
by P.G. Wodehouse
doesn't help me with my current research issue which is trying to
determine the conversion rate between pounds and rupees traveling from
England to India in 1895. Blasted Baedecker didn't write for India
some very loose estimations based on the above assumptions of middle
class wages and the information I could source, which was monthly
accounts for a household of four living in India on a diplomat's wage
between 1880 and 1897 (something on the order of £500 per annum). Here's
my fun chart:
PROJECT ROUND UP
~ The Parasol Protectorate Abroad Book the First:
Release date Fall 2013. Writing rough draft. Crew has arrived in Bombay, I've paused draft for . . .
Deportment & Deceit
~ The Finishing School Book the Second:
Received next pass edits, second major revision under way.
Etiquette & Espionage
~ Finishing School Book the First: Release date Feb 5, 2013.
Working promo schemes to begin September.
~ Soulless Vol. 2: (AKA Changeless
) Reviewing chapter by chapter, each drops on YenPlus
by subscription. Print release tentatively
Mark interviews me for the Better Storytelling Blog
Quote of the Day:
income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result
happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound
ought and six, result misery."
~ Charles Dickens