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Measuring the General Level of Prices in the UK in the Long Nineteenth Century: from Individual Innovation to State Production

Jeff Ralph (University of Southampton), Paul A. Smith (University of Southampton)

Published In:
Published Date:

January 2021


Wholesale Price Index, Inflation, Household Expenditure, Board of Trade, Commodity Prices, Consumer Prices


We examine the trajectory of price measurement in the UK in the nineteenth century. The initial steps were taken by interested individuals, and were largely concerned with documenting changes in the value of money driven by increases in the availability of gold and silver. We focus on (a) the conceptual approaches to price measurement, particularly the move from producer (wholesale) prices towards consumer prices; (b) the practical problems of obtaining the information needed and calculating an index; and (c) the social and political pressures which eventually led to the introduction of an official index.

Published in:



10 - 35

Date of Publication:

January 2021

About the author

Jeff Ralph (University of Southampton)

Jeff Ralph is a visiting academic at the University of Southampton, UK. He worked for the Office for National Statistics for 14 years, retiring in 2018. Most of that time was spent working on price statistics - this included research and teaching. Jeff is joint author of three books on index numbers and inflation measurement. He holds degrees in Mathematics and Physics from the Universities of Warwick and Reading.

Paul A. Smith (University of Southampton)

Paul A Smith is Professor of Official Statistics at the University of Southampton, and is interested in the theory and practice of sample surveys and other approaches to measuring the characteristics of human and business populations. He previously worked for the Office for National Statistics, gaining extensive experience of a range of official statistics, including price statistics, the population census and business surveys.

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