How much French fine wines were costing not so long ago
Here is a photo (or scan-) story following a good pick on a street flea market in Paris. This is a 1951 catalog of Nicolas' fine wine list with the respective prices and vintages. you may know Nicolas for it's ubiquitous franchised shops around Paris and elsewhere but the old Maison used to have also a high-end cellar for the demanding amateurs and it issued every year a small book listing the wines they were releasing after the appropriate cellaring time. Each year, the book would display a different illustration theme which was not necessarily linked to the wine world (people were more balanced at the time and less monomaniac). In 1951 the theme was "La Vierge Folle de Strasbourg (the foolish virgin)", a specific theme found in the religious sculptures of the Middle Ages. We may think the iconography choice for this catalog was a bit amateurish and unadequate for such high-end wines but after second thoughts I like that : Again, unlike our modern times this era seemed less obsessed by wine-geek posturing, it seems to me people then just wanted to enjoy good wine when they could afford to, they didn't need an expert jargon to convey their impressions and as you will see along these pages, they even hadn't to be that rich to buy these bottles. In 1951 France was slowly recovering from the war and the wine market was still largely domestic, keeping prices pretty low compared to nowadays.
This catalog allows us indeed to see how affordable even great wines were at the time : In order to have a better picture, you'll find a chart on this page listing the value in contemporary Euros (as of 2014) for the French Franc in each year of the 20th century, and in 1951 a Franc was worth 0,02397 € of 2014. This means that a Chateau Haut Brion 1945, at 600 Fr was worth a bit more than today's 14 €. Or a Romanée Conti 1924 (27 years old in 1951) at 1500 Fr was costing 36 €. To countercheck this travel in time I tried to know the typical monthly salary in 1951, I had several answers, one found on this page (#230) saying that the minimum wage for a worker was 87 Fr/hour which would make (quick math check) about 15 200 Fr/month or 365 €. Another indirect source on the issue was found on this other page where it is said that the average monthly salary was 21 000 Francs in 1951 (or 500 €). There's a gap between the sources but it seems overall that it leaves some room for a few of these good bottles for an average person...
Just a few conversions from 1951 Francs into Euros :
300 Fr -- 7,2 €
500 Fr -- 12 €
1000 Fr -- 24 €
Now you can salivate retrospectively, thinking how easy it was for our elders to get these wines... Had they just made a one-time spending worth a month's wage on these wines and stored them in a good cellar, you'd be rich today...
Pic on right : Nectar, Nicolas' iconic deliveryman, holding 32 bottles by the necks. His character was created in 1921 for the retailer's posters and was known all over France.