Sunday, May 10, 2009

What this blanket cost . . . stanza the third

Having taken the 2 1/2 point blanket as our basis and accounting the cost in terms of £ Halifax "money of account" reckoned in Canada (to be compared to the £ Sterling), let's take a look at what the price of the blanket would be. At this point, we're still talking about wholesale price (the imported price which a fur company would pay in Montreal for blankets to be shipped to what became called "Upper Canada" in the 1790s).

Examining a 1791 shipping inventory supplied by Dobie Badgley & Co. of Montreal to the Grant Campion & Co. traders at Michilimackinac we find: pr [a pair of ] 2 1/2 pt blanket at 10/ (ten shillings).

This would appear to be in line with other documents from Carignant (merchant, 1775), Duffin and Taylor Accounts at Fort Niagara, in 1779, Cadot (1785), Phyn, Inglis, & Co. to Forsyth (1798), all within a shilling range over the time period. The average seems to be about 10/ to 10/6 for a pair of 2 1/2 point blankets. (The Grand Portage inventory of 1797 indicates the value of a pair at 14/6, which most likely reflects "overhead; Sayer's accountbook of 8/1797 values them at 14/).

Figuring that this price is indicative of a two-blanket pair, we arrive at the wholesale cost for a single 2 1/2 point blanket to be 5/ (five shillings).

I have not been able to examine shipping records from England, nor the more complete records of fur trade inventories/accounts housed in the Archives of Ontario and other repositories, so I do not know the "origin" price per unit. However, for our purposes, this 5/ figure should suffice.

Knowing the wholesale price of the single blanket coming from Montreal is only part of the story, in determining what this blanket cost. Setting aside duties, fees, etc. at the dockside (not inconsiderable, but figured I think into this wholesale price along with insurance of goods shipped from England and so on), there are a number of other factors which determine the ultimate price.

Just as today, there is a "markup" of goods for sale. This markup today can vary from a few percent to as much as 50% and more. Factors such as the "overhead" of shipping (labor, vehicles, wages, storage), projected incurred losses, "gifts", not to mention profit are a necessary ingredient to fixing the ultimate price.

Whether a blanket was sold in Quebec, Montreal, traded at Grand Portage, Snake River, or Athabasca these factors needed to be accounted for by the merchant and trading partners.

For the fur companies, another consideration was the ultimate price to be gotten for furs returned for sale to England. The difference in price structure between the time goods were purchased and furs arrived in London for sale at auction could be considerable, and either fantastically profitable, or ruiniously depressed. This lead to a number of plans throughout the period, both French and British, to control and stablize prices (without much success). These schemes, however, are not within the story here.

Next up, overhead, returns on the beaver pelt, and what the price/cost represented (in "real money" of the time).

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