Author Topic: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?  (Read 17790 times)

Bob Smalser

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What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« on: January 19, 2011, 07:00:10 PM »
James Whisker in Arms Makers of Colonial America, p158 states a musket cost 12 Spanish dollars or 3 English pounds and 15 shillings.

Historian David Valuska in Thompson’s Rifle Battalion states a plain rifle with accoutrements cost 20-30 English pounds.

Kenneth Roberts in the historical novel Arundel, based on actual diaries of the 1775 Quebec Campaign, mentions used rifles with accoutrements exchanged for 12-15 English pounds.

Various internet sources say 2 pounds and 4 shillings or 13 Spanish dollars for a musket, and 8 pounds or 50 Spanish dollars for a rifle.

For context, John Moll paid 45 pounds for a 60’ X 230’ building lot in Allentown in 1772.

Does anyone have more?

Offline spgordon

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2011, 07:13:34 PM »
Bob Lienemann and I have been working on a document that, we hope, will soon be in print. It is a 1773 letter from Christian Oerter to a man in Lancaster county (Pennsylvania), for whom Oerter has prepared a rifle. The description makes it clear that the rifle is "high-end"--as does the cost: £8.

Rifles inventoried at Christian’s Spring in May 1773 and May 1774 averaged from about £4 to a bit more than £5 (see Bob's introduction to the recent Moravian Gunmaking in the American Revolution).

Hope that helps a bit,

Scott
« Last Edit: January 19, 2011, 08:23:29 PM by spgordon »
Check out The Lost Village of Christian's Spring:
https://christiansbrunn.web.lehigh.edu/
And The Letters of Mary Penry: A Single Moravian Woman in Early America
http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-08108-3.html

Offline Eric Kettenburg

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2011, 07:55:11 PM »
John Luttrell paid *someone* (probably Valentine Beck - the job was funneled through Traugott Bagge so it's not clear who the stocker was) 25 pounds for a new-stocked gun in Salem, NC in 1779.  Even given wartime inflation, that's a whopping figure.  Not clear if rifle or smoothbore.
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mkeen

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2011, 08:21:07 PM »
If you want to figure out the value of a gun or rifle in colonial America, you must do it for each and every colony. Each colony set their own exchange rates for the value of silver versus the English pound. This rate would also change from time to time in each colony. If one colony had a higher exchange rate for silver, money tended to flow into that colony. Neighboring colonies complained about this all the time. England attempted to standardize the exchange rates with little success. The price of a gun in one colony cannot be compared to the price in other colony without taking the exchange rate into account. Value statements without specifying the colony essentially have no meaning. Colonial monetary policy is complicated. Each colony acted like a separate country.

Mart Keen

Offline flintriflesmith

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2011, 08:31:58 PM »
This is a VERY complex question and one that has been the subject of several live talks and presentations that I don't have time to get into right now. But here are a few things to consider:
Once the Rev War starts there is runaway inflation. Prices before 1775 are fairly stable year after year but during the conflict the inflation can go into the stratosphere --- 300-500% in extreme cases.

The money of each colony prior to the war did not have the same value. A pound in PA currency was worth less than a pound in VA currency and both were worth less than a pound sterling (English currency). Money in the Carolinas was worth way less than any of those three. So when you look at a period document you first need to know which "current money" is being used.

Values are hard to assign because they are rarely accompanied by a description of the rifle beyond a single word like "fine" or "old."

Where records do exist it seems that a new rifle in 1770-1775 is in the 4 to 6 pound range in Virginia currency.

Gary
"If you accept your thoughts as facts, then you will no longer be looking for new information, because you assume that you have all the answers."
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Offline Tim Crosby

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2011, 08:55:56 PM »
Where records do exist it seems that a new rifle in 1770-1775 is in the 4 to 6 pound range in Virginia currency.

Gary


  If there had been dollars then, what would the exchange rate have been? Any idea?

 Tim C.

Bob Smalser

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2011, 09:27:18 PM »
... 1773 letter from Christian Oerter to a man in Lancaster county (Pennsylvania), for whom Oerter has prepared a rifle. The description makes it clear that the rifle is "high-end"--as does the cost: £8.

....Rifles inventoried at Christian’s Spring in May 1773 and May 1774 averaged from about £4 to a bit more than £5 .

Hope that helps a bit,


Wonderfully, thanks all.

The follow-on question is was the Christian Springs shop making their own barrels, or were they buying them ready-made in Philadelphia like locks?  Seems to me manhours played the same role in cost they do today, and the price difference between a musket and a rifle was obviously the barrel.

Wartime inflation and erratic exchange rates are understood.  I'm looking for the price ranges before governments began printing scrip in large amounts.  Valuska's 20-30 English pounds sounds excessive for Pennsylvania, as Whisker's data for muskets was based on real contracts in Philadelphia, as is Oerter's for Northampton.
« Last Edit: January 19, 2011, 09:51:51 PM by Bob Smalser »

Offline Eric Kettenburg

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2011, 01:23:45 AM »
The CS shop was definitely buying barrels.
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Offline flintriflesmith

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #8 on: January 20, 2011, 01:34:13 AM »
Where records do exist it seems that a new rifle in 1770-1775 is in the 4 to 6 pound range in Virginia currency.

Gary


  If there had been dollars then, what would the exchange rate have been? Any idea?

 Tim C.


There were dollars then. They were Spanish mill dollars, AKA "pieces of eight," and were often the most common silver coin in circulation. However no coin would be accepted in payment based on face value alone.  Each individual coin had to be weighed and the silver content converted into first pure silver then the British sterling standard.

Gary
"If you accept your thoughts as facts, then you will no longer be looking for new information, because you assume that you have all the answers."
http://flintriflesmith.com

Buckscoshooter

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #9 on: January 20, 2011, 01:37:12 AM »
IIRC the going rate was about $12-$18 for a schemmel and go up for fancy carving and inlays.  Just my two cents.

Offline flintriflesmith

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #10 on: January 20, 2011, 01:56:49 AM »

Here's a link to a Colonial Williamsburg articel that gives a much better answer than I did about why the "What did it cost.." question is so complicated to answer.

http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/Summer02/money2.cfm

If anyone really wants to begin to understand the complexity of the valuation of money in Colonial America I recommend this essay as a starting point.

http://www.coins.nd.edu/ColCurrency/CurrencyIntros/IntroValue.html

or this visual display of the coins:

http://www.history.org/history/museums/coinExhibit/

Gary
"If you accept your thoughts as facts, then you will no longer be looking for new information, because you assume that you have all the answers."
http://flintriflesmith.com

Offline Dphariss

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2011, 02:53:56 AM »
DeWitt Bailey's "British Military Flintlock Rifles" has some information.

In Nov. 1775 George and John Girty bought rifles costing ₤6 and ₤7.10.0
Croghan purchased a rifle for James Girty costing ₤8.10.0 in early 1776.
These were likely intentionally a little more ornate than the typical trade rifle.

Dan
No, sir, I don't give 'em $#*!, I just tell the truth and they think it's $#*!. Harry S Truman

Offline DaveM

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2011, 03:36:46 AM »
Looking a little further back, in May, 1754 in Berks County Conrad Weiser sold a "rifled gun" from his hardware shop to a guy for 3 pounds 10 shillings.

Weiser also gave out a few pistols from his shop to men (one pistol to each) as incentive / payment to join his militia unit in the 1750's.


Offline flintriflesmith

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #13 on: January 20, 2011, 07:07:06 AM »
DeWitt Bailey's "British Military Flintlock Rifles" has some information.

In Nov. 1775 George and John Girty bought rifles costing ₤6 and ₤7.10.0
Croghan purchased a rifle for James Girty costing ₤8.10.0 in early 1776.
These were likely intentionally a little more ornate than the typical trade rifle.
Dan

These prices are also in the undervalued PA currency or what was called "current money of Pennsylvania." We have to be careful not to be comparing apples to oranges here because the prices sometimes quoted for trade rifles by Bailey are in British money (Sterling standard) which is considerably more valuable than PA money.
Gary
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http://flintriflesmith.com

Offline Tim Crosby

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #14 on: January 20, 2011, 06:13:15 PM »
Where records do exist it seems that a new rifle in 1770-1775 is in the 4 to 6 pound range in Virginia currency.

Gary


  If there had been dollars then, what would the exchange rate have been? Any idea?

 Tim C.



There were dollars then. They were Spanish mill dollars, AKA "pieces of eight," and were often the most common silver coin in circulation. However no coin would be accepted in payment based on face value alone.  Each individual coin had to be weighed and the silver content converted into first pure silver then the British sterling standard.

Gary

Thanks

Tim C.

Bob Smalser

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #15 on: January 20, 2011, 06:18:26 PM »
Here's what I wrote.

Quote

Note 14:  While fowlers, muskets and trade guns were common, rifles weren’t often owned by farmers unless a return on investment could be realized in winter hunting and trapping. Rifles were expensive.  In pre-war 1775 a plain rifle with accoutrements cost roughly 6-8 English pounds in Pennsylvania, when a 60’ by 230’ building lot in downtown Allentown sold for 45 pounds, military muskets 3-4 pounds, and trade guns 2-3 pounds.  Some sources report significantly different prices, and those can be accurate reports, but there were also later wartime runaway inflation, a plethora of currency types and always-erratic currency exchange rates between the various colonies to consider.  What something "cost" then requires context of place, time and examples as well as comparable currencies. (Kenneth Roberts, Valuska “Thompson’s Rifle Bn”p1, Whisker p158)

« Last Edit: January 20, 2011, 06:25:36 PM by Bob Smalser »

Offline Dphariss

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #16 on: January 20, 2011, 07:27:32 PM »
DeWitt Bailey's "British Military Flintlock Rifles" has some information.

In Nov. 1775 George and John Girty bought rifles costing ₤6 and ₤7.10.0
Croghan purchased a rifle for James Girty costing ₤8.10.0 in early 1776.
These were likely intentionally a little more ornate than the typical trade rifle.
Dan

These prices are also in the undervalued PA currency or what was called "current money of Pennsylvania." We have to be careful not to be comparing apples to oranges here because the prices sometimes quoted for trade rifles by Bailey are in British money (Sterling standard) which is considerably more valuable than PA money.
Gary


As you point the exchange rate has to be considered. Bailey often fails to make a distinction.

Bailey pg 78
"The Fort Pitt (gun?) smith Baltzar Geere was paid ₤3.10.0 each for 15 rifles in October 1767." Then we must ask if these were imports or if they were made in PA or on site. I would assume, from the cost, these were Pounds Sterling.
Then
"The Crown paid Moses Henry (working as Indian Gunsmith at the fort) ₤25 (Pennsylvania currency) for 3 rifle guns for the Indian Dept. in October 1767." This is similar to the Girty rifle prices.

More from Bailey about the English trade rifles in 1781:
"Best Rifle Guns wood boxes moulds & cases  52/6"
Same with brass box     53/6.
The lowest cost rifles were 50 Schillings. This is two Pounds 10 Shillings.

But what a PA resident would pay was probably in the 5-8 "PA pound" range.
And the local rifles may have cost more than the import trade rifles which were bought in large lots, the trade rifle prices above were for a purchase of 312 rifles. Assuming they were all ordered at the same time.

Dan
No, sir, I don't give 'em $#*!, I just tell the truth and they think it's $#*!. Harry S Truman

Offline snyder

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #17 on: January 21, 2011, 06:50:11 PM »
As Gary has so aptly pointed out, it's nigh on impossible to convert from some colonial currency to current dollars.    What's probably more informative is to see what other items cost in the currency of the day or to compare the price to a daily wage, that is how many days would someone have to work at a journeyman's job to buy a rifle? 

Tom

Offline spgordon

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #18 on: January 21, 2011, 08:10:51 PM »
A couple of additional thoughts to further complicate price comparisons.

A. One probably needs to consider not only what colony the rifle was purchased in (because of the unequal exchange rates that others have mentioned) but, at times, where in the colony. Rifles at Ft. Pitt may have cost more, for instance, than rifles purchased in Lancaster or Philadelphia at the same time.

B. The cost of rifles at Christian's Spring, a Moravian community, may be relatively low because of Moravian business practices or ethics. Kate Carte Engel's Religion and Profit (2009) shows how extensively Moravian church leaders policed pricing policies, insisting that the Bethlehem store, for instance, "aid its neighbors by selling goods at reasonable prices, and not at the highest price storekeepers might possibly demand" (p. 119). In Nazareth, church disciplinary boards routinely dealt with complaints about unreasonably high prices and rebuked shopkeepers for them. So the information about rifles that we can glean from records relating to Christian's Spring may reflect a slightly lower cost than what the "free" market would bear ...

Scott
Check out The Lost Village of Christian's Spring:
https://christiansbrunn.web.lehigh.edu/
And The Letters of Mary Penry: A Single Moravian Woman in Early America
http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-08108-3.html

Offline flintriflesmith

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #19 on: January 21, 2011, 08:12:17 PM »
Tom,
Here’s a 2005 posting I made related to relative prices of firearms, deer hides, and other goods in Colonial Virginia:

Just to put the cost of the two guns in period, 1775, context: An imported fowler (British) was available in the merchants stores for 15 to 30 shillings depending on the grade. A new rifle was 4 to 5 pounds (80 - 100 shillings).

Merchants were paying 2 shilling to 2 shillings 4 pence per Lb. (weight) for deer hides fleshed, hair removed, and dried. A adult deer hide will weigh, on average, 2 to 3 pounds. So the hunter would be getting at least 4 shillings per hide. Five hides = 1 pound (20 shillings). Twenty five hides would exchange for a fine new rifle.

To me that is not very expensive.

Beats me why folks always want prices in dollars. There were no "American" dollars in 1775. The Spanish mill dollar was around but it was commonly cut up into pieces (of eight) and had no assigned value other than the value in shillings and pence of its silver content.

The point of this post was that a hunter did not have to kill and dress more than two dozen deer to have enough cash to buy a fine rifle. Period accounts often talk about a single hunter killing 10-12 deer in a day. Of course the time in fleshing and de-hairing the hides also has to be counted but a hunter could earn the cash to buy a rifle in a couple of weeks.

Just to go a little deeper into the subject -- a pound of powder and two pounds of lead could be purchased for the 4 shillings received for the sale of 1 deer hide.

(prices for skins, lead and powder based on the daily sales records form a store operated by S. & G. Mathews in Greenbrier Co. VA in 1772-3)
_________________________________________
I have done a lot more research since then but found nothing that changes the fscts presented in 2005. Gary
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Offline flintriflesmith

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #20 on: January 21, 2011, 08:18:41 PM »
Scott,
Good points about regional differences. The old supply and demand curves from basic economics do come into play but I have been surprized at how often store prices all across Virgina -- from Tidewater to the frontier -- were the same, especially on imported goods.
Gary
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http://flintriflesmith.com

Offline spgordon

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #21 on: January 21, 2011, 08:23:30 PM »
Side question: does the "Search" function on this forum reach back to posts as old as 2005? It seems it only reaches into the Archives as far back as 2008 or so.

Scott
Check out The Lost Village of Christian's Spring:
https://christiansbrunn.web.lehigh.edu/
And The Letters of Mary Penry: A Single Moravian Woman in Early America
http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-08108-3.html

Bob Smalser

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #22 on: January 21, 2011, 11:34:26 PM »
... Period accounts often talk about a single hunter killing 10-12 deer in a day.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that hunters lied through their teeth in 1775 just like they do today.  ;)

Deer and other browsers do best in thin, brushy, half-grown woods having lots of "edge-effect", and the elk and bison of 1775 Pennsylvania were primarily grazers and required forest glades as well as edge effect.

The primeval forests of Pennsylvania had little of either, just like our remaining old-growth out here.  There are a helluva lot more deer in Pennsylvania today populating farmlands and suburbia than their were in the original forests.  


« Last Edit: January 21, 2011, 11:42:49 PM by Bob Smalser »

Offline Dphariss

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #23 on: January 21, 2011, 11:50:46 PM »
According to the early Colonial accounts, this is from the book "1491" the natives routinely burned off the undergrowth in the fall. This created a different forest than we know today. According this book it was possible to drive a carriage through the forest in many places.
When this practice ended I could not say or even how accurate "1491" is.

Dan
No, sir, I don't give 'em $#*!, I just tell the truth and they think it's $#*!. Harry S Truman

Bob Smalser

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Re: What Did a Rifle Cost in 1775?
« Reply #24 on: January 22, 2011, 12:04:33 AM »
According to the early Colonial accounts, this is from the book "1491" the natives routinely burned off the undergrowth in the fall. This created a different forest than we know today. According this book it was possible to drive a carriage through the forest in many places.

Sure.  But in how much acreage compared to the total?  Miniscule.  Further, controlled burns left the original, tall chestnut-tulip-oak-walnut canopies in place that still shaded the forest floor.  Out here we call those areas you can dive a carriage through "cathedrals".  While pretty, they don't grow much food for critters.  (And an uncontrolled burn that would take those canopies down was also a lot harder to do in 1775 than today.)

The only areas I've ever worked that even come close to approaching the bags described in your reference was hunting heavily-overpopulated deer blocks with hounds in the Carolinas.  We had probably 5X the density of deer compared to triple-canopied forests and 20 or more hunters occupying stands to do it.

Otherwise no Indians in deer country would have ever starved, eh?  And plenty of them did.
« Last Edit: January 22, 2011, 12:08:23 AM by Bob Smalser »