The English Coasting Trade recap; Current reading; Prices and Wages database

Posted on February 15, 2022 by mario

Hi folks,

I’ve finished “The English Coasting Trade: 1600-1750”. It was excellent. The first half of the book had a ton of facts and figures relating to the cost of carriage by coasting ship, the cost of the ships themselves, the cost of running them, the typical business arrangements between who owned the ships and how much the merchants were paid…etc. The second half of the book took a deep dive into the different “coasts” of England and their respective ports. Each port had a set of member ports to which it was in some sense “subservient”. Willan goes into moderate detail regarding the exports and imports of each respective port. He gives lots of information regarding what goods were processed in each and how their fortunes fluctuated through the period; unfortunately for me, the second half didn’t contain an incredible number of prices, but nevertheless, the information in it will be very handy for the “Roleplayer’s Guide” series, as I’ll be able to give a fairly comprehensive account of the local coasting trade in England at the time (this would be of interest if you were designing or running a mercantile campaign during the period).

In total, I was able to extract roughly 150 figures relating to prices and wages and roughly 500 “notes” (e.g. ‘Swansea, Neath, and Burry shipped 4,092 tons of coal in 1630, page 177’).

After finishing “The English Coasting Trade” I had to decide what to go through next (I seem to think that buying a book means that I will also read the book, so I’ve accumulated a considerable backlog for stuff to read for this project). It came down to a choice between “Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters” by Robert C. Davis, “The Rise of the English Shipping Industry” by Ralph Davis, or “The Rise of the British Coal Industry”, by John Nef. I figured I needed a tiny break from boat stuff, so I chose “Christian Slaves”. The book is mildly controversial in that it attempts to draw a strict parallel between the African slave trade and the slave trade in the Mediterranean, but this seems to be more “inside history baseball” than I care for. I’m mainly interested in the prices. Generally when I’m reading through a book, I’ll check out reviews of it, or articles that reference it, which is what I did with this one. I ended up stumbling upon a some good articles on the slave trade in Cherson/the Crimea. Before I wrap up this tangent, I’d also like to find some articles relating to slavery in south Asia and east Asia. Once that happens I think I’ll move onto “The Rise of the English Shipping Industry”; that volume is supposed to be a complement to “The English Coasting Trade”, but whereas Willan focused on internal sea trade, Davis focuses on foreign trade. When it’s completed I think I’ll have a fairly decent grasp on the state of trade in England as a whole at the time.

Finally, I’m working on migrating the prices I’ve collated to a proper database. At the moment I have them defined as individual variables in a luaexec function in my LaTeX document. Here’s a sample:

    cloakBag1603 = 5 + 6/12 % {\autocite[324]{parkes1968travel}}
    trunk1616 = 10 % {\autocite[324]{parkes1968travel}}
    cloakBag1617 = 6 % {\autocite[324]{parkes1968travel}}
    trunk1618 = 8 % {\autocite[324]{parkes1968travel}}
    portmantle1636 = 10 % {\autocite[324]{parkes1968travel}}
    trunk1642 = 6 + 4/12 % {\autocite[324]{parkes1968travel}}
    portmantle1648 = 7 % {\autocite[324]{parkes1968travel}}
    littleTrunk1655 = 9 + 6/12 % {\autocite[324]{parkes1968travel}}
    newPortmantle1657 = 7 % {\autocite[324]{parkes1968travel}}
    sealskinTrunk1661 = 15 % {\autocite[324]{parkes1968travel}}
    newPortmantle1662 = 10 % {\autocite[324]{parkes1968travel}}
    fineForKeepingInhabitantOfHullInBeverly = 5 * 20 % {\autocite[327]{parkes1968travel}}

Some explanation is probably warranted. The variable names I use (both for hobby stuff and work stuff, to my coworker’s chagrin) are typically very verbose. I encode the actual item in question, and the year associated with it, and a unit measure if it’s supplied (e.g. per quart); the value is the price in shillings; after that I leave a comment that includes the bibtex reference that I can copy and paste where necessary.

While this is working for me thus far, it’s fairly unwieldy, and it’s not as flexible as I’d like. For example, say I wanted to include these prices and wages along with their reference in this blog post. To do that, I’d have to grep/search for them in the LaTeX file, mentally parse the name, and type it all up manually and format it. That would be a huge time sink, and my time is already fairly limited.

Instead, I’m going to migrate all of this information into a set of tables in a database (like sqlite or postgres/postgis…I’m leaning toward postgis because of all the mapping stuff I’m doing in qgis anyway). I’ll have the tables written in plaintext in one place, and then fire up the database locally or remotely as needed and create the tables on the fly. This way, there will be “one source of truth” so to speak regarding all of the data. In addition, I can have individual columns (or normalized tables of their own) for years, references, authors, etc. I can then read from this one source of truth via a blog post, or my LaTeX document for “3d6 Miscast Shillings” or the “Roleplayers Guide to the Seventeenth Century” or what have you.

If there’s enough interest, I can make the database available for patreon subscribers.

Let me know your thoughts here.


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