April 02, 2010

Outside of Versailles: Bread

The second half of the eighteenth century had its share in price spikes but the sharpest occurred between 1788 and 1789.  The cost of a 4lb loaf rose from about 4 sous to 14 sous*.  To many this was just not manageable, especially when rents were rising at the same time.  Why was everything rising so quickly?

Poor harvest, sure, but not poor enough to create famine.  The cost of bread rose when the harvest was less than stellar but more effective to this spike were the past harvest and anticipated fears of the future harvest.  With the earlier harvest producing so low, there was less corn to buy for seed and subsequently less available to sell.  The fear of another poor year was enough to create a paranoia about food supply. This had an impact on prices.  Prices were this high in most city centers, not only Paris.

"The crowd, besieging every baker's shop, received a parsimonious distribution of bread, always with warnings about possible shortages next day."

There was a general feeling of anxiety with France's political environment. With the rising cost of corn, the cost of a loaf rose.  With the increased price of bread came a decrease in 'pleasure spending'.  That decrease led to less jobs, and now we have poorer populations without steady work and not enough sous for the pricey bread.

On top of that, there had been a disastrous silk harvest previously, and a significant drop in wine prices.  These merchants were left in an unfortunate financial state.  To further the misery of the French, livestock populations had taken a dive after epidemics that killed the animals off.  Could it be worse?

*in Paris

7 comments

  1. just love this site...such interesting information! have a great holiday !!!

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  2. @Rosemary Thanks! Glad you are enjoying the site :o)

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  3. So the bread was made of corn and not wheat flour? Their normal diet must have been very different to today's fare.

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  4. Vinery, the term corn probably refers to wheat. The word used to be used for cereal grains in general. In the new world, what we know of as corn just happened to be a local cereal grain.

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  5. Let them eat cake!!!
    j/k! we all know she probably didn't realy say that.
    Thanks for the usefull information Arabella.

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  6. @Arabella: That is interesting info. I had wondered the same thing as Vinery, so knowing this makes sense. Do you know when the term stopped being general and become common only to maize?
    @Lauren: This is a really great and timely post. It appears that fear of future loss having a negative effect on present markets has been a problem for a long, long time. Now our economies tank based on nebulous concepts like stock values; then it was due to very immediate and human-scaled commodities like food. Either way, the perception of future problems actually creates immediate ones.

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  7. Corn is still the term used in Britain for grain- wheat, rye, barley, etc. American corn or maize is the term for, well, American corn or maze.

    Cheers,

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