Question about 1830 French currency?

Any research done in relation to the period of Les Misérables, whether for fanfiction or fanart purposes or otherwise.
User avatar
TheJondretteGirl
Posts: 207
Joined: Sat Jul 21, 2012 12:32 am
Location: Somewhere beyond the barricade

Question about 1830 French currency?

Postby TheJondretteGirl » Sun Dec 30, 2012 5:28 pm

I'm writing a fan fiction for my friend, and one character is giving Grantaire money for a drink. Thing is, I don't know what francs and sous were worth in 1832 and can't find the answer online. Does anybody know? Thanks.
We've had some schooling, my sister and me. We haven't always been what we are now.

User avatar
Trompe-la-Mort
Posts: 599
Joined: Sat Feb 19, 2011 11:45 pm
Location: Paisley, Scotland

Re: Question about 1830 French currency?

Postby Trompe-la-Mort » Sun Dec 30, 2012 6:54 pm

That's not such an easy question...

According to my copy of the brick, one franc in the early 19th century is between 24 and 36 francs of 1998; so between 3.7 and 5.5 euro two years later. Inflation of the euro has been strong, so you can nearly double those values for the worth today. Current exchange rate if the USD is your currency is 1€=1.3$

It might, however, be easier to compare to some other values given within the scope of the story and try to get a feeling from there.
Taking the Argenteuil that Fauchelevent wants to drink with Gribier as an example, around six sous should buy a bottle of wine. Whether it's expensive wine or an expensive inn I cannot say, though.
Dark sarcasm ought to be taught at schools!

User avatar
TheJondretteGirl
Posts: 207
Joined: Sat Jul 21, 2012 12:32 am
Location: Somewhere beyond the barricade

Re: Question about 1830 French currency?

Postby TheJondretteGirl » Sun Dec 30, 2012 7:08 pm

Thank you! I knew it wouldn't be an easy question to answer.
We've had some schooling, my sister and me. We haven't always been what we are now.

User avatar
YoungStudentMarius
Posts: 8158
Joined: Mon Jul 16, 2012 2:43 am
Location: In the library

Re: Question about 1830 French currency?

Postby YoungStudentMarius » Sun Dec 30, 2012 7:13 pm

I'd be interested in this myself; I don't really know anything about the currency and conversion, to tell you the truth, but I do know Marianne has a chart of sorts on her website, here, which looks like it would probably help a lot, though Trompe-la-mort is right in that it's not a simple matter: http://www.chanvrerie.net/history/measure.html
Our chimeras are the things which most resemble us. Each of us dreams of the unknown and the impossible in accordance with his nature.

User avatar
TheJondretteGirl
Posts: 207
Joined: Sat Jul 21, 2012 12:32 am
Location: Somewhere beyond the barricade

Re: Question about 1830 French currency?

Postby TheJondretteGirl » Sun Dec 30, 2012 7:22 pm

Thanks! That's also very helpful.
We've had some schooling, my sister and me. We haven't always been what we are now.

Jondrette
Posts: 13
Joined: Sun Dec 30, 2012 3:19 am
Location: New York

Re: Question about 1830 French currency?

Postby Jondrette » Sun Dec 30, 2012 8:59 pm

I was always under the impression that 1 Franc in the Les Mis era was equivalent to 13 modern day US Dollars, I could be wrong though. This would mean that Valjean paid almost $20,000 to take Cosette away in modern US dollars.

But even if this correct, it doesn't adequately capture the cost of items because the cost to produce certain items would have been much higher back then in a pre industrialized society, not to mention the society would have different prices for certain services. So even if you knew the conversion rate between currencies, it still doesn't say anything about the purchasing power at that time. Thénardier charge Valjean 3 francs for dinner, according to my calculation that's $39 modern day, and unless it was an expensive steak with a high priced glass of wine it seems like a rip off (typical Thénardier), but then again in those days the price of food was probably much higher than it is now.

I think another way to determine the comparable value of the currencies would be to compare them to the price of gold by the ounce historically. I believe the gold standard was still used back then, and even though we don't use it today we still can see how much gold costs per ounce in dollars, euros, pounds, etc. Then compare how much the price for gold was by the ounce in the 1830s.

It goes without saying that these currencies were overly complex, today we characterize coins by their worth, it seems back then they were characterized by type and qualified by worth so you could have 2 francs, worth 2 different amounts when one is a silver franc and another is a gold franc. I'm going to do more research on this, I find it quite fascinating.

User avatar
Trompe-la-Mort
Posts: 599
Joined: Sat Feb 19, 2011 11:45 pm
Location: Paisley, Scotland

Re: Question about 1830 French currency?

Postby Trompe-la-Mort » Sun Dec 30, 2012 10:12 pm

That's why I suggested the comparison rather than calculating it. The calculation does give a rough idea though. Comparing gold prices is not necessarily a good idea as gold is no longer such a reliable standard.

Btw, that Thénardier-bill you're citing is the phony one; the one he makes up to try and get as much money from Valjean as possible. Valjean also nearly refuses to pay. Thénardier ends up charging him only 6 sous for dinner; which would be about 3,90$ according to your conversion. That means that a simple dinner in Montfermeil costs as much as a bottle of wine in Paris. Already in the 19th century Paris seems to have been more expensive than everywhere else...

And I have no idea where you got that with the silver and gold franc from. Yes, gold coins had higher values than silver coins, but at the time we are concerned with, a franc was a franc and the coin was probably always the same (I think a silver coin, but I'm not certain). A 40-sous-piece (2 francs) was definitely silver and a Louis d'or/Napoléon d'or (20 francs) was, as the name suggests, gold. But to my knowledge there were never two coins both called "franc" with different values and definitely not during the 19th century. Sounds more like a medieval thing in any case.
Dark sarcasm ought to be taught at schools!

User avatar
MmeBahorel
Posts: 1773
Joined: Mon Jun 22, 2009 3:12 am
Location: Washington, DC
Contact:

Re: Question about 1830 French currency?

Postby MmeBahorel » Tue Jan 01, 2013 7:49 pm

Don't attempt modern conversions. Too much changes - today, the biggest cost to a working-class person is rent; in 1830, it was food. A day labourer would generally earn about 1 franc per day; conversion attempts would give you something like $40 modern. This is why conversion doesn't work.

You're better off looking up prices. Start with Cost of Living in Daumier's Time: huge list of prices.

Inflation is not an issue in this period - buying power of money was very stable from 1815 to about 1850. Also find a copy online of The Mysteries of Paris by Eugène Sue: his characters frequently cite how much they pay for things, and in one chapter, he has a grisette tell a gentleman in disguise her monthly expenditures. Hugo, Sue, and the above website will cover most of what you might need. Balzac can frequently fill in some of the higher end stuff.

Also keep in mind location: the cafés and dance halls in the Parisian suburbs are there because they are avoiding paying customs charges. These days, you generally see import/export duties only when goods cross national borders; in France at this period, customs duties had to be paid when transporting goods between or into cities. The old city walls and gates frequently served as customs barriers; for Paris, the walls were extended in the 18th century precisely to continue to serve as customs barriers. This raises prices for goods in the cities further than free trade would. The near-in suburbs will have higher prices than the countryside, because they have demand from the city dwellers; the cities have higher prices yet because of the customs duties.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

User avatar
Marianne
Posts: 1724
Joined: Sun Jul 30, 2006 2:20 pm
Location: Paris
Contact:

Re: Question about 1830 French currency?

Postby Marianne » Thu Mar 21, 2013 11:29 pm

Popping my head in to say: I finally ran the math for the currencies on my website, which come from a 1992 edition of the Brick, and, well. The good news is they come out to a nice round number in US dollars; the bad news is they come out quite a bit lower than looks reasonable even when taking into account the relative shifts in prices of various commodities. 1 franc in 1992 = $0.20 USD in 1992 = $0.33 USD in 2013 given a cumulative inflation rate of 65.5%. According to the transcribed chart on my website, 1 franc in the early 19th century = 30 francs in 1992; multiply by 0.33 and you get $10.

So if you want a super-ballpark estimate of what a sum of money in Les Mis works out to, yes, you can tack a zero onto the price in francs. But that yields 50 cents for a loaf of bread and $20 per hour to hire a cabriolet in Paris--just try getting a one-hour ride in a taxicab for $20 in a major city. And those are the sorts of things that would be, relatively speaking, more expensive in Hugo's day: once you get into prices for rent and labor, which were much lower compared to prices for goods and luxury services, you get stuff like $25 a month for Marius' room in the Gorbeau house and Feuilly earning $30 a day.

So yeah. Tacking on a zero gives you the right order of magnitude for how much stuff is worth, but whatever Claude Aziza and Classiques de Poche want you to think, the multiplier is not 1. For really rough estimates I'd go with "one 1830s franc = $20," but that's still going to come out really low for, say, wages, unless you make the mental adjustment to "wages are low, but rent is cheap."
[Dieu] entend ta voix, ô fille des hommes! aussi bien que celle des constellations; car rien n'est petit pour celui devant lequel rien n'est grand.
- George Sand, Les sept cordes de la lyre

User avatar
deHavilland
Posts: 4865
Joined: Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:21 pm
Location: Toronto, ON
Contact:

Re: Question about 1830 French currency?

Postby deHavilland » Fri Mar 22, 2013 4:49 am

Marianne wrote:So if you want a super-ballpark estimate of what a sum of money in Les Mis works out to, yes, you can tack a zero onto the price in francs. But that yields 50 cents for a loaf of bread and $20 per hour to hire a cabriolet in Paris--just try getting a one-hour ride in a taxicab for $20 in a major city. And those are the sorts of things that would be, relatively speaking, more expensive in Hugo's day: once you get into prices for rent and labor, which were much lower compared to prices for goods and luxury services, you get stuff like $25 a month for Marius' room in the Gorbeau house and Feuilly earning $30 a day.


Is it possible to argue the idea that taxis now are expensive because of gas prices? I know that they'd have to pay to house and feed the horses, but that's the best guess I can come up with as to consolidating that price mark.

A cursory search yields this;

Cabs were introduced into Paris about the middle of the 18th century, and speedily became very popular. About 1813 there were 1150 of them on the stands at Paris. They were introduced into London in 1823, when Messrs. Bradshaw and Rotch obtained licences for twelve at a fare of 8d per mile. These cabs ran on two wheels, and had a large leather hood for use in wet weather; the driver sat beside the fare. They quickly displaced the old hackney-carriages, familiar from Dickens' earlier works, which were lumbering two-horse vehicles, plying at that time at a fare of 1s per mile. These coaches had been introduced in 1623 under James I; the first coach stand in London was established 1634, and though at first objected to by the Government they held their ground. Soon after the introduction of cabs the fare was raised to 1s a mile, and the numbers speedily increased, first to 50, then to 100, and then the limit to those licensed was removed.


So with 1d being a penny, even without any kind of attempt at inflation, that's pretty darn cheap at 8d per mile. (Especially given that the average for carriage travel at this time seems to be about 4 mph, taking into account that it's not like you'd send your cab galloping through the city.) So 32d is 2.67 shillings in 1823 and about £0.13. Accounting for historical inflation in the UK, that's £11.18 today and about $16.98 USD.

... seems about right with your $20, given as I can't imagine fares were so wildly off between the two.

Additionally after all of this I realized that what you meant was "hey, look how cheap that was back then! Sucks that cabs are so expensive now!" and not "hmm, this seems odd." But anyway, look, more numbers!
"Quand vous aurez besoin de Bahorel, capitaine, Bahorel est là! Je sais faire trébucher tous les chevaux du garde-corps avec une ficelle... Rien qu'une petite ficelle. Enfin, pensez à Bahorel du Café Musain!"

avonavon
Posts: 11
Joined: Thu Jan 24, 2013 2:49 am
Location: Planet Earth :)

Javert's pay

Postby avonavon » Sun Apr 07, 2013 2:49 am

I actually have been thinking about a related topic. I was wondering just how much did french police get paid? Modern day police in the US make a pretty solidly middle class wage. Would Javert have been paid enough to live comfortably, or was he working poor? Anyone have any ideas?

User avatar
MmeBahorel
Posts: 1773
Joined: Mon Jun 22, 2009 3:12 am
Location: Washington, DC
Contact:

Re: Question about 1830 French currency?

Postby MmeBahorel » Sun Apr 07, 2013 4:08 am

Javert makes next to nothing. His rank of "inspecteur" (also known in some locales as "agent" or "garde-de-ville") makes him an assistant to the officially appointed commissaire de police (CP). CPs were nominated through the Ministry of the Interior in Paris and were in some ways a political as well as security position - there were purges after every revolution so that men loyal to the new regime could get these government positions, partly to reward supporters but partly to maintain surveillance that is friendly to the regime. Agents were generally hired by the mayor of the town, who was also a Paris appointee, but that doesn't mean the mayor and the CP got along.

An agent might make as little as 150 francs a year (in fairness, a CP might make only 300 francs a year and have duties that make it difficult for him to hold down another job - frequently, the men in these low-paying districts were retired from the civil service or army and had a pension in addition to their salary as a CP). Agents frequently held other jobs in addition to their position as a police agent. This might include contract work: one agent in Poitiers earned an extra 100 francs a year for taking on responsibility for inspecting the city's butcher shops.

Agents were not required to have uniforms. They also had no real authority - they could not make arrests legally but were expected to alert the CP, who had that legal authority. They also had no duties directed by the state - duties of an agent varied by town, while a CP's duties were set by the Ministry of the Interior.

This is all directly from John Merriman, Police Stories: Building the French State 1815-1851, Oxford University Press, 2006. This book focuses on how policing was structured in the provinces and what it meant for the men hired to do it.

Javert's situation does not fit with what Merriman is telling me. If Javert is merely an inspector, he shouldn't have been sent anywhere by Paris. He is of lower class than is typically selected for a CP, but about right for an inspector/agent. M-sur-M has a bit over 4100 people at this period, which is not quite large enough to be required to have a CP, in which case, a town would frequently hire an agent themselves, but again, Javert was sent from Paris, and M-sur-M, with the port, is plausibly one of the smaller towns that were required to take a CP in exception to the 5000 population rule. He acts as if he has power of arrest. And Valjean doesn't have the authority to fire him - what Javert asks him to do is to go to the proper authority to demand Javert's dismissal.

So I think, despite Hugo's use of "inspecteur", Javert is actually a CP. CP's salaries were determined by Paris within six salary bands based on the size of the city being policed. M-sur-M would be in the lowest of those bands. The municipality was expected to pay the minimum, but they could augment this salary as they chose, since they were the ones paying the whole salary. In this case, I would guess that the 600 francs a year that the CP in Saint-Gaudens got during the Restoration is a reasonable estimate for M-sur-M, moreso than the criminally low 300 francs a year the poor guy in Neufchâteau was getting at that period. M-sur-M is between the sizes of Neufchâteau and Saint-Gaudens in the 1821 census, but Valjean is the mayor, so the higher 600 figure seems reasonable to me.

The trouble here is that there's a lot of variation. The guy in Saint-Gaudens was getting 600; the guy in Brioude was getting 800, and Brioude had a heck of a time keeping anyone on such low wages. But other towns weren't having the turnover Brioude kept having. The difference may well be the difference in cost of living in the Haute-Garonne vs. the Haute-Loire.

We don't have enough information on actual cost of living in M-sur-M, but we can at least suggest that if Javert is a CP rather than an inspector, as seems likely, Valjean will ensure that his salary is just high enough that he can afford rent on a bachelor apartment and not worry about having enough to eat. Javert also probably had a decent budget for office expenses, which not all towns provided (they had to provide a budget, but it didn't have to be a decent one). If your town didn't want to give you much in terms of office expenses, you'd pay those out of pocket. This includes your basic office supplies but also your travel expenses and all that sort of thing. So Javert likely is keeping his whole salary, and he has no dependents, so he's probably in pretty good shape at around 600 francs a year.

But only because he has no dependents and M-sur-M is one of few small towns with a CP that would come up with the money to make him comfortable (because Valjean would pay it from his own pocket if necessary). In general, we're talking poverty level wages, but for men of education. Yet this is where you're paying your dues; once promoted to Paris, Javert would enjoy a salary of between 3,000 and 6,000 francs a year depending on rank within the Paris system. 3,000 francs a year is nothing to sneeze at from a working class perspective. At that point, he can easily afford to support a family, have a servant, and generally have a perfectly decent life. White collar working class - clerks and that sort of thing. Steadier than keeping a shop, since salary is guaranteed year in, year out. And certainly making bank compared to the poor guy in Neufchâteau.

So that was long, but Hugo made it a bit complicated with his terminology. You've got answers for both options.

(there's also another level down, the "mouchard" or police spy/informant/infiltrator. These guys aren't salaried but are paid for information or by the job and come from the lowest classes. They don't have to be literate. They don't have to be anything except willing. Agents are drawn from what you might call the class above these - the people capable of holding down a job, since they're generally holding one down in addition to serving as an agent. The mouchards, generally not.)
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

avonavon
Posts: 11
Joined: Thu Jan 24, 2013 2:49 am
Location: Planet Earth :)

Re: Question about 1830 French currency?

Postby avonavon » Sun Apr 07, 2013 12:39 pm

Wow! Just a quick reply of appreciation because that is such an awesome answer. I appreciate all of that detail! I am going to have to read that again when I have more time to think and I probably will come back with more questions. And look! Another nerdy book to read. :)


Return to “Nerdy Fannish Research”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests