Home » Blog » Was early modern writing paper expensive?

Was early modern writing paper expensive?

If you read the article, at the link, below from the Folger Shakespeare Library by Heather Wolfe you might come away thinking that period paper was not expensive, but you would be misled.

Follow the author’s poor logic:  “To put this in perspective, the average laborer making 6-12 pence a day could purchase up to 75 sheets of paper with a day’s wages. Put another way, if we accept D.C. Coleman’s estimate that the average annual consumption of white paper per head in England in 1600 was 6 sheets (p. 15), that’s a penny per year spent on paper. These numbers are all slightly wobbly, of course, but they suggest that regular writing paper was not an expensive consumable for laborers or aristocrats. Also, the price of paper barely budged between the 1570s and 1640s, while the price index for most other consumables (foods, candles, oil, textiles) increased by 63%.2 Royal, imperial, fine, very fine, Venice, and other sizes and qualities of paper were considerably more expensive, but most people weren’t using fancy paper.”

What?  If 75 sheets of paper cost a day’s wages, then paper was expensive. Assuming that the average annual salary now is $35,000 a year, working 5 days a week would make the average daily wage $134.  So 75 sheets of paper would now cost roughly $134 adjusted for inflation. I pay about $4 for 500 sheets of copy paper which is less than a penny a sheet.  I go through tons of paper at our cheap price, but at $134 I would have to really conserve.  So why does the author say that paper was not expensive? Could the fact that “the average annual consumption of white paper per head in England in 1600 was 6 sheets” be precisely because the paper was so dear! I may be missing something, but I think that her conclusion is incorrect.

Read the entire article at the following link:  https://collation.folger.edu/2018/02/writing-paper-expensive/