I would like to build a graph for the price of a loaf of bread based on exchange of silver. My research has shown that some items or commodities have remained very consistent when priced against other commodities. A cow ready for slaughter for one ounce of gold, for example. Obviously there are some historical aberrations to this but usually because of other influences, war, famine or drought as examples. But otherwise these relations hold long term. The reason or need for this graph is to show that only fiat or paper currency suffers from inflation, with the only exception that I know of being Spain, a gold and silver based economy, after conquering the "new world" and bringing home too much gold. Ultimately what I am looking for are historical quotes for the amount paid with dates and, hopefully location. Thanks in advance.

  • The price of bread where? This is more an economics questions than history. Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 4:05
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    You may be interested in reading my answer to the question at history.stackexchange.com/questions/14847/… Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 4:07
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    This is really just extremely broad. There's good data for, say, the price of bread in Britain for the last 500 years, but throughout all history, anywhere? There wouldn't even be any similarity between European and Chinese bread prices. As interesting as the topic is, H.SE questions should be reasonably scoped.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 9:54
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    When you finish this proof, can you prove that the sun orbits the earth? H:SE should not be used to support theories that have been conclusively disproven.
    – MCW
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 10:58
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    The purchasing power of silver will always be a function of 1) the supply of silver and 2) the productive capacities of civilization. To posit a 1-to-1 relationship between silver and cows is to posit some magical relationship between the two, as if the supply of silver were somehow sympathetically linked to the demand for cows.
    – two sheds
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 11:54

1 Answer 1


This question is unanswerable:

1) Silver is not a useful measure on the scale required: money did not exist to purchase commodities for most of the desired time scale

2) Adequate wage/price series only become available in the mid 19th century, inadequate wage/price series only become available in the early 19th century

2a) Wage/price series are important because silver itself has a price, as discovered in the 19th century by a variety of political economics, Ricardo obviously, Marx gives a useful snapshot of the debate in Grundriesse's chapter on money. To establish some measure of stability, time series are constructed out of measures that appear to have some value over time: %GDP, GDP/capita, or "consumption bundles." Consumption bundles come down to wages through the relatively stable assumptions: workers consume their entire wages immediately or in deferred forms, the social expectations of waged consumption represent a social measure of "acceptable" living. Consumption bundles then give reference to prices in terms of a reflection on the socially accepted standard of living for people who worked for a living. This is fairly useful in that dietary habits don't actually change during crises (Hammond and Hammond's labourers series on the bread / oatmeal / potato consumption habits), which means that price rises in bread become apparent. Not useful in terms of dealing with fiat money, because again, our 19th century political economist friends identified that the paper money supply is a capital, not a domestic wage labourer, consumed commodity.

3) Bread was not bought for money for the vast majority of humanity through-out history, which gives a "no sensible answer" result

  • 1) I see no specific "desired time scale" in the question. 2) How is this objection relevant? 3) So what? Still such examples will be interesting for the places and times where bread could be bought with silver. Like the cities of ancient Greece and Roman empire. On my opinion, this is reasonable and interesting question.
    – Alex
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 20:49
  • 1) It is obviously "all of it." 2) I have amended the answer. 3) A society where bread isn't consumed as a commodity won't have a stable price. Athens was always its hinterland, Rome was always the latifunda and Egyptian fields. Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 21:17

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