Welcome to the Corn Returns Online. Remember, before the internet, when everyone would rush to check stock market quotations in printed newspapers? Routine stock market quotations first appeared in the Netherlands and in England, where they were quoted along side the average prices of major ‘corns’ (wheat, barley, rye, oats, beans, peas, etc) in key outports and market towns. The landowning gentry of England, Scotland and Wales followed these ‘Corn Returns’ as eagerly as people follow stock markets today.
As early as 1685, the crown appointed independent inspectors to report quarterly the market prices of major agricultural commodities in the English maritime districts with an eye to adjusting and enforcing the custom duties and bounties on imported foreign grains. After 1770, inspectors were required to supply weekly quantities and prices for specified coastal and inland market towns. The prices were, in turn, published in the London Gazette. After 1820, quantities were included as well. This material formed the basis for debates about the Corn Laws in the early nineteenth-century and furnished important empirical support for the competing claims of eighteenth-century moral philosophers and nineteenth-century political economists like Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, and David Ricardo.
With the support of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, the Centre for Financial History at Newnham College has digitized these Corn Returns for use by academic researchers. Please use this site to explore this unique data set, which will soon be available for download after registration. Please bear in mind that this is a free and open access resource which was paid for by a charitable organization. The data sets available here are neither for resale nor for commercial use. Thank you for observing this proviso, but otherwise feel free to make use of this unprecedented window into British agricultural markets during the First Industrial Age.