Colonial Rhode Island currency

Jeff Saylor

Well-known member
I was reading an article on the Nicholas Brown scalloped-top tea table made by John Goddard, which states that the table sold originally for 90 pounds Rhode Island currency.  Just curious- does anyone know what that would be in today's currency?

Some general guidance, I do not know RI currency.

In Colonial times, England prohibited the Colonies from having their own hard currency as a way to control the economy in a very direct way. Certain Colonies printed their own paper money denominated in English pounds Sterling; often they bore the endorsement on the face of  the paper bill;" redeemable at some office in London for Pounds Sterling", some at the states office locations.  There were also states that based their paper on Spanish silver dollars and were similarly imprinted, redeemable for  Spanish silver dollars 'the famous "pieces of eight" from the pirate movies. Pieces of eight were often physically chopped up into quarters and since the denomination of the Spanish Dollar was 8 Reales, there  quarter became known as "two bits".

All of this is a way to say that you can probably start by using the purchasing power of a Pound Sterling as a start point until you get a definitive answer.


Since no one else has responded, let me add the next step; converting the value of a pound ( and thence into dollars) in 1775 to today:

The purchasing power of 1 Pound in 1775 to 1 Pound in 2013 varies based on what basis of comparison you use. I will give you two measures, CPI and labor rate based, as shown on

Adjusting 1 Pound by relative purchasing power it gives 99.5 Pounds today, by average earnings 1430 Pounds.

Converting these to dollars, the corresponding values are approximately between $154 and $2200  per Pound.

If I did my sums correctly, that means that based on comparative value of labor, the table cost about $200,000 of today's dollars.

Thanks for your reply Karl,

I binged "1760 Rhode Island currency to 2013 GBP" and got from one web site: 1 pound sterling from 1760=130 GBP today.  Also, 1GBP=1.55 US dollars.  So the cost charged back then (90 pounds) would be equal to $18,135 today.  Also, another site stated that one Rhode Island shilling = 9 pence sterling (only 75% value). So a more accurate price might be 75% of the $18,135 or $13,601. 

Your experience shows what a tricky question it is; if I had used CPI type numbers I would have gotten the same  answer you got; less that $20,000.

What needs to be said is that either a CPI approach, or a cost of labor approach is exactly right, and they differ by a factor of roughly 10:1.

I guess this is because people are paid a lot more money today relative to a bushel of wheat in 1775, and so  when you say " what would than be today", you need to be sure you define what you mean by "would"; are we talking about the price of wheat going up, or the value of the equal labor ?.

I think I recall that the Goddard tea tables that Al Breed made for the Goddard family to replace the original they sold at auction went for $10,000 each. This would lend some credence to the $13,000 or $18,000 figures put forth here, especially since it is a different table. I find it hard to believe that a such a small piece built new, not an antique or having other value, could sell for the equivalent of $200,000. But I have often been wrong about how much money rich folks are willing to spend on something.

I do not disagree with your point. The question of what the table woule sell for today is quite a different one from what the sale price then is worth in todays dollars, which was the question I was answering.The fact that it would be so diferent based on how you make the projection, a factor of ten, makes it clear how tricky the comparisons can be.

One thing that makes it so tricky is that ordinary people back then had very little stuff in general compred to ordinary people today. A typical will of Colonial times might include a few pieces of furniture, perhaps a half dozen cooking utensils, and some livestock.

In a way, one interpretation of the difference in numbers in my example is that an average  person has ten times as much stuff today, probably not far off.