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How Much Is a Gold Piece Worth?

posted Sunday, April 13th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
None of the Above

Back in 2006 I asked what a gold piece would be worth in modern currency. Enough has changed in two years (and it seems I made a few miscalculations) that I’ve decided to revisit the topic.

Since 2006, the price of a troy ounce of gold has shot up from US$565 to US$930. Since a troy ounce is actually slightly larger than a regular ounce, a standard pound (sixteen ounces) of gold is worth around US$13,570. With fifty gold pieces in a pound, a gold piece today is worth US$271.41, UK£137.72, or €172.52 to European gamers.

Of course, this assumes that D&D uses our modern pound weight, which before 1958 varied significantly between different countries. There’s also no guarantee that a “gold coin” will be pure gold. Coins intended for circulation have traditionally been made from gold alloyed with copper or silver for better durability.

This also assumes a modern economy, when the relative values of precious metals, goods and services have changed significantly since mediaeval times. If we take the more historically consistent measurement of a pint of common ale, a single gold piece today is worth somewhere between $80 and $160 US, £40-80, or €50-100.

What can I get for a dollar?

Suppose you discover a portal in your basement and decide to emigrate to the City of Greyhawk. What can you expect to be charged for goods and services?

  • Manual labour (per day): $27 (gold standard), $12 (beer standard). Modern day ranges from $46.8 (USA federal minimum) to $87 (UK minimum).
  • Mercenary (per day): $81 (gold standard), $36 (beer standard). Plus danger pay. Modern day equivalent is around $219.
  • Tent: $2,700 or $1,200. More than a little off-base at ten to thirty times the cost of the modern counterpart.
  • Riding horse: $20,250 (gold standard), $9,000 (beer standard). Half as much for a pony, and five times as much for a military grade mount. Surprisingly close to a modern-day motor vehicle.

Things get a little crazy when we move into the “strictly adventurers only” price range:

  • Masterwork weapon: $39,600 to $89,100.
  • Belt of Strength +4: Doubles the wearer’s physical strength for between £1.92 million and $4.32 million
  • Warship: $3 million to $6.7 million.
  • Ring of Three Wishes: $11.8 million to $26.4 million

Finally, for further comparison, consider what these real-world items would cost a D&D character to buy:

  • Nonmasterwork handgun: 7sp – 14 sp, ammunition 1-2cp per ten bullets
  • Car: around 75gp to 150gp; fuel costs 1cp/ten miles
  • F-15E fighter jet: 222,000 to 500,000 gp, likely out of the price range of a single non-epic character
  • Aircraft carrier: 16.7 to 37.5 million gp. Without aircraft.

Comments

  1. Rue

    April 13th, 2008

    Considering in the PHB, you get given the size, & weight of a gold coin, couldn’t the purity be guessed at for more accuracy?

  2. Jonathan Drain

    April 14th, 2008

    Rue: It’s trickier than it seems. The Players Handbook only gives us the width of a gold piece (30mm) and weight (one fiftieth of a pound), but doesn’t give us any measurement for the thickness.

    Assuming I correctly remember my chemistry, the coin’s thickness would be equal to the mass (9.07g) over the density, divided by the coin’s face area (0.94cm2). From this we can calculate the thickness of the coin, given a certain purity of gold.

    A pure gold coin would have a thickness of 5mm, or about one fifth of an inch. However, since the gold piece is in wide circulation the odds are it’s gold alloy for durability. Crown gold, or 22 carat gold, would make the coin 5.2mm thick. If we only use 75% gold and the rest copper, it can be as thick as 5.8mm. The thickest would probably be 9 carat gold at 7.5mm, although at this point the coin would be mostly copper.

    Interestingly, all D&D coins are supposed to be the same size and weight, meaning that they only vary in thickness. This suggests the following thicknesses for coinage, all of which are 30mm wide:

    Platinum: 4.5mm
    Electrum: 6.5mm
    Silver: 9.3mm
    Copper: 10.7mm

  3. Juan Navarro

    April 14th, 2008

    Haha! Amazing stuff. You even fit in Electrum!
    My thinking is that it seems like Gold is of lesser value in a fantasy setting than in a real world setting, no?
    You really figured this out though! Will be linking!

  4. Zaratustra

    April 14th, 2008

    1 cm thick copper coins? That’d be -heavy-.

  5. SunShadow

    April 22nd, 2008

    Interesting article, thanks!

    @Zaratustra: remember, all coins are supposed to have the same weight :P

  6. Ben

    April 22nd, 2008

    @ Juan
    Yeah, it seems that gold is certainly of less worth in a fantasy setting, but it’s fantasy and thus there’s a fair amount of handwaving anyway. I hadn’t expected the coins to be that thick though… those are freaking huge… You kind of have to wonder at where they got all that gold in the first place though, as even if there was a single dragon’s treasure as large as Smaug’s from the Hobbit around in the world and then gold coins are much less in circulation among the regular populace than copper and silver as is generally hinted at in the PHB, there must have been a solid nodule of gold about a half-mile thick somewhere in the crust of the earth that people carved out in the past…. which would be really cool, actually.

  7. Kevin

    April 23rd, 2008

    The tent styles you would find in a fantasy setting are in keeping with the prices you have. Check out http://www.pantherprimitives.com/medieval.html – the smallest tent of the appropriate style for medieval/renaissance Europe-type civilisations is US$1320 for:
    10 x 10 foot tent in basic canvas, not marine canvas
    poles, ropes, and stakes
    canvas in alternating colours (typical – solid colour would be US$1125)

    Ground pimples (the nylon things) aren’t the right style. You don’t wanna know how hard this would be to transport without a cart.

  8. Adrian

    May 2nd, 2008

    So I guess the hypothetical question is, would it be worth dropping $4.32 million on a +4 Belt of Strength if you could use it while playing professional sports.

    I am thinking linebacker in the NFL ?

  9. Mathilda

    June 7th, 2008

    In regards to the measurements of coins, the Draconomicon states the following: “A typical coin measures slightly more than an inch in diameter and is approximately one tenth of an inch thick.” (p.278 ‘How big is the pile?’).
    With a weight of 1 pound per 50 coins, that would give the gold of these coins a density of 7,05 kg/dm3. Pure gold has a density of 19,3 kg/dm3. No diluting with silver (10,50 kg/dm3) or copper (8,96 kg/dm3) will get the density low enough.

    Mixing gold with aluminium (the lightest stable common metal) allows 6,28 carat coins (2,38 g gold/coin). Assuming a gold price of USD902,00 or EUR571,43 or GBP457,87 per troy ounce (31,10 g) would give the gold of one coin a value of USD69,03 or EUR43,73 or GBP35,04.

    On the other hand; a crowbar in-game cost 2 gp, whilst a crowbar in the real world could be bought for 2 dollars. Meaning that any comparison between valuta is suspect at best.

  10. Elsheran

    August 24th, 2008

    The mass produced Crowbar of today that is poured stamped and bent by machine in China, versus a hand wrought blacksmith’d crowbar….

  11. William Barnes

    October 1st, 2008

    >> With a weight of 1 pound per 50 coins, that would give the gold of these coins a density of 7,05 kg/dm3. Pure gold has a density of 19,3 kg/dm3. No diluting with silver (10,50 kg/dm3) or copper (8,96 kg/dm3) will get the density low enough.

    When I see this, I imagine a hexagonal coin with another hexagon stamped out of it like a doughnut. Dilute it with air.

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  16. Eric Dries

    August 25th, 2009

    I have 2 50 dollar gold pieces and 6 20 gold pieces for sale how much for the lot should i sell them for and by the way they are 24k gold. thank you.

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  18. Nick

    August 13th, 2010

    Actually the coins are very thin. Jonathan’s calculation of the face area was off. If you divide 0.94cm2 by pi it equals a radius squared of .3 but the radius squared of a 3cm wide coin is 2.25. Which gives us an area of 7.07cm2. This means the following thicknesses for d&d coinage, all of which are 30mm wide, should be about:

    Platinum: 0.6mm
    Gold: 0.7
    Electrum: 0.9mm
    Silver: 1.2mm
    Copper: 1.4mm

  19. Zadok

    October 4th, 2010

    Thank you, Nick, for that overdue correction. It is rather sad that it took more than two years for someone to decide to check the math.

    At .7mm thick, a GP is less than half the thickness of a quarter (U.S.), which would likely leave you with a pouch full of bent coins.

    The AD&D coin weights (10 GP/lb) make much better sense. Using a coin diameter of 30mm, the thicknesses of coins would be as listed below:

    Platinum: 3.0mm
    Gold: 3.3mm (just over 1/8 inch)
    Electrum: 4.3mm

    Since in AD&D 20 SP = 1 GP, not 10 SP = 1 GP as in later versions of the game, assume 20 SP or CP to a pound to keep the exchange rate even.

    Silver: 3.0mm
    Copper: 3.6mm

    Kind of nice how it all just falls into place.

  20. David

    January 16th, 2011

    “The basic coins are the copper piece (cp) and the silver piece (sp). These form the backbone of the monetary system and are the coins most frequently found in the hands of the common folk. Above these two coins is the much rarer gold piece (gp). This coin is seldom found in common use and mainly exists on paper as the standard money of account. This means it is used to measure the value of property and goods. Land values, ship cargoes, gemstones, and penalty bonds (royal court fines) are normally calculated in gold pieces, although payment of such vast sums normally takes other forms.

    In addition to these coins, there are other unusual metals used in exchange. Most of these come from failed currencies. As such, they are viewed with skepticism by many honest folk. Principal among these coins are the electrum (ep) and platinum pieces (pp). These coins are rarely circulated, and most are hidden away in ancient treasure hoards.
    Copyright 1999 TSR Inc.”

    Looking at the 2E Core Rules from 1999 there are pictures of some of the coins in the program.

    Copper Piece (CP) = Hexagon
    Silver Piece (SP) = Octagon
    Electrum Piece (EP) = Round
    Gold Piece (GP) = Round
    Platinum Piece (PP) = Rectangle with angled corners

    What is difficult is that the D&D coins change in value every edition: Also 0D&D, D&D, AD&D and earlier editions are confirmed to have 10 gp weighing 1 pound as Zadok has stated. This seems to be consistent to roman though medieval coins. 2E and higher went to smaller coins with probably the thought of pennies, nickels, dimes, etc. 3E and above is more for gamer convenience and video game usage.
    ————————————–
    0D&D
    50 cp = 10 sp = 2 ep (or .5 ep) = 1 gp = 1/5 pp

    D&D
    50 cp = 10 sp = 2 ep = 1 gp = 1/5 pp

    AD&D
    200 cp = 20 sp = 2 ep = 1 gp = 1/5 pp

    2E
    100 cp = 10 sp = 2 ep = 1 gp = 1/5 pp

    3E
    100 cp = 10 sp = xx ep = 1 gp = 1/10 pp

    4E
    100 cp = 10 sp = xx ep = 1 gp = 1/100 pp = 1/10000 ad

    My opinion is 2E has the closest exchange rates, with AD&D and earlier having the correct coin sizes.

    “It is the Dwarves, they melt down any impure coin and remint it to a portable, strong piece of currency which any stable kingdom or trade organization will copy this process.” – Unknown Merchant

  21. Raffmiian

    May 12th, 2011

    ok guys i don’t know if any of you thought about this but they actually use Gold armor in D&D which means that there gold is a completely different type…. whcih menas there gold is either more dense and or stronger then our gold just a thought for everyone to consider

  22. Icarus

    June 25th, 2011

    Hey there … since gold prices have changed, I was wondering if there was any change to this. It’s a fascinating article, and would love to know what the equivalent of say a valuable ring found on a shipwreck worth $500,000 would be in D&D gold pieces.

    I put a link in for the MSNBC article that spawned my wer-searching today.

  23. Icarus

    June 25th, 2011

    Well … let’s see, at the current $1,502 from today’s stock market for gold per troy ounce, I believe a pound (avoirdupois) of gold would be about $21,904 … or at 1/50th of that, roughly $438 per coin. Holy crap.
    But, that does hold up to a fair $43.8 (equal to a SP) for a daily wage. Granted that’s about $5.47 an hour, which is below today’s American Federal Minimum Wage, but, 15 maybe 20 years ago, it was close to that.
    So … in answer to my question: $500,000 – a smooth half a million – would be about 1,141 gold, and 5 silver.
    Hmm. Next time my players complain about getting a $1000 GP piece of jewelry as treasure, or they tip their waitress a GP, I think that I’ll point this out.

  24. Anonymous

    November 4th, 2011

    i love gold

  25. Garan

    February 5th, 2012

    I just approximate a gp as $20, with the idea that it is not pure gold. This accounts for most of what an adventurer would buy (bear in mind that I also assume that most people do not have an income > $20,000 a year in this setting; most are poor farmers). A sword, which costs 15 gp, is then equivalent to $300. A masterwork one adds $6,000 dollars to that amount (sound reasonable?). Since I am the DM, I can shift the prices of other things around, such as a meal, lodging, a house, a horse, etc. Most people do not keep their money on hand, but rather have it in the form of property or equipment.

  26. Louis Moore

    December 10th, 2012

    For my gaming group (we play 1st ed), Whenever the need arises to convert GP/Dollars, we just go by 1 GP = $100. It is very simple to remember. The most common currency in our game is Silver Pieces and Copper Pieces, and Gold is almost never found, even in hoards. We also play by 1 GP = 1/10 lbs, so that is always fun to carry about. By playing like this, an entire pound of gold is a set 1000 Dollars. Ah, the joys of fantasy role-playing.

  27. Louis Moore

    December 10th, 2012

    Also, it is safe to say that in any game world gold is more common then it is in the real world, so that can also help explain the price/weight/value deferences.

  28. drs

    August 11th, 2013

    10 coins to the pound is really frigging heavy. 43 grams each, to go metric. A one ounce gold coin like a Kruggerand is 31 grams if a troy ounce, 28 if normal. Medieval silver pennies or ancient drachma were in the 1.5 to 4.5 gram range, and a silver penny could be equivalent to a day’s wage. That even kind of works today: 2 grams silver is $1.20, and the global poverty level is defined as $1-2/day.

    (Also remember the British pound was literally a (troy) pound of sterling silver, and divided into 240 pennies. 1.55 grams each. 18.6 g to a shilling.)

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