Friday, March 29, 2013

One a Penny, Two a Penny

For brunch this Good Friday morning (thank God for some extra hours of sleep – work has been very tiring, including meetings in the evening; with that, and choir, and an invitation to a talk, I've been out late every workday this week): two hot cross buns, buttered, with a cup of coffee. (I will have fish for dinner this evening.)

It amuses me to calculate the price of these buns (bought yester-day, but baked in Hobart, at the excellent Jackman and McRoss bakery – the shopkeepers who sold them on to me told me they had had to have a second truckload sent up, since the day before they had sold thirty dozen packs!): each pack contains six buns, for a total cost of $9.95; so the two buns I ate had a value of $1.66.

I see that a 1733 almanac mentions that hot cross buns indeed were then sold for one or two a penny; inflation – that wicked thing – has seemingly turned the price of one penny for one or two buns into $1.66 for two.

This, however, is on closer analysis not too bad: for when King Offa of Mercia introduced the silver penny into circulation in the eighth century, its mass was 22.5 "Tower" grains, equivalent to 15.8 troy grains, or almost exactly 1 gram; and one gram of silver costs 87 Australian cents. Hence, the price of a (silver) penny for one hot cross bun is actually about right, taking the long view.

(En passant, it would clearly be wicked to eat thirty, let alone sixty, hot cross buns, since their cost would amount to thirty silver pennies – the wages of Judas.)

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