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I just watched Chapter 7 of Genius: Picasso on NatGeo, and it said that in 1912 "Pablo's Family of Saltimbanques becomes the most expensive painting in history, selling for 12,650 francs."

The episode implied that that was a huge amount of money, and I'm curious to put it into perspective in modern life to get a sense of it for myself.

Family of Saltimbanques

Here is how I've attempted to calculate the equivalent:

WolframAlpha says that 1 USD in 1912 is equivalent to 26.72 USD in 2018 because of inflation. (And OfficialData.org says "$1 in 1912 → $25.03 in 2018", so $26 seems like a reasonable estimate.)

That's a helpful starting point, so then the question is "What was the exchange rate between FRF and USD in 1912?"

http://www.historicalstatistics.org/Currencyconverter.html says:

1 French franc [1795-1960] in year 1912 could buy 0.2904245694156011 gram gold. The price of 0.2904245694156011 gram gold in year 1912 was 0.19280860722030124 US dollar [1791-2015].

But since that site is labeled "(test version 1.0)" and the way that that site pulls in data with date ranges leads me to believe that it's imprecise.

Any suggestions?

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The painting was sold for about $63,250 in 2018 Dollars, and the exchange rate was about 5.2 Francs per Dollar.

I stumbled upon this site containing exchange rates data for the Japanese Yen from 1893 to 1926, and it thankfully includes both the French Franc and US Dollar.

In 1912, one Yen equated to about 2.6 Francs, and 100 Yen equated to about 49.5 Dollars. 1 Yen = 2.6 Francs = 0.495 Dollars, which means 1 Dollar in 1912 was about 5.2 Francs(this is about the same as the 'historicalstatistics' estimate).

So, 12,650 Francs is about 2,432.70 Dollars in 1912. Assuming your $1 → $26 estimate is correct the painting was sold for about $63,250 in modern bucks.


For perspective of what 'the most expensive painting' at the time really means: $2,432 was roughly the cost of a decent house, or about 120 weeks of wages for blue-collar workers(like bakers or carpenters).

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