Adam Smith, Watch Prices, and the Industrial Revolution
17 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2015 Last revised: 5 Mar 2015
Date Written: February 28, 2015
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: Adam Smith, Industrial Revolution, productivity change
JEL Classification: N0
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation