MAP OF THE UNITED PROVINCES OF THE NETHERLANDS

A NOTE ON PRICES

It is impossible to make accurate comparisons between prices in the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic and those today. Figures can certainly be calculated, based on the comparative prices of gold or essential foodstuffs, but they do not take into account vital differences such as what constitutes a minimal standard of living (in many respects, people who today would be called poor live more comfortably than the richest Dutch in the seventeenth century) and certainly not what luxuries such as tulip bulbs were worth in the Golden Age.

The best comparisons probably come from looking at different salaries and earnings. The table that follows sets out some typical examples from the Dutch Republic in the first half of the seventeenth century. *

The basic unit of currency in the republic was the guilder. One guilder was made up of 20 stuivers.

20 stuivers = 1 guilder

½ stuiver

Cost of a tankard of beer

6½ stuivers

Cost of a 12-pound loaf, 1620

8 stuivers

Daily wage of an experienced Haarlem bleacher, 1601 (= about 110 guilders a year)

18 stuivers

Daily wage of an Amsterdam cloth-shearer, 1633 (= about 250 guilders a year)

13 guilders

Exchange price of one Dutch ton of herring, 1636 60 guilders Exchange price of 40 gallons of French brandy, 1636

250 guilders

Annual earnings of a carpenter, 1630s

750 guilders

Clusius’s salary at the University of Leiden, 1592

1,500 guilders  

Typical earnings of a middle-ranking merchant, 1630s

1,600 guilders

Rembrandt’s fee for his greatest masterpiece, The Night Watch, 1642

3,000 guilders

Typical earnings of a well-off merchant, 1630s

5,200 guilders

Highest reliably attested price paid for a tulip bulb, 1637

*Sources: Deursen, Plain Lives; Hunger, Charles d’Ecluse; Posthumus, Inquiry; Zumthor, Daily Life in Rembrandt’s Holland.

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