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Adam Smith, Watch Prices, and the Industrial Revolution

Morgan Kelly and Cormac Ó Gráda ()

No 201505, Working Papers from School of Economics, University College Dublin

Abstract: Although largely absent from modern accounts of the Industrial Revolution, watches were the first mass produced consumer durable, and were Adam Smith’s pre-eminent example of technological progress. In fact, Smith makes the notable claim that watch prices may have fallen by up to 95 per cent over the preceding century; a claim that this paper attempts to evaluate. We look at changes in the reported value of over 3,200 stolen watches from records of criminal trials in the Old Bailey court in London from 1685 to 1810. Before allowing for quality improvements we find that the real price of watches in nearly all categories falls steadily by 1.3 per cent per year, equivalent to a fall of 75 per cent over a century, a rate considerably above the growth rate of average labour productivity in British industry in the early nineteenth century.

Keywords: Watch prices; Adam Smith; Industrial revolution (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: N0 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-gro, nep-his and nep-hpe
Date: 2015-03
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Downloads: (external link)
http://hdl.handle.net/10197/6439 First version, 2015 (application/pdf)

Related works:
Journal Article: Adam Smith, Watch Prices, and the Industrial Revolution (2016) Downloads
Working Paper: Adam Smith, Watch Prices, and the Industrial Revolution (2015) Downloads
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