Price is subjective. There is no guarantee that the price of anything that you see today is going to remain the same in the next twenty years. Something very cheap today can become a thing of luxury tomorrow depending on various factors, like the case of chocolate which is set to see a significant surge with the increasing impact of global warming which is running the cocoa plantation to extinction.
Throughout human history, such phenomenon has been common occurrences and it would go on much like the same way. Interestingly, it is not one dimensional and things don’t always go on becoming more expensive. Sometimes, with the advent of technology and availability, luxury items also become things that complete the homes of the poor.
Here are 7 such products which were insanely expensive at one time but today are dirt cheap.
The crystallization of sugarcane juice to make sugar was discovered in India during the Gupta dynasty in 4th century AD and within a few hundred years, the whole world became addicted to it. Today, sugar is one of the most essential items in our life, but during the medieval times it was so expensive that only rich people could have it. So there was a fad among rich people to show off their black rotting teeth caused by sugar consumption to show others that they were so wealthy that they could afford sugar regularly. It is believed that Queen Elizabeth of England also had fallen for the trend.
2. Purple dye
There was a time when only kings and queens could afford purple colored clothing. Sometimes, even the royals would find it difficult to afford the dye as it is known that a third century Roman emperor, Aurelian, had strictly directed his wife to not wear purple color. The reason for it being so expensive was the color was prepared from a type of mollusk which lived near the Mediterranean Sea. To prepare one gram of purple dye, about 9,000 mollusks were needed. Fast forward to 1856, an 18-year-old English scientist, William Henry Perkin, in an attempt to prepare an anti-malaria drug accidentally invented a compound that could be used as a purple dye on fabrics ultra cheap, ending the royal monopoly over the color.
3. Imported goods
All right, imported goods are still to some extent expensive, but today, everyone has at least one item in their home which was manufactured outside their own country. The world today is a global village in the truest sense, and with the passage of time, it is only going to be more relevant. In the global context, prices of many imported goods have fallen because of cheap labor in the developing countries, faster and cheaper mode of transport comparing to previous centuries, relaxing restrictions and global competitions that the world has ever seen. Today, even a small entrepreneur from a remote region in Assam can sell and deliver his products to USA without much hassle.
4. Mobile phones
When the first commercial mobile phone was launched in the year 1983 by Motorola, it cost people a fortune. It was priced at $3,995 which in today’s time (2018) would be close to $9,900 or INR 6,00,000. The features of the phone included a talk-time of 30 minutes with an incredible standby of six hours (not much difference comparing to modern smart phones) and also had the capacity of storing 30 phone numbers. 35 years later, today a person can get a thousand times more powerful mobile phones in a store ten minutes away from his home by paying about Rs. 5,000 or even less than that. Today, more than 90% of Indians have a phone.
Aluminium, the most abundant metal in earth’s crust, had its time of glory. In fact, there was a time when aluminium was more expensive than gold because it was hard to extract from its ore despite of its abundance. The United States of America even in the year 1884 covered the Washington monument with a six pound pyramid made of aluminium to show off its prowess as a major industrial player in the world. Soon after that, chemists and entrepreneurs figured out effective and easy way to obtain aluminium and since it is found in plenty, its value fell quickly. The production suddenly rocketed from a few ounces per month before 1888 to 88,000 pounds daily 20 years later. Its price fell from INR 35,000 per pound during its time of glory to lower than INR 100 today for the same quantity of the element.
There is no historic proof that salt was ever more precious or valued as much as gold anytime contrary to a popular belief, but it does point to the obvious fact that salt was once a highly precious commodity. Civilizations and cities rose and fell because of salt and wars were fought over it. In fact, the Roman soldiers used to be given salt as a partial salary. Historically, salt was of such importance that salt laws and taxes on salt caused revolutions, including the French Revolution and Satyagraha. Salt, nevertheless, today is universally accessible.
Mirrors were never made the way it is being made today. Mirrors, at one point of time, used to be found only at the homes of the wealthy. It was a luxury to have a mirror rather than a need that today it has become. It was only during the 19th century that German chemist Justus von Liebig found a way to make mirrors by depositing a thin layer of silver on the mirror that led to mirrors being produced at a large scale, causing a drastic fall in their prices. Today, mirrors are made by deposition of aluminum (another expensive product that became dirt cheap by the end of 19th century) on the glass mostly and mirrors are no longer confined in the homes of the elites.