Sunday, December 29, 2013

Finding The Value Of The 1872 Dollar Today

At some point in your research/writing activities it’s quite likely you found yourself needing to know how money has appreciated over the past century or more. Here’s one example I was tangling with recently:

Away back in 1872 a pair of Kentucky cousins managed to swindle $600,000 from some of the smartest, wiliest financial men of New York and San Francisco. The pair got off scot-free. And  virtually none of the loot was ever recovered.

So how much is $600,000 worth today?

To find out all I have to do is go to a really useful website called MeasuringWorth. It was founded by a pair of professors back in 2006 with the mission of making reliable data available to the public about value comparison over time.

To try out one of their calculators, from the home page click Relative Values– US $ from the left-hand column.

This brings up a page that will “Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount – 1774 to Present.”

In the window on the right all you have to do is fill in your parameters. In my case, the Initial Year is 1872 and the Initial Amount is $600,000. Because of the way the calculator is set up, set the Desired Year for last year or the year before.

Now click CALCULATE.  

The answer is not exactly simple or clear cut. MeasuringWorth gives you nine different values.

At the top of the page it says “In 2012 the relative value of $600,000 from 1872 ranges from $10,400,000 to $1,170,000,000.” That’s quite a range!

Below that is a box that says “A simple Purchasing Power Calculator would say the relative value is $11.6 million.”

What’s the best number to choose?

Reading through the definitions of the various value categories is helpful. But for folks like me, who are not well grounded in economics, it’s seriously confusing.

It’s easy enough to pick the $1.17 billion number—a sensational eye-opener worthy of Bernie Madoff. But I think a conservative value is more realistic and better serves my purpose. So for my book about the Kentucky cousins’ $600,000 swindle I chose $11.6 million, because it relates most closely to the “real price” and the “historic standard of living value.” And by anybody’s standard (except maybe the “Top 1%’s”) eleven million dollars is a lot of money. also calculates other currencies, including the British pound sterling, the Australian pound and dollar, and China and Japan.

There is also a conversion calculator from dollars to pounds. How much was one British pound worth in dollars in 1890? Answer: $4.86. 

The Internet is full of sites offering these sorts of data conversions and analysis. And that’s what Finding Stuff is all about.

Happy New Year!

If this post was helpful or interesting to you, please let me know. I’m always looking for ways to improve the blog. 

Disclaimer: The description of web pages are accurate as of the date of the post. Like everything else in this digital world of ours, they can change in the blink of an eye.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

JPASS A Boon To Researchers

Regular readers of these columns will recall my complaints about really useful research sites which make you sign up for a year’s subscription even though you only need to make a few visits over the course of a week or two.
One of my favorite archival sites is the Times of London. And as I mentioned a couple of posts ago, this past summer they began to offer the Web Pack. First of all, it was cheap—$3 a week. And secondly, and most importantly to a periodic user, you can sign up for as little as one month —$12. A bargain for the right to search three centuries of history.

Which brings us to JSTOR.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit shared digital library created in 1995 to help university and college libraries free space on their shelves, save costs, and provide greater levels of access to more content than ever before. By digitizing content to high standards and supporting its long-term preservation, JSTOR aims to expand access to scholarly content around the world and to preserve it for future generations.

JSTOR currently includes more than 2,000 academic journals, dating back to the first volume ever published, along with thousands of monographs and other materials relevant for education. They have digitized more than 50 million pages and continue to digitize approximately 3 million pages a year. 

Though designed mainly for institutions, JSTOR has recognized that independent researchers would benefit from access to these vast databases. That’s why they created JPASS—a tool for folks like us that lets us browse or search over 7 million articles in 1500 journals on hundreds of subjects for as little as $19.50 month.

JPASS enables subscribers to read an unlimited number of articles in what they call the JPASS COLLECTION, and to download up to 10 of those a month (PDF).

I’ve been doing research on Presbyterian missionaries in Asia during the World War II period. And so I was pleased to find a variety of Presbyterian Historical Society publications available on JSTOR.

I chose the Journal of Presbyterian History (1997-2009), and typed Philippines missionaries into the search box.

There were 789 results, so I scrolled down through them until I found one that seemed to fit what I was looking for (it’s not shown on the image, but it’s called “The Presbyterian Mission on Hainan Island Under the Japanese, 1937-1941.”

Not needing to print the PDF, I just read through the article on the screen.

Overall the user interface on JSTOR/JPASS is pretty clean and intuitive, but it will take some effort to master it.

It’s great that a resource like JSTOR is now available to the hoi polloi. I hope that other databases that restrict public access realize they are missing out on a great revenue generator that also happens to be a great public service.

If this post was helpful or interesting to you, please let me know. I’m always looking for ways to improve the blog.

Disclaimer: The description of web pages are accurate as of the date of the post. Like everything else in this digital world of ours, they can change in the blink of an eye.