The Beer Standard returns!

Those of you that know me also know that not all of my work is ‘simple’ in nature. I have been developing my fantasy city campaign, Codai) since the late seventies. There are maps, locations, scenarios, hundreds of NPC’s, organisations, peoples, legends etc.

One thing I have been reworking of late is the economy. Back in the mists of time there was a series in the early White Dwarfs called ‘The Beer Standard’ which posited that if you knew the price of a pint of ‘small beer’ you could work out the entire economy. By the way ‘small beer’ is a medieval drink that was very weak but through fermentation made the awful water drinkable. Everyone drank it from children to the elderly.

Anyway back to the economy. How do you know the price of a longsword if you have no idea of the materials, the effort and the other economic factors that led to its creation. Behold here are my thoughts on this…


Coin Equivalent to Weight
1 Golden Guinea 21 Silver Shillings 1 ounce
1 Golden Crown 10 Shillings 1/2 ounce
1 Silver Half-Crown 5 Silver Shillings 1/2 ounce
1 Silver Shilling 12 Brass Pennies 1/4 ounce
1 Silver Sixpence 6 Brass Pennies 1/8 ounce
1 Brass Penny 4 Copper Farthings 1/4 ounce
1 Brass Halfpenny 2 Copper Farthings 1/8 ounce
1 Copper Farthing   1/16 ounce

The province’s economy is based around a number of fixed prices that have stood unchanged for over five hundred years and have contributed to its stability.

  • A pint of small beer costs one farthing.
  • A half pound loaf costs one farthing.
  • A small fish costs one halfpenny.
  • A pound of flour, beans or rice costs one farthing.
  • A pound of simple fresh fruit & vegetables costs one halfpenny.
  • A half pound of bacon costs one penny.
  • Half a dozen eggs costs one halfpenny.
  • A pint of milk costs a farthing.
  • A pound of rock salt costs one shilling.
  • A two pound chicken costs sixpence.
  • A pound of gold is sold at 16 Guineas and will be bought for 12 Guineas.
  • A pound of silver is sold at 3 Guineas and will be bought for 2 Guineas.
  • A pound of iron is sold at sixpence and will be bought at three pennies.
  • A dormitory cot costs one penny per night.
  • A small and simple room costs two pennies per night.

So for a simple man to live reasonably well he needs two pints of small beer (2f), a half pound loaf (1f), a pound of rice or beans (1f), half a pound of simple fresh fruit and vegetables (2f), one quarter of a pound of bacon (2f), three eggs (1f) and a pint of milk (1f) per day. That’s ten farthings or two and half pennies.

Add to this that he will need a roof over his head, so if we put him in a dormitory cot then that is another penny.


A day’s labour is usually around twelve hours of work.

A day’s unskilled labour is priced at around sixpence. It is usually half this if room and board are included.

A day’s semi-skilled labour is priced at around a shilling. It is usually half this if room and board are included.

A day’s skilled labour varies according to the profession but is seldom less than a half-crown.

Apprentices are paid in training, room and board. They usually get a small reward for each major job their master completes and for some high days and holy days. They save as much of this as they can to pay for materials for their masterwork.

Child labour is not uncommon from seven years upwards. An able-bodied child could earn two or three pennies a day. Once into their teens they would earn the usual rate for semi-skilled or unskilled labour.

It is law that children cannot do paid work until they are seven years old.

Returning to our simple man. If he is an unpaid labourer then he will be laying out three and half pennies per day for room and board. Leaving two and half pennies to pay for other things such as:

  • Clothes
  • Shoes
  • Entertainment (drinking, gambling, the occasional whore etc.).
  • A tithe to his Church, which covers him for care if he is sick and basic alms if he is unable to work. Usually taken at three pennies a week.
  • Travel costs and tolls.
  • Any taxes the Lord Governor lays upon the common folk (rare, but can sting).
  • Covering any day they don’t have work.

Many people place their savings with their Guild or one of the three Gnomic Banks. As a result these institutions are very wealthy. The amount that these institutions can charge for this service is one penny for every shilling deposited. As a result most people bank their cash in whole shillings wheresoever they can. As a licenced banking house, which is what the Guilds who do this are required to be, they must retain at least half of all their depositor’s savings at any one time. No-one is quite sure how much the Gnomic Banks hold. The remainder they tend to invest or use to trade on the commodities market at the bean Exchange (see below). Fraud does happen but is rare as the sentence for being found guilty of it is to be literally thrown to your creditors, then your entire assets seized and divided amongst them. Assets include your spouse and children, who will be sold into slavery.

The Longsword

So let’s apply this economic standard to an ordinary quality longsword, bought without a scabbard. This requires skilled a craftsman and an apprentice to forge, grind, polish and to make the accoutrements.

It is made from new iron and weighs about four pounds. The base materials will cost will be two shillings for the iron and a further shilling for the accoutrements.

It takes two days to make so that is a crown for the craftsman and two further shillings in costs for the apprentice. Use of the forge, which is shared amongst half a dozen craftsman adds a further two shillings.

So the base cost to make is 15 shillings. No businessman is going to let you have a product at cost as he has to cover overheads, taxes and other costs, so double that.

You shiny new sword will cost 30 shillings. If you wanted to buy a dozen then you would almost certainly get a discount and get them for about fifteen guineas. Haggling is expected.

Note that it is usual for a customer wanting something made to pay half up front and the second half upon delivery. Many deals between merchants and craftsmen are done in kind, thus avoiding any taxes.

If our simple man could save a penny a day then this sword would take him almost a year to buy. He is more likely to put that penny away or send it to his family back in the village he came from, usually once a month through his church or a merchant. This is a relatively reliable way of moving money as it behoves the economy of the towns and cities to support it.

If our simple man were to marry, he and his wife would have to work hard to support even a small family. His wife’s dowry would probably be invested in buying or leasing a small house or set of rooms. If he had daughters he would have to save up as much as he could for their dowries. While his children lived under his roof they would all work (from age seven upwards) and contribute to the household income.

Schooling is provided by the Churches and costs roughly three pennies a week depending upon the Church(so many poor children never go). School begins at age seven and usually ends at twelve, by which time the child will have learnt to read, to do simple arithmetic and possibly some simple trade that requires no apprenticeship, as well as being inculcated into the Church’s beliefs. Examples of such trade training include sewing and cooking for girls, and simple gardening skills or the care of horses for boys. Graduates of this training are often able to get work as servants as a result, and the Church will try and find such work for them.

Further education for a poor child that shows promise may be provided by a scholarship from a wealthy sponsor of the Church, or if the child becomes a novitiate. The Church will then take over all their care. It is matter of some pride for a poor family to have one of their children in the service of their church.

If the family could save up enough money they could pay a Master craftsman to take their child on as an apprentice. The care for this child would then fall to the craftsman. The going rate is about thirty shillings. The reasoning behind this is that it will take a year’s training for the apprentice to begin to pay their own way through their work and the thirty shillings covers the cost of their keep. Competition for apprenticeships with the better known Masters can be fierce.

Commodities such as beans, rice, flour, bacon, wine, salt, bean oil, spices and vinegar are traded daily at the Bean Exchange. Agents of over thirty mercantile houses can be on the trading floor at any one time. Although the price to the man on the street of the basic quality commodities is regulated there is lively trade around the wholesale prices based upon availability and superior quality. This includes speculation on future supply. Some see the Exchange as the biggest gambling den in the province.

Weights and measures are also regulated, with a number of Reeves tasked with checking every merchant, shopkeeper and craftsman’s scales and rules on a regular basis. This is actively supported by all the licenced guilds and is seen as protection against unscrupulous outsiders. Using incorrect weights and measures is punishable with a fine and, more importantly, a loss of reputation and thus trade.


About Craig

For those who need to know these things: - I'll never see 50 again. - I'm tall enough to see well in crowds and fat enough to leave a wake. - I'm well married to a woman with twice my smarts, three delightful and challenging children (er-hem), and one cat overlord. - I am Welsh. - I have to work for a living, but do nothing that makes me perspire.
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