What was the break even price for cotton between 1800 and 1860?

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
I have always believed that it was @ 12 cents per pound in 1820 and went up from there. Do you have any source reflecting a different figure?
 
Last edited:

ucvrelics

Major
Forum Host
Joined
May 7, 2016
Location
Alabama
When the Union Army stole this cotton in 1865 the price was $1.68 a pound. With a bale being 500lbs this works out to be 8.4 million and that's just in 5 to 20 miles of here in Demopolis. It had o be re-baled in order to hide where it came from the cotton merchants in Mobile.

Scan_20170210 (3).jpg
 

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
When the Union Army stole this cotton in 1865 the price was $1.68 a pound. With a bale being 500lbs this works out to be 8.4 million and that's just in 5 to 20 miles of here in Demopolis. It had o be re-baled in order to hide where it came from the cotton merchants in Mobile.

View attachment 125854
Thanks, but I am looking for prewar figures.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
How's this...
USCottonPrice18141860.jpg




from
Generating the Wealth of Nations 12: US Cotton Exports and the Price of Cotton

or this graph is price per pound...

450px-Cotton_Prices001_01.jpg

Thanks. That is the gross price but what was break even price, i.e., the price necessary to cover the cost of production?
 

mobile_96

First Sergeant
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Ill.
Thanks. That is the gross price but what was break even price, i.e., the price necessary to cover the cost of production?
Good question. And I'm not sure there is a fixed answer. You would have to view plantation records in their entirety, and there are very few of them preserved, much less complete for the plantation's life.
Plus you have the fact that many owners lived with bank debts for larger amounts, buying slaves, land, etc., (paid off when the crops were sold), with brokers actually doing the paying off by deducting the debt from the owners 'payoff' and giving it to the bank, which often was the one the brokers used themselves. Another reason for having to closely study
the owners records.
Quite a bit of 'paper IOU's' passed back and forth between owners and also between owners and merchants, as owners seldom had much cash in their pockets.
If anyone knows of articles or books covering the topic, I'd love know also.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
When the Union Army stole this cotton in 1865 the price was $1.68 a pound. With a bale being 500lbs this works out to be 8.4 million and that's just in 5 to 20 miles of here in Demopolis. It had o be re-baled in order to hide where it came from the cotton merchants in Mobile.

View attachment 125854
Seizing goods from an enemy is not theft it is a legitimate part of war. Where John Mosby and John McNeill theives?
Leftyhunter
 

ucvrelics

Major
Forum Host
Joined
May 7, 2016
Location
Alabama
Seizing goods from an enemy is not theft it is a legitimate part of war. Where John Mosby and John McNeill theives?
Leftyhunter
I don't remember The Gray Ghost stealing 10,000 bales of cotton and using the local labor to ship it South. What he did was forage for what he needed for the "Lost Cause" When the Yankee Col Hubbard filed this report the war was over and he was in command of the Union occupying force. This cotton belonged to the planters. I would be very interested to know where the MONEY went.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Eric Calistri

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 31, 2012
Location
Austin Texas
I don't remember The Gray Ghost stealing 10,000 bales of cotton and using the local labor to ship it South. What he did was forage for what he needed for the "Lost Cause" When the Yankee Col Hubbard filed this report the war was over and he was in command of the Union occupying force. This cotton belonged to the planters. I would be very interested to know where the MONEY went.

Perhaps it ended up with the contents of the New Orleans Mint.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
I don't remember The Gray Ghost stealing 10,000 bales of cotton and using the local labor to ship it South. What he did was forage for what he needed for the "Lost Cause" When the Yankee Col Hubbard filed this report the war was over and he was in command of the Union occupying force. This cotton belonged to the planters. I would be very interested to know where the MONEY went.
The boys in blue deserved a little reward for their good deeds. Hopefully Col.Hubbard bought some Kentucky nectar for his men strictly for medicinal purposes of course:twins:
Leftyhunter
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
When the Union Army stole this cotton in 1865 the price was $1.68 a pound. With a bale being 500lbs this works out to be 8.4 million and that's just in 5 to 20 miles of here in Demopolis. It had o be re-baled in order to hide where it came from the cotton merchants in Mobile.

View attachment 125854
Per the US Supreme Court the Civil War didn't end until 1866 so Southern cotton is fair game.
Leftyhunter
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
I have always believed that it was @ 12 cents per pound in 1820 and went up from there. Do you have any source reflecting a different figure?
I don't know the answer but did cotton growers suffer a high rate of bankruptcy?
If not then most likely cotton prices were mostly profitable. How do we define " high bankruptcy" off hand anything over 20%.
Leftyhunter
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
I have always believed that it was @ 12 cents per pound in 1820 and went up from there. Do you have any source reflecting a different figure?
You're asking a great question, but there is no answer. Farming is a business like any other and there are so many individual variables we'll never identify a 'break even' production price. Heck, even micro-local weather can shine on or ruin people ten miles apart.

I'm really dubious of twelve cents or any other number for this reason.
 

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
You're asking a great question, but there is no answer. Farming is a business like any other and there are so many individual variables we'll never identify a 'break even' production price. Heck, even micro-local weather can shine on or ruin people ten miles apart.

I'm really dubious of twelve cents or any other number for this reason.
My information is primarily from newspaper reports during that era. Was wondering if anyone else had other information. If there is no known average cost of producing and shipping a pound of cotton, then the assumption that cotton planting was profitable is a myth.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

GS

Retired User
Joined
Jan 31, 2017
Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793 or so, and with more cotton gleaned from seeds quicker, more hands were needed in the field. (Sidebar note: a need for more slaves in the fields may have led to the Civil War.) More cotton on the market would spell lower price.
 
Joined
Mar 25, 2014
Planting cotton certainly had risk before and after the war. The break even for the link that Eric provided would only be about 4 cents per pound but it makes assumptions that would not hold for all planters. Cotton production per acre varied widely year to year and plantation to plantation. A bale per acre was great but sometimes and some locations got 1/4 or less in yield. Transportation costs dropped during the century but productivity would also drop on "worn out" soil. It is difficult to say what an average experience was but many rushed to the 19th century bubble to get rich...
 

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
How's this...
USCottonPrice18141860.jpg




from
Generating the Wealth of Nations 12: US Cotton Exports and the Price of Cotton

or this graph is price per pound...

450px-Cotton_Prices001_01.jpg
These graphs are problematic, for the following reasons:

1) The time period between 1800-1860 is longer than the average, early 19th century lifespan.

Eyeballing the graphs, I will suggest they be re-done to show prices between 1845-1860 and include a trend line. That is a period of time that living persons could and can grasp. I will also suggest production levels be plotted on the same graph. You will be amazed at both rising in tandem for years before the war.

Supply can rise greatly and prices can continue to rise, as long as demand outstrips supply. Looks to me like that is what was going on.

2) We don't know where the graphed numbers came from and one may reasonably doubt reliable statistics were kept in the 19th century.

Commodity prices were extremely volatile and my own quick and dirty look at period newspapers does not support the figures in the graph. There are tons at the Library of Congress that may be searched here. (Newspapers in farming communities did and do provide the latest commodity price action, usually on a daily basis).
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
My information is primarily from newspaper reports during that era. Was wondering if anyone else had other information. If there is no known average cost of producing and shipping a pound of cotton, then the assumption that cotton planting was profitable is a myth.
Great thread, but I think we've got at least three, separate conversations going on here. :smile:

There is no average cost of production and shipping because everyone's circumstances were different. Even if we could find an "average," it would be meaningless for this reason.

Plus, there were different categories of cotton when brought to market - as many as six to eight, from OK to really good. Price per pound could be double for the really high quality stuff vs. the just stuff.
 

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
Planting cotton certainly had risk before and after the war. The break even for the link that Eric provided would only be about 4 cents per pound but it makes assumptions that would not hold for all planters. Cotton production per acre varied widely year to year and plantation to plantation. A bale per acre was great but sometimes and some locations got 1/4 or less in yield. Transportation costs dropped during the century but productivity would also drop on "worn out" soil. It is difficult to say what an average experience was but many rushed to the 19th century bubble to get rich...

And lost their (cotton) shirts...
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top