John Smith’s Bill: Then & Now


2 piercers stocked 4d. apiece. 8d.

Beitzinger Hardware carried a “Revolving Punch” for leather, canvas, and a variety of materials for $8.55. [$9]

3 gimlets at 2d. apiece. 6d.

This hole borer for wood is the rough equivalent of a hand drill. Rio Grande featured a decent-looking hand drill (or $11.99, and one could obtain bits for $1.09 apiece. I estimated Smith would probably want about two dozen bits (two each in assorted sizes). [$49]

2 hatchets at 21d. apiece. 3s. 6d.

Master Mechanic hatchets at True Value run $17.89 each. [$36]

2 froes to cleave pale. 18d. each. 3s.

The wedge offered by Brookstone for splitting logs costs $15. [$30]

2 hand bills 2Od. apiece. 3s. 4d.

A hand bill for lopping off branches led me once more to Beitzinger Hardware. There I found an eight-foot tree pruner for $29.29. [$59]

1 grindstone. 4s.

Foot-powered grindstones are not readily available these days; electric-powered models are. Since I had pledged not to use a power generator, I decided on a good-quality Arkansas Oilstone priced at $30, with two cans of rubbing oil that cost $1.61 each. [$33]

Nails of all sorts to the value of £2.

How much to buy? I decided to get a rough idea of the value of 2 pounds sterling by taking the prices of ten tools still made (broad and narrow hoes, broad and felling axes, handsaw, hammer, shovel, spade, an average chisel, and hatchet) and comparing the value then with that of today. First I totaled the price in pence of the ten items and got 195. Next I added the cost of the modern equivalents and came out with $201.58. Then, in order to get an idea of the worth of one penny in 1624,1 divided $201.58 by 195 pence; the result was 1.0337, which meant that 1 penny in 1624 was approximately $1.04 in present-day dollars. Since 2 pounds in sterling money represented 40 shillings, or 480 pence, Smith’s 480 pence worth of nails would cost $494.40 today, and I decided to round that up to $500.1 then called my True Value man for information on how many nails this would turn out to be. When I told him I wanted $500 in assorted nails, he began to get a husky tone in his voice. But the more he thought and asked questions—nails of what quality, galvanized or cementcoated, for what purpose, and so forth —the more doubtful he became. We finally agreed that what I probably wanted were boxes of four-, six-, eight-, twelve-, and sixteen-penny nails. One pound of each would run $1.10, and my $500 would buy about 454 pounds of nails—probably enough to build a whole village. My estimate was apparently way off, perhaps because mechanization has made nails much cheaper since 1624. But for want of a better method, I stayed with it. [$500]

Since the 96 pence worth of aqua vitae, oil, and vinegar Smith wanted came to $32.81 in today’s dollars, I figured that a 1624 penny was about the same as 34 cents today.

2 pickaxes. 3s.

True Value carried Master Mechanic pickaxes only as separate items, head and handle. The head cost $16.89, and the handle retailed for $9.99. [$54]

Total for Tools £6 5s. 8d [$1,461] ÷ 6 = £1 1s. [$244]

Grand total £11 19s. 6d. [$3,155]

Household implements for a family and six persons, and so for more or less after the rate.

All these items came from Wal-Mart Discount City.

1 iron pot. 7s.

A five-quart iron Dutch oven sold for $15.68. [$16]

1 kettle. 6s.

A twelve-quart aluminum saucepot would serve this purpose. I found one for $17.24. [$17]

1 large frying pan. 2s. 6d.