Which was more expensive?

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Annie the Pedlar
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Which was more expensive?

Postby Annie the Pedlar » Mon May 21, 2007 8:29 am

Can you help us out with this argument?
Imagine a bowl.
Imagine it in turned wood.
Imagine another in pottery.
Imagine another in pewter.
You live in the C15th, C16th or C17th.
You go to market to buy one.
How would the costs compare?

We've argued around the subject. The only avenue we haven't explored are household account books, inventories, lists of imports - that sort of thing.....



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Postby Type16 » Mon May 21, 2007 9:17 am

Just my thoughts...............

Wooden bowl.........turned in the green............cheapest

Pottery...........a middle priced 'consumable' as it will have a short life span

Pewter...........more durable, status, & initial cost.


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Postby Wim-Jaap » Mon May 21, 2007 9:26 am

wood: available almost everywere
pottery (clay): not everywere available, so extra cost (easy to get, just dig out)
pewter: not everywere available and harder to get, so more extra cost

conclusion:

wood cheapest
pottery middle
pewter most expensive

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Postby Annie the Pedlar » Mon May 21, 2007 9:46 am

I think we all agreed pewter was the most expensive but we couldn't agree who exactly would have it. Gentry yes, but merchants? Master crafsmen?
Someone said "There wasn't much wood" (my jaw dropped). Then it was need for other things - like building with and making fires.
But I'm thinking you use different trees for different things. and differntly managed trees for different things and trees at different stages of growth for different things. I'm sure there must have been plenty of wood around to keep everyone happy. And there weren't too many everyones (I refer you to the one and only Gengis Kahn in the news for single handedly causing a C21st population explosion.).
Annys pointed out that wills often listed metal items individually but not the wood and pottery. The wooden stuff could be lumped together as treen.



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Postby Kate Tiler » Mon May 21, 2007 11:21 am

I think Pewter most expensive, middle class & above, yeoman farmers etc but perhaps not very much, & passed on rather than used much, or only used on high days & holidays.

I think wood was more expensive than pottery...

Not sure why, just my instinct at having left Jack alone in my workshop with a bag of clay for an hour while I nipped to the shops, came back to find he'd thrown 120 bowls and only stopped because he'd run out of space to balance them...

Whereas even Robin Wood turning sets of green nested bowls (one carved inside another, inside another) from a block of wood, takes about half a day to rough them out, then another day to finish them.

You'd get perhaps as much wastage from each, cracking, splitting etc from wood, firing damage & wasters from pots, but you'd start with a lot lot more pots from one trained potter in a day. Even allowing a week to fire them, if you had more than one kiln you could keep up with a production potter quite easily. (more wood needed for fuel but different wood to the wood turner!)

I also think you need more pottery in a house than wood, for baking, cooking in, mixing etc rather than just eating off. Demand keeps the price down, as do breakages.

I like to think of Grandad's wooden bowl, carefully washed & oiled, being treated differently to the standard cheaper 'youth' pottery in the house, which was used by everyone with no particular ownership.

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Postby Annie the Pedlar » Mon May 21, 2007 11:27 am

The time it takes to make each kind of bowl is a powerful argument.
I was going for wood being cheaper than pottery. You are changing my mind....
We're still guessing. We need those prices.........



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Postby m300572 » Mon May 21, 2007 1:01 pm

You need to be a bit careful with this argument - was the clay preprepared? Was the wheel electric powered or a kick wheel? How long does it take to build and fire a medieval pottery kiln and what is the fuel load (there is a group who try this every year in the SW somewhere). What percentage of wasters do you get from a kiln load? Would a wood turner be using bits of tree that couldnt be used for anything else. Was the treen manufacture one of a numbe r of items that were made to employ a wood turner? Did the turner have the selling rights on all the bits of tree he didn't use for bowls (brushwood, bark etc).

We have an impression from archaeology that there was loads of pottery and little wood or metalwork - partly because pottery is short lived (drop your wooden plates and you will be unlucky if they break) and sherds are relatively indestructible while metal was recycled and useless wooden items either ended up on the fire or rotted away.

I think metal was definately the more expensive - pottery or wood probably depended on the item. There must be some figures out there.


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Postby Annie the Pedlar » Mon May 21, 2007 1:13 pm

I have one household account book (as it cost £100 I could only afford one). I can tell Sally how much to charge for knitting stockings in 1645 but I haven't found and wood or pottery items yet. The index is pants for objects, ace for people's names.



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Postby gregory23b » Mon May 21, 2007 1:57 pm

Pewter? what kind, the cheap loadsa lead soft stuff, or the <better> less lead stuff? different types.

Maybe compare the cheapest of each type with each, ie rough turned with quick thrown with trifle pewter.

Annie, a lot of later inventories, say probate or evaluation often exclude items below a certain value.

The pastons have a few lists, remind me to dig one one up when I get home tonight, it is a list of lists under a person of the household and there are things from hose to earthen ware to plate, might give a good idea.

I will also look at some other probate lists in due course.
Last edited by gregory23b on Tue May 22, 2007 9:57 am, edited 1 time in total.


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Postby Tuppence » Mon May 21, 2007 3:12 pm

Was the wheel electric powered


I'd suspect probably not in the 15th 16th 17th C's........ :twisted:

also don't forget silver for the uber wealthy.

I'd say good pewter for anybody who could afford it - then pottery - then wood.

but then again, history always has some surprises, so the only way to know for sure is to check the accounts books and wills etc.


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Costs

Postby Dathi » Mon May 21, 2007 3:41 pm

The cheapest part of the process is labour. Time and man power is cheap, materials cost a fortune. From late 16th Century sources I have a costing for cassocks issued to imprssed men in Lancashire. Each cassock was valued at 56s each. To make the cassock cost 12d.



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Postby m300572 » Mon May 21, 2007 3:54 pm

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Quote:
Was the wheel electric powered


I'd suspect probably not in the 15th 16th 17th C's........



Teee hee - but they didn't have wheels in them days anyway!!! :lol:

I was thinking more of modern production speeds - Jack's 120 bowls may have been fewer had they been on a kick wheel (unless they were, in which speed of production is damned impressive)


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Postby Neibelungen » Mon May 21, 2007 4:20 pm

Part of the answer would be the cost in time and material to arrive at the finished items, as well as the availability of raw materials.

Wood turning requires only a metal chisel, as pole lathes are easily fabricated. The timber can be sourced practically anywhere and easily shipped locally. The turning and sanding is pretty much only a case of time, labour and a little skill. Practically anywhere with a supply of timber would serve as a centre of production.

Clays and kilns are less common, especially the right quality and kinds and glazes etc require more specific raw materials.

While throwing a pot would be far quicker than turning, the amount of time involved in getting the clay, preparing it and the amount of wood and time involved in the firing process would be far greater than for a wood bowl. Let alone stacking and building your kiln. Pottery was a small scale industrial exercise and much of it is 'black art' as well as knowledge, hence the growth towards centres of pottery making in certain locales.

Pewter and tin/lead are even more time consuming as the whole smelting, refining and shipping process has to be gone through. Unlike clay or wood you don't dig up the raw material, and mostly cornwall and derbyshire were the main sources of tin and lead . Again it's weight and the whole processing industry requires an industrial scale much greater than wood or pottery, and the amount of charcoal required in refining.

The final aspect would be durability. Wood especially would be the least durable and most prone to deteriorate with time, making it far more discardable.
Pottery, while fragile, would last much better and even chips or cracks wouldn't always mean it's usefullness ended. Plus it's imperviousness to heat and liquids makes it much more enduring.

Pewter and lead would pretty much survive anything and even cracking is repairable with solder. Plus your base fabric is reuseable, so would always remain, even if turned into buttons.

I'd say that simple treen would a disposable item. Cheap pottery and fine wood turning would be much on the same level, with fine pottery much higher and pewter way up at the top.



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Postby Dathi » Mon May 21, 2007 4:21 pm

Just having a quick look in Northern wills and Inventories from the 16th Century on Google Books and it's interesting to see what is listed, Bedclothes, clothes, livestock. I've seen silver, brass, pewter, gilt and iron, but no wood, glass or pottery...yet...!



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Postby Neibelungen » Mon May 21, 2007 4:26 pm

Dathi is partly correct, labour is the cheapest individual element.

Raw materials are the most expensive, but that's often because of the sheer amount of labour required in turning them into a finished raw materials, and the time and cost of shipping something not available in the immediate vicinity.



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Postby Eric the well read » Sun May 27, 2007 11:51 am

Hi All,
I have some inventories dated between 1539 & 1747. All from S.yorks
The value list seems to be
silver
brass,
pewter
copper
pottery (the only mention being 'certain delph plates' in 1746{delph in this case meaning earthenware})
wood (one listed as 'Goods too tedious to mention')!
I have not included iron as these generally would have been larger items and would distort the valuation.
Hope this helps
Regards
Eric
P.S one guy in 1706 had '11 stone pewter at 9s &4d per stone'!



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Postby PotBoy » Wed Jun 20, 2007 6:00 pm

Horn was still in use too for cups.


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Postby gary.mccann@homecall.co.u » Wed Jun 20, 2007 10:39 pm

Then you have to think abut what types of wood would be used and where.
I believe the most preferred wood for bowls was sycamore because it left no taste, followed by elm?
If you live on heathland, fens etc, some of these trees might be less common locally and therefore more expensive compared to clays and pots?

Just a thought.



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Things in probate inventories

Postby Dathi » Thu Jun 21, 2007 3:44 pm

Silver spoons. Having trawled thro a few probate inventories from the 1540's onwards it seems that silver spoons were an important sign of wealth. Every inventory with more that livestock and arable crop stuff seems to have at least one silver spoon mentioned.



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Postby Ben Rodgers » Wed Jul 04, 2007 11:51 pm

In the C15th in England it was illegal for potters to make plates hence why the only ones that are around in that time tend to be dutch imports so really the coice was between pewter and wood depending on your status i would assume


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Postby lidimy » Thu Jul 05, 2007 10:30 am

How come it was illegal? Bit strange!


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Postby Ben Rodgers » Thu Jul 05, 2007 11:01 am

It was put inplace to stop guilds such as carpenters and pewter/blacksmith (unsure what they came under as) from losing trade if that makes sense these guilds also had a fair bit of influence and so were able to attempt to put legislation against. Or so I was led to believe.


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Postby m300572 » Fri Jul 06, 2007 12:32 pm

How come it was illegal? Bit strange!


It wasn't just pottery plate production that was the subject of protectionist legislation - there were all sorts of trade monopolies (and individuals buying the trade rights for certain products) which would have distorted trade in favour of local production (had they been observed). At various times there were efforts to increase local production of cloth (as opposed to exporting wool and bringing in finished cloth from the Low Countries) there were sumptuary laws which were to control the types of clothing that different classes were allowed to wear and the monopolies would have had an impact on imports of foreigh goods 9things like alum were often the subject of monopoly.

There was probably a lot of smuggling to get round some of these (in the same way that Continental goods were smuggled in the 18th C) and the sumptuary laws were probably largely ignored otherwise there wouldn't have been repeats of the legislation.


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Postby Laffin Jon Terris » Mon Jul 09, 2007 8:15 pm

I have heard the tale of potters vs turners before, the potters side-stepped the ruling by producing "decorative" plates.

I'm told a similar thing happened to hemp fabrics, lots of people had invested in cotton production and had to lobby/bribe people in government to give their cotton business a chance- ousting hemp completely in the end- anyone else hear of this?


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Postby Ian Macintyre » Fri Jul 13, 2007 12:17 pm

Just a little thought from an economic historian.

Whilst everybody has discussed supply of goods, regarding time to produce etc. price, as any o - grade level enonomics student can tell you is based on supply AND demand.

How easy a plate is to make is only part of it. How good is it as a plate and will my neighbours think I'm cool if I have it, those are also good questions.

But without pricing evidence frankly who knows.


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Postby Annie C » Fri Jul 13, 2007 12:41 pm

Ben Rodgers wrote:In the C15th in England it was illegal for potters to make plates hence why the only ones that are around in that time tend to be dutch imports so really the coice was between pewter and wood depending on your status i would assume


Am interested to know more can you point me in the direction of primary source refs to delve into?

thanks :D



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Postby Ben Rodgers » Fri Jul 13, 2007 3:16 pm

Annie I dont know the primary source but Jim the Pot from Trinity Potters would as this is where I got the information when I worked for him. He normally at one of the re enactors markets


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prices etc

Postby robin wood » Mon Sep 17, 2007 9:08 pm

here is a little research I presented in a paper to the medieval pottery research group. Pots are very important archaeologically because they always survive but this can skew our view of how numerous they were at the time. Medieval account books give a good measure of vessel usage as they record every penny spent. the Howard household books record purchases between 1460 and 1485 of over 3000 wooden vessels, 216 pewter, 46 leather, 1 glass and 18 pots. The eminent medieval historian Proffesor Chris Dyer who has studied most of the existing medieval accounts estimates that the average household purchased 3 pots a year compared to 100 wooden vessels. Those 3 pots however over a 500 year period each broken into 20 pieces yield 30,000 sherds all of which survive whereas the wood is burnt or rots. Of those sherds less than 1% are bowls, most are cooking pots and jugs.

Perhaps that is why Turner is the 24th most common surname and potter is 254th. Of course pots are cheap today due to cheap fuel prices, in the medieval accounts both pots and wooden bowls were 1/2d, today my bowls are twice the price of Jim the pot’s or John Hudson’s but then they are similar to the prices of potters who fire their kilns with wood. Pewter vessels are no so easily priced as they are normally recorded by weight and often old vessels were taken in exchange but a garnish (12 platter 12 dish 12 saucer) was 20s so about 6.5d per vessel or 12 times the price of wood.



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Postby Dave B » Mon Sep 17, 2007 10:11 pm

m300572 wrote:You (drop your wooden plates and you will be unlucky if they break)


It interested me that the MOL book 'the medieval household' shows a number of finds of repaired wooden bowls, tiehr stapled or sewn.


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Postby robin wood » Wed Sep 19, 2007 3:22 pm

yes interestign how many bowls are repaired. I would estimate around 5% of bowls I have seen have some form of repair ranging from huge iron staples to delicate silver wire stitching. What is interesting to me is that having stitched one bowl up with copper wire I found it takes longer to do a repair than to make a new bowl, presumably there were cost implications in wire or staples too. So why repair? I can think of a couple of possible reasons...first they were clearly never repaired by the turner who could make a new bowl faster, they were either repaired by the owners or perhaps traveling timker types...tinkers were still repairing pottery by drilling and stitching into the 20th century. Could it have been done because the cost of the repair (in terms of time..free? and staples) was percieved as less than buying a new bowl? Could it have been that the bowl had some percieved value more than monetary..sentimental attachment?

I think most likely bowls were repaired because people only had intermittent access to a turner, or money or both. I suspect that in most places turners would sell their wares at regular fairs. If your next fair isn't for a couple of months and your bowl splits you would repair it so you could carry on eating.




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