Since there are so many references to wages, fees, and money in general in Victorian London Street Life in Historic Photographs by John Thomson, I decided to do some research to try to understand what these numbers actually mean. Two hours later, here is what I’ve come up with:
First of all, there are two systems within the British money system, and they come before and after “Decimal day” which is February 15, 1971. Before “Decimal day” money in the U.K. was broken into pounds (£), shillings (s.), and pence (d.), as follows:
£1 = 20s. = 240d.
After “Decimal day” the system changed to 100 pennies in a pound, doing away with shillings and pence. (The new penny equaled 2.4 of the old pence.)
In the section titled “Street Advertising,” Thomson writes that on average “ladder-men” make between £1 and £1 15s. per week (28). The conversion website I found (of old British to contemporary money) only went to 2008, and obviously in recent years the value of money fluctuates so rapidly that this could be totally off, but it is the nearest I could find. With this conversion, one pound in 1877 (the year the original Street Life in London was published) equals roughly £70.10 in 2008. Today (in 2010), £70.10 equals $111.36. Confused? I apologize, but it’s about to get more fun. Thomson goes on to say that “they work as a rule from seven in the morning to seven at night” (28). This means a twelve hour workday. He does not say how many days a week they work, but let us assume five for now. If these advertisers are working twelve hours a day, five days a week, making $111.36 a week, this makes their hourly wage $1.86. If they work six days a week, which might be more likely considering their class and profession, this brings their hourly wage to $1.55. This is still a bit of a floating concept since we don’t know how much one needed to spend on food, lodging, clothing, supporting a family, etc., but by today’s standards it is definitely extreme poverty. And the “ladder-men” made more money than other advertisers! Now consider that the Prince of Wales would pay £1 for a photograph (33). He could spend on “charity in disguise” what an advertiser made in a week.
I don’t know if this has been helpful or more confusing. I am only attempting to ground some of these foreign figures in modern concepts of money. If someone finds that my calculations are far off, please correct me!