Calculating Today’s Value of the Tea Destroyed on December 16, 1773

The first episode of History Channel’s “America: The Story of Us” stated that the value of the tea dumped into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party was $1 million. That reminded me of Dunlap’s Pennsylvania Packet from April 18, 1774, which published some interesting post-party items, including one about the value of the tea.

According to the Packet, “it is said that the tea thrown into the Sea at Boston is valued at 18,000 l. at 1s. 6d. per pound. The whole sent to America is said to be worth about 300,000 l. which is returning home, not being suffered to be landed.”

Using the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, £18,000 in 1774 (I rounded up) translates to £2,023,200 today.  That’s an average of two percent inflation per year. Converting £2.023 million to USD via XE.com, I found the value of the tea destroyed on December 16, 1773 to be $3,091,687 (more than $2 million higher than the History Channel’s estimate).

According to Wesley Griswold’s The Night The Revolution Began “the figure varies with nearly every source, and ranges from as low as £8000 to as high as £18000.”

So I checked to see if the History Channel was using the low estimate.  Using the £8000 variable, I found today’s value of the tea destroyed on December 16, 1773 is $1,374,083 (still much higher than the History Channel’s quote).

If £8000 was the low estimate and £18,000 was the high, that leaves £13,000 as the median estimate. Figuring £13,000 would be the most accurate measure, I threw it in the inflation and conversion calculators and found today’s value of the tea dumped in Boston harbor on December 16, 1773 to be $2,232,885.

Can anyone tell me how/where the History Channel came up with $1 million?  What’s the most accurate estimate?

6 Comments

  1. J. L. Bell
    May 1, 2010

    Last December at Boston 1775, Charles Bahne shared an image from Parliament’s official report on the cost of the destroyed tea, and an estimate of the equivalent cost today.

    The America: The History of US series is getting terrible reviews from both Revolutionary War reenactors and early American historians.

  2. raglinen
    May 2, 2010

    Thanks for sharing Bahne’s guest post on the same topic, J.L. So, we know the 1773 value was £9659. Now, how do we reach the modern value is the question?

    Bahne’s calculation resulted in a modern value of $847,000, based on converting to US dollars first, in 1773, and then calculating inflation on the US dollar over 236 years.

    For my calculation, I kept the same unit for 236 years, measuring inflation on the pound. Then, I converted fully inflated pound value to US dollars.

    Applying my calculation order and using the same Measuringworth tool that Bahne did, I found that £9659 in 1773 = £972,000 today. Then, using today’s GBP to USD exchange rates, I calculate the value of the tea at $1,485,330.

  3. bostonhistory (Ben Edwards)
    May 2, 2010

    RT @raglinen: @HistoryChannel: Value of tea dumped into Boston harbor 1773 was $1M. My math = $1.4 to $3.1M? http://tinyurl.com/25jdnao #americastory

  4. Alba Tross
    May 5, 2010

    Thank you. I stopped watching America, the History of US, when they were talking about Paul Revere and repeated the old, old, teaching of: “The British are coming.”

    I have also heard it is not receiving good reviews, but as I said, I stopped watching early on.

    Something has happened to History Channel.

  5. ThatHistorian (Darren R. Reid )
    December 16, 2010

    Calculating the true cost of the Boston Tea Party – http://raglinen.com/2010/05/01/value-of-the-tea-destroyed-on-december-16-1773/

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