In this post we will talk about money, and study the income and purchasing power of urban dwellers, namely the citizens of Chernivtsi, the capital of Bukowina, Province of Austro-Hungary.
We are all used to the idea that before WW1 poverty was one of the main reasons of emigration from the territory of present Ukraine. It is mostly true concerning rural areas. But what about the cities? We would like to share some information that contradicts the general impression that we have about those times. As always, we invite you to travel back in time as we explore another aspect of our ancestors lives. Today we will tour an area of Ukraine that was a part of Austro-Hungary and we will talk about Chernivtsi, the capital of Bukovyna Province. It is also one of the most popular destinations of our tour guests when we organize the heritage tours of Ukraine.
Before we get into details, I suggest studying some basics about the monetary system of that time. So,
What was the name of the money that our ancestors used? And what did it look like?
The official currency names in the times of Austro-Hungary were gulden, forint and krone, with many different variations that were characteristic of the different areas of the empire. Gulden (divided into 60 Kreuzer) is a German name, and it was the standard unit of the account of Habsburg Empire until 1892. The name of forint or florin (divided into 60 Krauczar) came into use in 1867 when the Austrian Monarchy became the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Since 1867, a paper bill had Hungarian language on one side and German language on the opposite side. The name of forint was used on the Hungarian language side, whilst gulden was the name on the German language side. For our convenience, we will keep to the name of gulden in our article.
In 1892, both gulden and forint were substituted by krone (divided into 100 hellers or fillers) and it was in use until 1918 when the Empire was dissolved.
Now we can get back to the main topic: the currency of our ancestors. Let us tour pre-WWI Chernivtsi (present Ukraine) to explore the well-being of local citizens in the times of Austro Hungary and answer the questions:
How much did our ancestors earn in Chernivtsi?
What were they able to buy with this money?
I suggest we ask the experts. As we have done before, we will use information from the kind Mr. Raimund Friedrich Kaidl, an Austrian historian, ethnographer and rector of Chernivtsi University, who lived in Chernivtsi in 1866-1930. We will also refer to the research done by Mr. Botushanskyi, Dr. of Historical Sciences, a Ukrainian historian who studied the economic, political and social life of Bukovyna in the 19-20th centuries.
Let us learn about the salary of Chernivtsi court workers in 1783. We know that:
– The judge of the city court had a salary of 200 guldens monthly;
– The associate judge earned 100 guldens monthly;
- The court clerks earned 96 guldens per month;
– A magistrate secretary earned 150 guldens monthly;
-A night watchman had the salary of 72 guldens monthly, and he received a special bonus for good service.
Was it enough? To answer that, we looked for information on prices at that time and we found the prices of meat at the local market. In 1778 one kg of beef cost 4 kreuzer (!), pork cost 5 kreuzer per 1 kg, and ham cost 12 kreuzer per 1kg. The cost of veal in 1787 was 8-9 kreuzer per kg, veal tongue was 3-5 kreuzer, and veal head was 3-4 kreuzer.
Well, it looks like in the 1780s a night watchman of Chernivtsi court could have purchased at least 864 kg of veal tongue monthly, veal being one of the best delicatessen items at that time. Incredible!
What about doctors and hospital workers? In the 2nd half of the 19th century, the director of the hospital had the yearly income of 2300 guldens, which makes it about 192 guldens monthly. There were 2 assistant directors and each of them received 1500 guldens yearly (125 monthly). Each of 3 doctors earned 600 guldens yearly (60 monthly) and their expenses for rental accommodations were covered by the hospital.
The special sanitary council of the district regulated the cost of the services of the private doctors. They charged 1-2 gulden for a medical examination, 2 guldens for a home visit during the day and 3 during the night, 5 guldens for a consultation, and 2-30 guldens for special operations. The daily cost of a stay at the hospital was about 20-57 kreuzers in 1843-1871.
Teachers’ salaries were quite good too. Teachers were divided into 3 categories and each category consisted of another 2 or 3 categories depending on the work experience of the teacher, type of the school and its location. In 1873 teachers of the 1st category earned about 800-900 guldens yearly (66-75 monthly). Teachers of the 2nd category earned about 500-700 guldens yearly (42-58 monthly). And teachers of the 3rd category earned 400-500 guldens yearly (33-42 monthly). Teachers with no work experience earned 360 guldens yearly (30 monthly), while a university professor could earn up to 3600 guldens yearly (300 monthly).
Manual labor was much cheaper. In 1867 it cost 0,4 gulden per day and 2,5 gulden for working with a pair of horses. In 1890 an unqualified worker earned 68 kreuzers daily and a qualified worker, like a carpenter, received 1,5 gulden daily.
Taking into account the level of income, the prices were quite affordable. In 1861, 1 kg of beef cost 60 kreuzers, 1 kg of veal cost 80 kreuzers, and pork was 80-90 kreuzers kg. Grain was quite cheap: 100 kg cost 15-40 kreuzers on Chernivtsi market in 1861, while the land tax was 24 guldens yearly per 1 morg (0,56ha) which also tell us about the unfavorable position of the farmers.
One kilogram of wheat bread cost 14 kreuzers in 1866, and 100kg of potatoes cost 1 gulden. A liter of 50% alcohol cost only 14 kreuzers on the market and 25-40 kreuzers in the pubs. A pair of boots cost 8 guldens.
It appears that, towards the end of the 19th century, there was a tendency to increase the prices of food and other goods while salaries remained on the same level. However, a new teacher in the public school in Chernivtsi in 1873, without any work experience, with his monthly salary of 30 guldens could have afforded to buy really much. For example, it could be about 3000 kg of potatoes (about 10 years supply of potatoes!!!), or to buy a smaller amount of potatoes and about 10kg of beef, 1 pair of boots and 20 liters of 50% alcohol in the pub with money left over for other things? It appears that it was not any problem to survive….
To put this in perspective, the value of one silver gulden was based on the weight of silver it contained. So, in terms of today’s US dollars in silver pricing a gulden would be worth about $5.28.
Dear friends, I hope you enjoyed our little Ukrainian tour in time. We invite you to follow Andriy Dorosh, tour guide and genealogy researcher in Ukraine, to receive updates on our new publications.
R.F. Kaidl. The History of Chernivtsi since Early Time till Present