Prices and the value of money are difficult to evaluate over time. Readers of Victorian novels know that in the late nineteenth century an income of about 150 Pounds a year was the minimum needed to live as a gentleman (Trollope says tartly "an embarrassed gentleman, yes, but a gentleman"). That was three pounds a week and for that, a person could rent an apartment, eat and have a part-time servant.
Before 1900, prices for food and clothing were proportionately much more expensive and labor was proportionately far cheaper. Sir Walter Scott writes that in his time one could engage a servant for little more than food clothing and shelter. Still, if a middle-class person could live a decent life at three pounds a week in Victorian England and the Post Office issued a stamp for five pounds it would be the equivalent in spending power to a $1000 stamp today.
This raises the question of what could such stamps possibly be used for. Mainly they were used by banks that sent quantities of cash and gold to one another and as such the high weight and insurance would necessitate high postage. But more importantly, such high-value stamps give collectors today a very good idea of why these stamps are so scarce.
First, who could possibly have afforded five pounds to put away a mint stamp? And second how much bullion could possibly have been mailed? But it also helps us understand why we still see the stamps today. After all, the bold design and vivid color, in addition to the huge face value, would make a collector out of anyone who came in contact with one and had an opportunity to save it.
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