A wine list from the 19th century

I wrote this post in Swedish a few days ago since I stumbled on a picture of a wine list dating back to the Stockholm fair 1897. I found the picture in a companion book to Per Anders Fogelström’s (1917-1998) The Stockholm-suite; a five book saga on the development of a city, Stockholm, from 1860 to 1968, from the eyes of a few families. The books are Mina drömmars stad (City of my dreams; 1960; covering the years 1860-1880), Barn av sin stad (Children of thier city; 1962; covering 1880-1900), Minns du den stad (Do you remember that the City; 1964; covering 1900-1925), I en förvandlad stad (In a city transformed; 1966; covering 1925-1945) and Stad i världen (City in the world; 1968; covering 1945-1968). As far as I know only the City of My Dreams (2000) and Children of Their City (2008) have been published in an English translation as yet. The companion book is called Stad i Bild (City in pictures) (1970).

I really like these books as they let you live and breath another time, to see glimpses of a city long gone but still present. The streets are still there, lots of the building are still standing, there a pictures and paintings illustrating the time and though fiction it still is a bearer of historic knowledge. In second book one of the main characters works at the 1897Stockholmfair (Allmänna konst- och industriutställningen), aka the public art- and industrial fair, at Djurgården. On the picture below you can see the area of the fair.

At the far right corner you can spot the Djurgårds-bridge that still exist and just a little to the left a few inches up is the national museum that also remains. Interesting for this story is the area to the far left – a replica ofStockholmca 1500 AD. It was built in wood and plaster in a 1:2 scale, a close up picture can be seen on the wine menu below. With in the “old-city” was a recplica of the Rådhuskällaren, the Town hall celler, one of the places that served wine during the middle ages. And of course you could buy wine here at fair as well. Though it wasn’t cheap. This was what you could find:

Champagne: Louis Roederer; 11 kronor, V:ve Clicquot (semi dry); 10 kronor, Pommery & Greno sec; 11 kronor, Pol Roger Extra dry; 12 kronor, G. H. Mumm & Co Cabinet Crémant; 10 kronor, E. Mercier & Co Carte Blanche; 7,50 kronor and Grand vin Royal; 6 kronor.

Red Bordeaux-wines: Ch. Gruaud Larose 1893 Baron Sarget; 7,50 kronor, Ch. La Tour Grand vin 1892; 6 kronor, Beychevelle 1893; 5 kronor, St. Julien 1893; 4 kronor and St Christoly: 3 kronor.

Bourgogne-wines: Romanée; 8 kronor, Volnay; 5 kronor, Beaune; 4 kronor and Chablis; 4 kronor.

Rhine wines: Marcobrunner Auslese 1886; 10 kronor, Hochheimer; 1893 4,50, Rüdersheimer; 1893 3,50, Königsbacher Riesling; 3 kronor och Sparkling Hock 7,50 kronor.

Ports, Sherry and Madeira costed 4 to 6 kronor a bottle.

Kronor is the Swedish currency, still used, and today 1 $ costs ca 6,50 and 7,20 (depending if your buying or selling) and 1€ costs ca 8,50 to 9,20 (depending if your buying or selling), according to the bank 2012-01-05.

Now this really doesn’t say much about what it costed then, does it? It’s difficult to get a good comparisment  between the currency then and today, and even more difficult to translate them into another currency – but I’ll try, but please remember I’m no mathematician and if you find flaws, please tell me and I’ll try to correct them J

However there are few points that pops; to start with the names – there are a lot of names on the list above I still recognize and hold in high regard. Some names are a bit difficult to interpret as they might be communal rather than a producer, for example the bourgeons and theRhinewines.  But I’ll make an assumption for the sake of argument that the Romanée is Romanée-Conti just because I want it to be and it makes it more fun to play with. The most expensive wines on the list are the Champanges and the most expensive of those are the Pol Roger, if the Romanée was a Conti that would have by far been the most expensive today.

To start with the entrance fee’s for the fair where rather high, so it wasn’t really all that public. In the beginning the fee’s were 10 kronor, after a while they were lowered to between 1,50 and 2 kronor. The entrance fee is in fact more pricy than most of the bottles on the wine list.

At aproxemtly the same time one kilo of meat costed 80 öre (0,8 kronor), one kilo worth of butter 2,20 kronor, one litre of milk 5 öre (0,05 kronor), 20 herrings 20 öre (0,2 kronor) – numbers are taken from Swedish Wikipedia.

Prices is one way of comparing costs – and you can get quite a lot of food for a bottle of wine in you compare the prices. Then again food prices and quality differs over time what was luxury then is not luxury today and I don’t know the quality on the goods mentioned above.

Another way to compeer costs is too look into what people earned at the time – how much did they have to work to be able to score on of the bottles above and then compeer it with how much a Swedish worker today would have to work to buy the same bottle at today’s prices.

Now a weeks work wasn’t really the same in 1897 and in 2012, today a normal work week in Sweden is 40 hours back then it was often over 70 hours. In1891 aworker at the Tretorn factories earned about 20 öre/hour (0,2 kronor) i.e.  ca 2-2,4o kronor a day gives an annual salary of ca 700-730 kronor/year  (I counted 70h/day 50 weeks a year – I don’t think they had any vacations – but if I understand correctly the hours could differ a bit over the years, and some days were off).

If we instead look at teachers the salary differs quite a bit, listings  in the Teachers paper 1897 shows annual salaries from 200-300 kronor – 1300 kronor/year. The difference depends on where in the country the school is, if it’s a man or woman, what social status the students have etc. etc. For the lower income jobs housing were often included. Most teachers seems to have had better wages than factory workers though – they also often only worked 8-9 months a year.

In conclusion neither factory workers nor teachers would probably afford a bottle of Champagneor Romanée at the time, if they didn’t have a sugar-daddy or by chance got invited to an up-town party or a tasting. Then again if we assume it was a Romanée-Conti I don’t see many workers or teachers who could afford that today either.

Let’s do a little math, if a worker in 1897 earning 20 öre/hour (I’m not sure if taxes are included in this or not. I assume not) would work to be able to buy a bottle of Romanée (8 kronor) he would need to work for 40 hours and 60 hours for a bottle of Pol Roger, ie % and 85% of a work week. According to an article from 2011 the average salary for an industrial worker in Sweden 2011 was 24300 kronor/month. If we divide this by 4 we get a weekly salary of 6075 kronor, 60% and 85% of this is 3645 and 5165 kronor. This is one way to get a comparison price.

If we further presume that the Romanée was in fact a Romanée-Conti it was quite pricy then though more so today. The 2006 vintage when sold at the Swedish monopoly Systembolaget in 2010 costed 24495 kronor, ie more than the average industrial workers monthly salary before taxes (ca 30 %), the same year it was priced at 62000 kronor at a restaurant in Stockholm. A industrial worker would in other words have to work almost three months to be able to buy the bottle at the restaurant (or in reality just under four months if we include taxes). The price of the Romanée has in other words gone through the roof during the last century.

If we instead look at the Pol Roger, the most expensive wine on the wine list in 1897. According to the same model it costs a lot less today, at Systembolaget a bottle of Pol Roger costs between 357 and 1059 kronor depending on the quality, at a restaurant that would probably be somewhere between 700-2000 kronor. This is a price most industrial workers would manage to earn in one or a few days work today ie less than 85% of a week.

Then again this comparison is more a game of numbers, the workers at the end of the 19th century had a lot harder life than we do today and many a lot worse than them, and even though they hypothetically could buy a bottle of Romanée and most industrial works today can’t – most of us can by a bottle of champagne now and then and look back and see that many thing are a lot better today than yesterday…

I you find the Fogelström books they’re a great read 🙂

With wishes for a good 2012

Magnus Reuterdahl



  1. For me the thing most interesting is the whole of the choice offered: the same as in Holland at the time! Not surprisingly, may be, since the choice represents the wine world of the time: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Rhine and fortified and sweet wines from southern Europe.
    What struck me was the sparkling Hoch: a Riesling Sekt, possible, which I never came across before, so early!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s