A Lengthy and Expensive Apprenticeship

ChambreSyndicaleEbeniste

“The craftsmen of Paris have a lengthy and expensive apprenticeship, provide about 500 francs of tooling, and are bound in unhealthy and foul-smelling premises, have longer working days than their foreign comrades, to earn wages lower than those of laborers.”

— French political pamphlet published in 1912 by Chambre syndicale des ouvriers ébénistes du département de la Seine. The drawing is by Paul Poncet. Image found by Jeff Burks. Note: One French inflation calculator indicated that 500 Francs from 1912 are the equivalent of more than 1,650 Euros in 2012.

About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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10 Responses to A Lengthy and Expensive Apprenticeship

  1. Patrick says:

    Is Jeff putting together a book for LAP on the history of woodworking? He seems to be doing ALOT of research in that area.

  2. Julien Hardy says:

    The tools are far more expensive now ! And anyway, one gets used to the smell of hide glue. And the baguette was only 1 centime back then !

  3. David Hoffman says:

    That would make it about $2,150 in 2012 US dollars. May not seem like a lot to folks used to shelling out thousands for laser guided miter saws, jointers, table saws and planers, but these were all hand tools, and that was at the beginning of your career, before your income was even close to secure. Not exactly hobbiest woodworkers in those days. I can’t imagine plunking down $2150 for tools, just to get in the door. Sure do hope that the Banc de Paris was offering decent interest rates for small business loans…

    Probably not. :)

    • Mark says:

      Assuming your conversion is correct, $2150 might be about right. Maybe even cheap, relatively speaking.

      I spent more than that just on books for my degree. To say nothing of school supplies and so forth.

      And if you remember that you’re presumably buying what, in those days, was the equivalent of professional level tools today (with no used tool market) that’s not that bad. Especially since, as an apprentice, you’re going to be using them for at least 8 years or so.

  4. Simon S. says:

    The man in the foreground must have paid more for extra space behind him.

  5. Jeff Burks says:

    The price of the required tools is only relevant when taking into consideration the wages being paid and the cost of living in Paris at that time.

  6. Colin says:

    At least the benches are sturdy.

  7. Jeff and Chris,

    Really interesting image. Can you say more about the political context of this pamphlet? Who is the “Chambre syndicale des ouvriers ébénistes du département de la Seine” (google translate spits this out as something like Syndicate of Cabinetmakers), and what is their bone to pick with Parisian craftsmen? Did this plate appear in a bigger pamphlet? If so, what was it? I’m curious about the political controversy unravelling behind this image.

    • MichaelP says:

      It is a pamphlet from the Cabinetmaker Union for the Department of Seine… they are complaining low skill labor is being paid more than high skill labor. The example they cite is that a digger, of all trades, earns more than a cabinetmaker and that cabinetmakers in similar cities in Europe earn more than the cabinetmakers in Paris.

      The shocking bit for me is the cost of entry for the apprenticeship, you were quite well off if you had 500F of disposable income or savings at the time…

  8. MichaelP says:

    Could it be that the inflation calculator was wrong? I checked with another one (http://france-inflation.com/calculateur_inflation.php) and got 166276 euro. Of course, that is based on the inflation calculated on a basket of goods so it may not be relevant.

    A better way to look at it is the average salaries at the time:
    A steel factory worker earns 2400F to 2600F per year if working every day.
    A mechanic in Paris earns 1500F to 1800F per year, way above the average salary at the time for manual labor.
    A farm hand (unfed) earns 1.25F per day in the country side.
    A maid in Paris earns 600F per year, 480F if working in the other cities, far less if in the country side.
    A driver earns 2400F per year in Paris, 1800F in other cities.

    The official French average salary for skilled manual labor in 1912 was 1366F.

    Or the always popular bread cost index: a kilo of bread was around 0.40F at the time.

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