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Q: Belgian currency and value, 1887 ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Belgian currency and value, 1887
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: archae0pteryx-ga
List Price: $12.87
Posted: 01 Aug 2005 23:27 PDT
Expires: 31 Aug 2005 23:27 PDT
Question ID: 550688
How would the worth of x Belgian francs in 1887 compare with the worth of x
U.S. dollars now?  I'd like some idea of approximate value or
purchasing power of the Belgian franc at the time. (I believe the unit
of currency in Belgium in 1887 was the Belgian franc, but please set
me straight if I have wrong information.)

Here's what I'm looking for, really:  let's say a certain amount was
handed to a worker in Belgium in 1887 as a reward. What amount would
that have to be for him to think it would buy his wife a very nice
dress and pay for a fancy dinner for two, with a little something
extra left over?

I'd like to know how you arrived at the number.

Thank you,

Request for Question Clarification by omnivorous-ga on 02 Aug 2005 09:14 PDT
Archae0pteryx --

The Belgian franc had been the currency in use since the Belgian
revolution in 1830.  The exchange rate was about $0.20 = 1 Belgian
franc and all indications are that it was pegged to the French franc.

I think that the best way to get you "comparables" is to use price
surveys for the U.S. or U.K., as I'm skeptical that a Belgian price
overview is going to be available on the Internet, even in French or

Understand that some of the things that we take for granted today --
such as Consumer Price Indexes or Gross National Product measures or
even exchange rates -- were just starting to be tracked in the 1880s. 
Indeed, the newspapers of the time (and I went through several dozen
copies of the New York Times) would report foreign currency and gold
reserves for different countries, but didn't pay any attention to
exchange rates.

I know that there's some good U.S. price data for the period, though
it's going to take a short drive to the library to chase it down.  But
let us know if U.S./U.K. price information would be helpful.

Best regards,


Clarification of Question by archae0pteryx-ga on 02 Aug 2005 22:44 PDT
Hi, Omnivorous,

I didn't think this one was going to work as a straight
rate-of-exchange conversion.  I thought it might take something like
what Myoarin is suggesting, namely, being able to relate a certain
monetary amount to a wage standard or amount of purchasing power. 
Worth in U.S. dollars is actually secondary.  I'd like to know what
would be considered a handsome enough reward, in the currency of the
time and place, that my subject would know he could afford a fancy
dress with it (made by a seamstress, not ready-made) and a nice
dinner, but not a trip to Paris.  (And she's not really his wife,
Myoarin.  I fudged that a little bit for propriety's sake, but you
forced it out of me.  She's his girlfriend, and he has an impulsive
and improvident nature, and that's why he's willing to blow the whole
windfall on this one seductive event even though it might be the
equivalent of x months' wages for him.  And I'm afraid he may have to
borrow the suit and some shoes.)  I'd like to name an amount that is
realistic in those terms.  If you can figure out some way to arrive at
a number that sounds believable enough, that's all I'm after here.  I
wouldn't know whether to say twenty or two thousand.

But first he is going to stop and have a beer.  Maybe you already
figured that one out.

This is fiction, by the way, need I mention.

Thank you,
Subject: Re: Belgian currency and value, 1887
Answered By: omnivorous-ga on 03 Aug 2005 03:08 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
AchaeOpteryx ?

Let?s start with what things cost in 1887.  It was a period of great
price stability.  In fact during the end of the 19th Century prices
were mildly deflating and the prices for consumer goods would decrease
? not to reach the same level until 1910 and 1911.

A book by Grey House Publishing called ?The Value of a Dollar,
1860-2004? tracks consumer prices and wages.  Wages have been
well-tracked by the Census Bureau (you can find them in the book, 
?Historical Statistics of the U.S. ? Colonial Times to 1970?) and the
Grey House book summarizes them too.

In 1887 a farm laborer was earning $1.38 per day; a painter $2.93 per
day; a bricklayer $2.94; a carpenter $2.24 and a plumber $3.52 per
day.  Annual non-farm employees in the U.S. made $509.

Grey House lists the following consumer prices from advertisements in newspapers:
?	women?s wool evening suit (1885), $6.00
?	women?s shoes (1892), $1.50
?	Martin Restaurant, described as the ?best table d?hôtel dinner in
New York,? (1894) $1.25

So, in the U.S. $15 would cover dress, shoes and the evening. 
Probably even then Brussels would have been twice that or $30.


Exchange rates during the period were fixed for long periods of time,
as many countries were on the Gold Standard.  Belgium used the franc
since 1830, when the country became independent of the Kingdom of the
Netherlands.  The Belgian franc was then part of the Latin Monetary
Union from 1865 to 1925.  Its value was 1 franc = $0.20 or 5 francs =

The U.S. even considered joining the Latin Monetary Union and designed
a new coin called the Stella to set the value at 5 francs = $1.  The
Stella itself, designed in 1880, would have been worth $4 or 20

Global Financial Data
?Belgium ? History of Currencies?

?Latin Monetary Union?

So, a gift of 150 to 200 francs would seem to cover your fictional characters.


What?s that worth today?  According to Grey House and the Statistical
Abstract of the U.S. an 1860 $1 would buy $1.14 worth of goods in
1887/1888 ? and $23.41 in 2005.

Thus, $30 in 1887 would have to be multiplied by 20.54 ? giving you
the equivalent of $616 in today?s funds for the dress, shoes and a
pair of dinners.

Google search strategy:
?Historical Statistics of the U.S.? + Census Bureau
?Latin Monetary Union?
"Statistical Abstract" U.S.

Best regards,

archae0pteryx-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $2.00
Excellent, Omnivorous.  Just what I needed.  I thank both you and
Myoarin for your very flexible and accommodating help with this
question,  Since I can't compensate Myoarin, I'm offering this tip in
his honor.


Subject: Re: Belgian currency and value, 1887
From: myoarin-ga on 02 Aug 2005 17:06 PDT
Hi Tryx,
Omniverous-ga is right; it sure is hard to find cost of living data
from back then.  I found the following and then gave up, expecting
someone to post information from newspapers etc.  Maybe it will still
happen, but I will dump this into the soup.

1865-1926 The Latin Monetary Union.  This comprises France, Italy,
Belgium, Switzerland, and later Greece. The gold and silver coins of
each country are legal tender throughout the union. The union has
faded away by the 1920s before its formal ending.

ON page 18, this text mentions that in the last quarter of the 19th
century in some countries some employees were still not receiving all
earnings in cash, employers providing housing, food or medicine.
ON page 9 begins a discussion of wages.  NB, this is NOT in Belgium
but in Limburg in Holland, an area in which Belgian Francs were the
most common currency.
Perhaps you can interpolate from this what your man might have been
earning in 1887 and from what an ?administrator? earned a decade
earlier to decide what the amount of an award should be for whatever
he did.
I know that you don?t like speculation, but ?
From what you have told, if he and his wife agreed to splurge it on a
dress and dinner, they would have been living comfortably enough not
to feel the necessity to spend or save it for more pressing needs (and
he already had a suit adequate for the occasion, but maybe the
splurging reflects on their character).  Considering that a pair of
good shoes in Brussels (following site) cost 10 Fr, I reckon that 100
Fr would cover the costs  - 200,... 500Fr?.

This has an ad with the price of shoes in 1890

This site explains that until the end of the 19th c. in Holland most
clothes were made at home or by a tailor or seamstress.  Readymade
would be more expensive, so let the award be 200 or 300 Fr.  :-)
Subject: Re: Belgian currency and value, 1887
From: myoarin-ga on 03 Aug 2005 03:57 PDT
Of course I am pleased with Omni's answer.  As you may have calculated
already, the average US non-farm emloyee would have earned the
equivalent of Fr 2500, about Fr 200 per month, which seems a little
high for a man with a shovel, but a month's pay would be one benchmark
for estimating an appropriate award.  I'd let him buy himself a
squeaky new pair of shoes  - and a round of beer for his mates.

Regards, Myoarin
Subject: Re: Belgian currency and value, 1887
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 04 Aug 2005 20:50 PDT
Thank you once again, Myoarin.  You contributed very helpfully to this
one.  My Arend has you to thank for the 200 francs, and he will
probably blow it all on this one occasion, assuming there's something
left in his pocket once he gets home from the Langestraat.  No shoes,
though.  I am not buying him shoes.  He will have to borrow them from
his girlfriend's cousin.


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