Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Cost of Comfort: Philip Schuyler's 1761 Expenses

By Jessie Serfilippi and Ian Mumpton

An 18th century mirror in the
Yellow Parlor.
In 1761, Philip Schuyler made his only trip across the Atlantic to England, where he intended to purchase furnishings and other items for the mansion he was constructing in Albany. This year not only represents a unique time in Schuyler’s life, but it’s also a year we have a wealth of documentation for in the form of a recreated inventory compiled from surviving receipts. Yet, even with all the documents we do have, there are likely many receipts we’re missing. It is important to note that this recreated inventory does not include food or most pieces of clothing. Neither Carpeting costs nor the amount spent on the actual construction of the Albany mansion are included, either. It also does not include major pieces of furniture, such as chairs, tables, sofas, or beds.

Area above the fireplace in the
Yellow Parlor where Schuyler may
have hung a mirror he purchased.
The only pieces of furniture that Schuyler brought back from England were “3 look’g glass” and “1 fine middle glass.” These pieces were mirrors, which were either used as looking glasses or were hung above fireplaces to make rooms brighter and larger looking. He may have decided to purchase furniture upon his return to New York to avoid the risk of water damage on the journey home and to save the cost of shipping. 

What we are about to dive into is certainly not everything Philip Schuyler purchased in 1761, but it will give us a glimpse into his lifestyle and wealth.  

Schuyler managed to ring up a big total in 1761-- £872. Today, this amount of money would translate to $1,594,249.75 when compared to the median income of an Albany citizen. But what did it mean in Schuyler’s time? To get a better idea, let’s compare this amount of money to average wages of the period (1750-1775) using statistics put out by US Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

£ Made Per Year

It would take the average laborer over twenty-seven years to purchase everything Schuyler did in one—and that’s only if the laborer put all the money they made toward this effort, which would be impossible, as it does not include necessities for survival such as food or clothing. It would take the average bricklayer over nine years to do the same. Using the same sum of money, Schuyler could have bought 498 bushels of wheat, which would have made about 27,786.75 loaves of bread. This could feed one person for 37 years at the average rate of consumption, or a family of eight for 4.63 years. The amount Schuyler spent was extravagant, and so was what he purchased.

Some of what Schuyler bought was practical. For example, he purchased “2 doz brass drawer locks,” “1 doz strait cupboard locks,” and “13 gross inch screws.” He bought “1 bag buttons” and “12 doz best coat buttons.” He also purchased some clothing, including six pairs of grey breeches, six pairs of “shoes bound,” and one pair of “strong boots.” While the clothing he purchased may have sustained him for that year, he likely purchased more clothing for Catharine and their children, who at that time included Angelica, Elizabeth, Peggy, and, briefly, a baby girl named Cornelia who died at about a month old. 

An original silver spoon and
tea cup, and a replica teapot
atop a silver platter. 
Reproduction syllabub atop
a silver waiter.
Schuyler spent money on many important household goods that would be used by the family for decades to come, but he also didn’t spare expense on them. In addition to some practical pieces, he purchased many items the average 18th century family would likely go without. These pieces showed his status. Some of what be bought included: “blades forks with 3 prongs,” “6 large water glasses & saucers,” “12 polished spoons,” “birch handle carving knives,” “a tea pot,” “a sugar dish,” “24 strong wine glasses,” “4 jelly glasses,” “2 sillabub glasses,” “8 baskets with flower handles,” and “1 plain silver waiter.” A major sign of his status in these purchases included getting different glasses for various types of drinks. The amount of wine glasses he purchased also suggests that he would be hosting large groups of people, which also implied his wealth and status. 

An 18th century magic lantern
There were also more obvious ways he showed off his wealth. Among his many purchases in 1761, four stand out as the most extravagant. He purchased both a “reflecting telescope” and a “triple barometer.” He purchased a magic lantern and pictures to go in it, as well. He also bought a “crane necked chariot.” That purchase alone cost him £95. That is over 300% of the average laborer’s salary. If an average family in Albany were to make a purchase of a similar scale today, it would cost them $173, 687.19. 

An 18th century Benjamin Martin
While the chariot was a status symbol—one he could ride around in—the first two items seem to have been tailored to his personal interests. He purchased them from a man named Benjamin Martin, an Englishman known for making clocks, as well as reflecting telescopes and triple barometers. The magic lantern was also an item of pleasure, though likely one that was shared by the entire family and guests, unlike the reflecting telescope and triple barometer. 

Schuyler also spent a large sum of money on wallpaper for his home during 1761. He purchased “56 pieces flock paper” to cover the walls of seven out of eight rooms in the home. He also bought “10 paintings of ruins of Rome” for the up and downstairs hallways. These purchases alone cost him £31.65—slightly more than what the average laborer made each year.
Original marble around the
fireplace in the Yellow Parlor.
His extravagance did not stop there. Schuyler purchased “2 new Italian marble slabs-case & packing,” and “4 marble chimney pieces with hearths.” Marble was extremely expensive—even Schuyler could not afford too much of it, but he was still able to purchase some—a feat that would have been impossible for the average 18th century person. On marble alone, Schuyler spent £48.55, or roughly $93,548. 

Reproduction flocked wallpaper
in Schuyler's study.
We have restored some of the most important pieces Schuyler purchased during his shopping spree in England, such as the Ruins of Rome wallpaper and much of the flocked wallpaper, and are constantly working on making the home as accurate to Schuyler’s lifetime as possible. Come visit us to get a feel for the 18th century opulence Schuyler so highly valued and take in for yourself the extravagance his 1761 trip brought to the Schuyler Mansion.

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