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Re: VMs: Mad Kircher, was (lots)

Dennis wrote:

> We once discussed how much "600 ducats" is in
> contemporary buying power and came up with about
> 900,000 US$.  However, what Rafal says sounds to me
> like it could have been far less.  Rafal notes that
> "600 florins for a rare and curious manuscript bought
> by the Holy Roman Emperor was not really that much",
> and the other examples point to not much money.
>         Would anyone clarify this for me?

It is impossible to state definitely what the contemporary
buying power is because the structure of prices is very
different. Some things that were extremely expensive then
are quite cheap now and vice versa.

For example (using Polish prices at the end of the 16th c.),
unqualified worker in a town earned 1 ducat for 10 days of labour.
But farm workers (living on the farm and getting food)
got 1 ducat a year. A ship building carpenter in Gdansk
earned about 10 ducats a month. A horse cost about 10 ducats
- but sending a pack of merchant goods from Cracow to
Vilnus cost almost 30 ducats. And you could get 15 geese
for 1 ducat.

The salary of a scribe employed by the state (in fact it was
an office and only a nobleman could be one) was 2 ducats
a year - while the salary of the state treasurer (minister
of the treasury) is estimated at 500,000 ducats a year
in the first quarter of the 17th c.!

Books and manuscripts were of course much more expensive
realtively than they are now. I gave some examples in
the text you quoted. And taking into consideration that
Dee himself noted his purchase of an "Arabik boke" for
about 100 ducats, and that he must have bought many more
similar items as his libarary is said to have been 
the second largest private library in Europe at that time,
a mere 600 ducats does not seem much to me for a curious
manuscript like the VMS.

The other thing is, of course, that we cannot be absolutely
sure of the information in Marci's letter. It is not his
personal knowledge but he knew it from Dr. Raphael,
who may have heard it from some other and perhaps not
quite reliable source (like Sinapius). Both may have
exaggerated the sum to convince Kircher it is worthwhile
to try to decode it.

As I pointed out, herbals seem to have been especially
expensive as the printed one by Syreniusz published in Cracow
in 1613 had the publisher's price of 100 ducats. It can be
seen on-line here:


So if a printed book was 100 ducats, a similar and very
curious, possibly valuable, manuscript on vellum could well
be 600, I believe.

Best regards,

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