According to OldandSold.com, following the annexation of Norway to Sweden in 1814, Norway was granted a separate currency. Each country therefore adopted the practice of placing the country name first after the king’s name. During the reign of Oscar I (1844-59) on Swedish coins it reads OSCAR SVERIGES NORR. GOTH. OCH VEND. KONUNG and on Norwegian coins: OSCAR NORGES SVER.G.OG V. KONGE (Oscar, King of Norway, Sweden, Gothland and Vendalia). This practice continued until Norway gained independence in 1906.
The krone was introduced in 1875, replacing the Norwegian speciedaler at a rate of 4 kroner = 1 speciedaler. In the original text, the amount that Nora has borrowed is 1200 speciedaler, so Lavery has used the 4 NOK conversion rate to get us to 4800 NOK. But this is 1870s NOK so it’s not as simple as converting 4800 NOK to contemporary dollars to know, in today’s financial terms, the size of Nora’s debt.
I’ve looked at a number of sources — including the amazing website Measuring Worth — to figure this out. Using that site’s conversion data, the best strategy I’ve decided upon is to treat the 4800 as British pounds. If I do that, the figure for the “relative worth” of that amount in 1876 comes to £350,000 in today’s money. That seems like an amazing amount, an amount that Nora has no chance of ever paying back. If we consider that Krogstad is probably charging her an exorbitant interest rate, it might even be a larger sum than this calculation. One source I found (A History of Interest Rates by Sidney Homer & Richard Eugene Sylla) indicates a general 4% interest rate in 1870s Germany but that was for typical lenders. I wonder if Krogstad was as much of a “shark” as a British man who escaped jail time in 2009 even though he charged a woman £90,000 on an initial £500 loan.
To gain a perspective on cost of living at the time the play was written: a day’s wage for manual labor in 1876 Norway was 80 øre. Approximately 100 øre make 1 NOK (Kroner) and we can think of 1 Kroner like 1 dollar, the base of paper money. Just to give you a sense of inflation, in 1968 a day’s wage for manual labor is 6000 øre/60 NOK, about 75 times as much as 1876.
Today the hourly wage in Norway’s building/construction fields is 150 NOK an hour/1050 NOK a day. Using conversion figures to dollars that’s about $27/hour and that hourly rate adds up to a yearly salary (based on a 40 hour week/50 work weeks a year) totalling around $54,000
In terms of household costs, a loaf of rye bread in 1876 cost 18 øre and in 1968 it is 140 øre. To put that in context, in 2011 a latte is priced at 30 NOK (Kroner) or about $5.73. That figure is courtesy of Ali’s recent travels to Norway!
Now I am no economist and, like I mentioned above, I find it still hard to believe that Nora’s debt at the time could be the equivalent of a figure like £350,000 today. If anyone finds errors in my calculations, please let me know!