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Old Swedish measures and money

This is a page on old Swedish measures and monetary systems. The reason for it, as for most of the pages of this site, is to try and describe the situation of the forefathers and -mothers in my genealogy research – a kind of social environmental description. The target audience is generally kith and kin and the contents and ambition adapted to the purpose.

The rather frequent visits to this specific page from other than ”the closest mourners” trigger a bit more ambition though. To that effect the range of the information here is unusually large (compared to the rest of my historical pages…). And there is also this version in English – so come and get it!

There are reasons to believe that some of the visitors have a special interest and/or knowledge of the topic, and perhaps also can provide further information to this page. I’m much obliged to anyone who can provide exact terminology in English for terms that I may have translated wrong! You are in any case more than welcome to give feedback or send a question!

E-mail the sitemaker!

 

 

Measurements

Sources: Albert W Carlsson – "Med mått mätt" (1997), ISBN: 91-27-34962-4, Nordisk familjebok (Uggleupplagan), Bonniers lexikon 1974, and several Internet sites.

History, a bit of reflection and an announcement

Before 1665 there were different measurements in different parts of the country and terms and names could be the same but with different sizes. In 1665 there was a national system introduced and that system was further modified in 1735.

A top-to-bottom modernization took place in 1855, when the decimal system was decided on and announced. People however were reluctant, which is no surprise in circumstances like these, and the change went slow. From 1863 on it was ordered that the decimal system should be applied without any excuses.

The Meter was introduced from France and applied in 1878. After an ample time of grace the metric system became the only legal one from 1889 on. Notwithstanding the law, the old ways lived all over the country for a long time after that.

There were three different systems for cubic and weight tallying – one for trading, another for noble metals and coins and the third for medical use. I shall try to define them and specify the differences more thoroughly in a later edition of this page but for now you have to use the mixed charts below.

Measurements and measuring always was a serious thing. Far into the 19th century you could get a death penalty for using false measurements!

From the start, and in many cases for rather a long time, the measurements were approximate and related to phenomenon that varied between regions, professions or even people.

The methods of that time also set limitations to true tallying. I find it for example rather impractical to think of an old Swedish mile as 10688 metres, a foot as 296,9 millimetres or a pound (skålpund) as 425,076 grams – as people at that time didn’t have the means to reach such a nicety in measuring. ”… a little more than ten kilometres”, ”… three decimetres” or ”… just under half a kilo” should do it in most cases. And all the same I still use needlessly many decimals…

Now, before you let yourself loose on this page, you should be warned: Terms are in Swedish but the English or American equivalence is presented, if relevant. But ― the translations of the old Swedish measurements and money are done to the decimal, metric system or the decimal system of coinage! Should you need it in yards, miles, inches, pounds, gallons, dollars, euro or whatever, you must take it that last step all by yourself. Maybe in a future I should manage the strength to overhaul this page and provide even that kind of comparison ― but not now…!

 

Linear measures  Cubic measures  Weight measures  Areal measures  Money

 

Linear measures

Personal measures (body measures)

Since the beginning of human history one used measurements from the body: Foot, inch, arms length, fathom. That of course means that measures were approximate:

 

Stenkast

Stones Throw

50 steps, app 40 - 50 metres.

Steg

Step

The length of one step

Famn

Fathom

From the left hand middle fingertip to the right hand middle fingertip, with both arms spread.

Aln

Ell, Cubit

From elbow to the tip of the little finger.

Fot

Foot

From the heel to the big toe.

Spann

Span

The big span is the distance between the tips of the thumb and the middle finger when spread.

The small span is the distance between the thumb and the index finger tips.

Tvärhand

Hand's breath

The breadth over the four fingers of a hand.

Tum

”Inch” (tum = thumb)

The breadth over the thumb.

Fingerbredd

Fingers breadth

The breadth over the middle finger.

The cohesion between these units depended on the normal proportions in the human body. Thus were 1 fathom = 2 steps = 6 ells = 12 feet = 36 hand's breaths = 144 inches = 180 fingers breadths and so on.. The solid measurements below are often standardized from the body measures.

Solid linear measures

Mil

Swedish mile

The mil was introduced in 1699 as a basic term, related to the distance between inns. Before that a mile was of different lengths in different parts of the country. 1 mil=6 000 famnar=18 000 alnar=36 000 fot=10 688 metres. A mil was divided into 4 fjärdingsväg of 2 672 metres=4 500 cubits. From 1899: 1 mil (nymil – new mile) =10 kilometres=10 000 metres.

Aln

Cubit

1 aln=2 fot=4 kvarter=0,594 metres. The cubit was a basic measurement that linear measures related to. It became officially obsolete by the metre in 1899.

Fjärdingsväg

”A quarters way”

1 fjärdingsväg=4 500 alnar=2 672 metres. A ”fjärdingsväg” was a quarter of an old Swedish mile.

Steg

Step

1 step=1/2 fathom=90 centimetres.

Famn

Swedish fathom

1 famn=6 fot=3 alnar=1,78 metres.

Famn was used at sea, e.g. for depths. As many charts were British, even Swedish ships used English ”fathoms”.

Famn also was a cubic measurement for measuring firewood. Firewood was most often measured in so called ”spilled measure”, which includes rather large empty volumes within the load. The more favourable way (for the buyer) to gauge firewood was called ”well stacked measure” and held almost double the amount of wood.

Kvarter, Spann

Quarter (of a cubit), Span

1 kvarter=1 spann=¼ aln=6 tum (verktum)=148,4505 millimetres. (That is accuracy!)

Tvärhand

Hand's breath

1 tvärhand=4 tum=9,9 centimetres.

Fot

Foot

1 fot=1/2 aln =2 kvarter=12 tum (verktum)=0,2969 metres.

Tum

”Inch”

From 1665 to 1855: 1 tum (verktum)=1/24 aln=1/12 fot=1/6 kvarter= 2,474 centimetres.

In the decimal system of 1855: 1 tum=2,969 centimetres=1/10 fot, and graduated into 10 decimal lines.

For measuring tools and certain materials, the English ”Foot” and ”Inch” is still, but rarely, in use in Sweden: 1 inch=2,54 centimetres=1/12 fot.

Fingerbredd

Fingers breadth

1 fingerbredd=1,85 centimetres

 

Nautical measures

Due to methods for navigating at sea the common measurements are arc measures over the earth’s surface. Great distances sometimes were measured in great circle degrees but more often in minutes (great circle minute = 1/60 great circle degree, nautical mile). As the globe is a bit flattened from the poles these minutes won’t be equally tall in different locations, so the nautical mile was determined to be 1/90*1/60=1/5400 of the length of the meridian quadrant ― according to famous German astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Bessell (1784–1846). The term was Nautical mile, to avoid confusion with distances on land or different real sizes of the arc measures in different places.

The term ”Sjömil” (Sea mile) is old and has created some problems over the years, as the term itself is an international one but with different sizes. A Swedish ”sjömil” was 1/15 equatorial degree (7420,4 metres) but the international ”sjömil” (sea mile, mille marin, zeemijl, seemeile) was a nautical mile (1852 metres). The British and French terms league/lieue, means three nautical miles (5556 metres).

”Knot” is no linear measure but a measurement for speed at sea (and in the air). One knot is the speed of one nautical mile per hour.

Storcirkelgrad

Great circle degree

1 storcirkelgrad≈60 nautical miles≈111 kilometres.

Nautisk mil, distansminut

Nautical mile

1 nautisk mil=1852 metres.

Sjömil

”Sea mile”

1 svensk sjömil=7420 metres.

Kabellängd

cable's length

1 kabellängd was 100 famnar=178 metres but became later on 185,2 m=1/10 nautical mile (distansminut).

”Famn” & ”Fot”

Fathom and Foot

Many charts were British and even the Swedish ships used the English measures Fathom and Foot. These measures were not the same size as the Swedish equivalents but 1 farthom=1,829 metres≈6 feet. 1 foot=0,3043 metres.

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Cubic measures

Dry articles and products

Tunna

Cask

1 tunna=2 spann=56 kannor=146,6 litres stroked measure or 164,9 litres fast measure (brimming). Stroked measure means that the container has been stroked off to its brim.

Fast measure held about 16% more than stroked. In the 18th century 4 stroked ”kappar” should be added to a stroked barrel.

Tunna was a common measure for grain but even for bar iron.

Spann

Bucket

1 spann=26 kannor=73,3 litres.

Kappe

 

1 kappe=1/32 tunna= 1/16 spann=7/4 kanna 4,58 litres. After adopting the metre in 1889, kappe has sometimes been used for 5 litres.

Skäppa

 

A very old term, forbidden in 1735. The size varied between regions: Småland 1/6 tunna (27,5 litres), Bohuslän: 1/4 tunna (36,6 litres), Västergötland: 1/5 tunna (33 litres).

Liquid products

Tunna

Cask

1 tunna=4 fjärding=48 kannor=126 litres. A tunna of liquid (i.e. tar) was less than a tunna of, for example, grain.

Ankare

Keg

1 ankare=1/4 åm=15 kannor=39 litres.

Fjärding

Quarter-cask

1 fjärding=12 kannor=31 litres.

Kanna

Canakin

1 kanna=1/48 tunna=2 stop=8 kvarter=32 jungfrur=2,6 litres. (Even for dry products: 1 kanna= 1/56 tunna=4/7 kappe).

Stop

Pint

1 stop=4 kvarter=1/2 kanna=1,3 litres

Kvarter

Quarter-pint

1 kvarter=1/8 kanna=¼ stop=4 jungfrur=32,7 centilitres (≈a small beer can today!)

Jungfru, Ort

”Virgin”

1 jungfru=¼ kvarter=1/16 stop =1/32 kanna=8,2 centilitres. The official term was ”Ort” but the popular name ”Virgin” depended on the noggin, shaped like a truncated cone, that looked a little like a woman in a gown.

Fat, Åm

Barrel

1 fat or 1 åm=4 ankare=60 kannor=157 litres. Sometimes called ”a full barrel” when a half-barrel=78,5 l. Today ”fat” is the Swedish term for 1 US barrel=159 litres.

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Weight measures

The basic unit for measuring victuals was ”Skålpund” (425 grams). It was in 1855 “decimalized” into Ort and Korn.

Mark (203 - 213 grams) was an ancient weight from the beginning of the 16th century. It also became a coin, related to the weight of gold and silver and was in use as such until 1776.

Skeppund, markpund

”Ships pound”

1 skeppund=4 centner (not the international centner or hundredweight of appr. 50 kilos!)=20 lispund=400 skålpund=170 Kilos. Metal (as iron) was gauged with ”skeppund stapelstadsvikt” and ”lispund stapelstadsvikt” or ”markpund”. 1 skeppund stapelstadsvikt=20 markpund (lispund stapelstadsvikt)=400 mark=136 kilos.

Lispund

”Livian pound”

1 lispund=1/20 skeppund=20 skålpund=8,502 kilos. Used in Scandinavia, northern Germany and in the Baltic provinces. Officially obsolete in 1885 the lispund was still in use for a long time.

Bismerpund

 

1 bismerpund=12 skålpund=5,1 kilos

Skålpund

≈Pound (lb)

1 skålpund=32 lod=128 qvintin=8,848 ass=425 grams. From 1855: 1 skålpund=10 ort=100 korn. (1 lb=454 grams)

Lod

 

1 lod=1/32 skålpund=4 qvintin=13,3 grams . In coins: 1 lod=13,16 grams.

Uns

≈Ounce

1 uns=2 lod=548 ass=26,3 grams of silver or 27,9 grams of gold. 1 uns medical weight=29,69 grams. 1 ounce (oz)=28,35 grams.

Mark

 

1 mark=212,5 grams. During the 19th century mark was often used as a substitute for, or mixed up with, skålpund.

Mark has been used as coins (gold- och silver weight, so called lödig – ”sterling” – mark). 1 mark ”sterling”=8 uns=16 lod=64 qvintin=212 g.

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Areal measures

Seed corn measures

Areal measures often were related to the amount of seed needed to sow the land.

Pundland

1 pundland=4 tunnland=8 spannland

Tunnland

1 tunnland=2 spannland=8 fjärdingsland=32 kappland=56 kannland=4937 m2≈½ hectare.

Spannland

1 spannland=½ tunnland=4 fjärdingsland=16 kappland=28 kannland= 2468 m2

Kappland

1 kappland=1/32 tunnland=154 m2

Kannland

1 kannland=1/56 tunnland=1000 kvadratfot (square ”feet”)=88 m2.

Areal money measures

Sometimes areals were related to the monetary value of the land. From a long time back the tax rate was 1/24 of the land value.

Dalerland

1 dalerland=4 markland=32 tunnland=16 hectares

Markland

1 markland=8 öresland=24 örtugland=192 penningland=4 hektar. A markland was the norm for being propertied.

Öresland

1 öresland=1 tunnland=3 örtugland=24 penningland=4936,6 m2

Örtugland

1 örtugland=1/3 tunnland=8 penningland=1646 m2

Penningland

1 penningland=1/24 tunnland=206 m2

... And a very approximate areal measure

A plogland (plough-land) corresponded to a land that could be ploughed in one day.

Areal measurements of today

Hektar (ha), Ar (a)

1 ha=100 ar=10.000 m2

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Money, denominations and payment of older days

Sources: L O Lagerqvist & E Nathorst-Böös – "Vad kostade det?" 1997 ISBN: 91-27-34956-X; Kungliga myntkabinettet – "Sveriges mynthistoria" 1945, http://www.myntkabinettet.se/svmyhist.htm ; GENOS, ”Tidskrift för genealogiska samfundet i Finland, plus some newspaper articles and advertising 1869 – 1894.

When your genealogy research is so far gone, that you begin to take interest in old inventories, you should also have at least some idea of the old monetary systems. And what things were worth in the old days.

The monetary systems have varied a lot over time and the further back we look, the more complicated they seem.

The medieval system – mark, ören and penningar (plural) – didn’t become obsolete until 1777, in January, when a new monetary system (decided on in 1776) was launched.

The function of the monetary standard was to define a value to land, work and goods, related to a certain weight of metal (copper, silver or gold).

For the period of time, that most genealogists are interested in, the following tables may be enough to satisfy most needs. Names of coins are mostly in Swedish and impossible to translate but hopefully understandable in context.

Currency

Year

Currency

Remark

Before 1620 the monetary system was based on silver exchange standard.

1620 a double exchange standard, based och copper and silver, was launched. The reason was lack of silver. Soon the copper coin was afflicted with inflation and that lowered their status. Most business was done in copper coin standard.

1644 – 1776 copper plate coins were emitted. The metal worth should correspond to silver, so they became big and heavy. 10 daler (dr) copper coins (km) were almost 20 kilos. 1644: 1 dr silver coin (sm) = 2½ dr km. 1665 – 1776: 1 dr sm = 3 dr km.

1660

1 dr sm (16,5 grams silver) = 2 ½ dr km = ⅔ riksdaler (25,3 grams silver)

1 dr sm in plate coins = 1510 grams copper (1 dr km = 604 grams copper)

 

1665

1 dr sm (14,4 grams silver) = 4 mark = 32 öre sm = 3 dr km

Monetary standard in international business: Dukat (3,4 grams of gold) och riksdaler (25,7 grams of silver).

 From start the daler (dollar) was an international monetary denomination and was later named Riksdaler as the ”daler itself” became less and less worth compared to the origin.

1719

1 dr sm = 3 dr km = ⅓ riksdaler (= 2 caroliner = 4 mark)

1 dr sm in plate coins = 756 grams copper (1 dr km = 252 grams copper) = 1/180 skeppund copper.

1 dr sm in destitution coins and notes = ½ dr sm.

1 dr sm carolin = 4 mark sm = 1,59 dr sm in plate coins

1 dr sm courant = 32 öre sm = 1,03 dr sm in plate coins

The destitution coins from 1716 – 1718 was cashed in for about half the original value.

Problems with the double exchange standard (copper and silver).

1740 – 1776 developed a huge inflation with refused banknotes.

Copper based exchange standard 1719-1745.

1745

 

Exchange standard based on paper bank-notes 1745-1776

1777

The monetary system of 1776 is launched per January

1 riksdaler = 48 skilling = 18 daler kopparmynt in bank-notes)

1 skilling = 12 runstycken = 4 öre sm = 12 öre km.

The medieval system – mark, ören and penningar (plural) – didn’t become obsolete.

Silver exchange standard 1777-1791.

1791

 

Exchange standard based on paper bank-notes 1791-1803.

1873

1 krona = 100 öre = 1 riksdaler riksmynt = 100/248 grams of gold

 

1873-1924

Sweden: 1 kr = 100 öre = ¼ riksdaler specie = 32 skilling banco = 48 skilling riksgäld

Denmark: 1 kr = 100 öre = ½ rigsdaler = 48 skilling;

Norway: 1 kr = 100 öre = ¼ speciedaler = 30 skilling

The Scandinavian monetary union: 1 Swedish krona = 1 Danish krona (1873) = 1 Norwegian krona (1875) = 100 öre.

Gold exchange standard 1873-1914, 1 kr = 0,4032258 g pure gold ± 0,15%

1924-1931

1 krona (kr) = 100 öre

Gold exchange standard 1924-1931, 1 kr = 0,4032258 grams of pure gold ± 0,15%

1951-1970

Exchange standard based on US Dollar: $1 = SEK 5,18 ± 1%.

 

Pricing and remuneration (examples)

1660

1 daywork

1 pig

5 mark km (km=copper coin)

5 dr km (dr=daler)

1725

Housemaid

1 cow

1 kanna (2,6 litres) of beer

40 dr km a month

30 dr km

24 öre km

1760

Farm hand

1 shirt

1 tunna (cask) of wheats

5 dr 8 öre km a week

27 dr km

35 dr km

1803

Farmhand, 1 daywork

1 tunna (cask) of rye

1 skålpund of snuff

13 sk specie

5 rdr specie (rdr=riksdaler)

9 – 14 sk riksgäldssedlar (notes) (sk=skilling)

1870

Industrial worker

Emigrant journey Göteborg - Chicago

1 cow

1 horse

1 ox

1,50 rdr riksmynt a day

175 rdr riksmynt

50 – 100 rdr riksmynt

100 – 300 rdr

275 – 400 rdr

1900

Metal worker

1 cow

1 litres of spirit

1 kilo of dry pork

1 kilo of coffee

61,3 hours a week, 36 öre an hour

100 – 150 kr

2 kr

1 kr

2 kr

1925

Male worker

1 kilo of butter

1/6 litres of ”punsch” (caloric punch)

5,23 kr a day

3,88 kr

2,30 kr

Interested in a deeper understanding of Sweden's monetary system and its history? Please visit the Royal Coin Cabinet! Or the website historia.se!

 

Linear measures  Cubic measures  Weight measures  Areal measures  Money

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©Tom Dahlstedt 2003 - 2011. Page updated lördag 25 april 2015.

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