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The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: the English Corn Returns as a data source in economic history, 1770-1914


  • Brunt, Liam

    () (Dept. of Economics, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration)

  • Cannon, Edmund

    () (University of Bristol)


From 1770 to 1914, the British Government collected weekly price and quantity data for all types of grain traded in many market towns; these ‘Corn Returns’ were published in the London Gazette. We computerised the data published 1770-1864, totalling around 6 million data points. Here we describe the nature of these data; discuss why, when and how they were collected; consider their accuracy and biases; describe how we computerised them; and offer caveats in using these – and similar – data. We highlight the problem of drawing valid inferences in the face of price impact from fluctuating grain quality and rising imports.

Suggested Citation

  • Brunt, Liam & Cannon, Edmund, 2013. "The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: the English Corn Returns as a data source in economic history, 1770-1914," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 9/2013, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:nhheco:2013_009

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. S. Fairlie, 1965. "The Nineteenth-Century Corn Law Reconsidered," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 18(3), pages 562-575, December.
    2. Jorg Baten & Dorothee Crayen & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2014. "Numeracy and the Impact of High Food Prices in Industrializing Britain, 1780–1850," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 96(3), pages 418-430, July.
    3. Susan Fairlie, 1969. "The Corn Laws and British Wheat Production, 1829-76," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 22(1), pages 88-110, April.
    4. Wray Vamplew, 1981. "Tithes and Agriculture: Some Comments on Commutation," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 34(1), pages 115-119, February.
    5. Jacks, David S., 2011. "Foreign wars, domestic markets: England, 1793–1815," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 15(02), pages 277-311, August.
    6. Carol H. Shiue & Wolfgang Keller, 2007. "Markets in China and Europe on the Eve of the Industrial Revolution," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(4), pages 1189-1216, September.
    7. Feinstein, Charles H., 1998. "Pessimism Perpetuated: Real Wages and the Standard of Living in Britain during and after the Industrial Revolution," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(03), pages 625-658, September.
    8. Gregory Clark, 2001. "Farm Wages and Living Standards in the Industrial Revolution: England,1670–1869[This resea]," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 54(3), pages 477-505, August.
    9. Robert C. Allen, 1999. "Tracking the agricultural revolution in England," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 52(2), pages 209-235, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Daniel M. Bernhofen & Markus Eberhardt & Jianan Li & Stephen Morgan, 2015. "Assessing Market (Dis)Integration in Early Modern China and Europe," CESifo Working Paper Series 5580, CESifo Group Munich.
    2. Brunt, Liam & Cannon, Edmund, 2013. "Integration in the English wheat market 1770-1820," CEPR Discussion Papers 9504, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Daniel Bernhofen & Markus Eberhardt & Jianan Li & Stephen Morgan, 2017. "The evolution of markets in China and Western Europe on the eve of industrialisation," Discussion Papers 2017-12, University of Nottingham, GEP.
    4. Brunt, Liam & Cannon, Edmund, 2015. "Variations in the price and quality of English grain, 1750–1914: Quantitative evidence and empirical implications," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 74-92.

    More about this item


    Grain prices; market institutions; data collection;

    JEL classification:

    • N53 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • Q13 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Markets and Marketing; Cooperatives; Agribusiness

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