Friday, July 22, 2022

When did .22 Shorts become More expensive than .22 Long Rifle Cartridges?

The short answer is: 1987. 

.22 Short rimfire cartridges became more expensive than .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridges in 1987. They have remained more expensive since then.

This correspondent has been able to obtain manufacturer price list information for .22 Shorts from 1911 to 1996, and .22 Long Rifle ammunition from 1911 to 2022. That is 111 ears of pricing history. Of the 111 years, this correspondent was able to collect data for 70 individual years. There are enough data points to give shape to the curve. 

There are several ways to measure the value of money, and how it changes over time. 

You can choose a particular commodity. Gold has been popular. Determine what an ounce of gold has cost in dollars over time. This was easy when the price of gold was fixed by the US government (the gold standard) from 1789 to 1932, at 20 dollars per troy ounce.

It became dubious from 1934 to 1973-74, because the price was set at $35 per ounce, but you could not legally own gold in the United States.  After 1974, the dollar was completely decoupled from the price of gold, so the dollar prices are readily available. 

In 1911, a round of .22 Short cost .625 cents. Gold was 20 dollars an ounce, so a .22 short cost .0003125 troy ounces of gold. Today, that much gold costs 57.8 cents. Using the same measure, a Long Rifle in 1911 cost .000347 ounces of gold, or 69.4 cents of gold using the price of gold in 2022. 

In 2022, a Long Rife cartridge costs about 8 cents, or .000043 ounces of gold at 2022 prices.  The price of a Long Rifle in 2022 is almost exactly 1/8 the amount of gold it cost in 1911.

A second method is to choose a basket of commodities, and determine how many dollars it takes to purchase the same, or roughly equivalent goods, in a given year. This is commonly referred to as constant dollars, with one year chosen as the constant to be used as the standard.

A third method is to determine the buying power of an hour of labor, and measure how many hours of labor it takes to purchase a similar amount of things at the different years. You can chose a level of skill for the labor. Unskilled is a fairly consistent way to compare labor. 

In 1911, unskilled labor could be had for  as low as 10 cents an hour, or about .005 ounces of gold. In 2022, unskilled labor is about $7.25 per hour, or .0039 ounces of gold. 

In  1935, an hour of unskilled labor could be had for .0043 ounces of gold, but you were no longer allowed to own gold. A .22 short cost .36 cents per round, or nominally, .000102 ounces of gold.

1n 1967, unskilled labor was $1 per hour, or nominally .029 ounces of gold.  The price of gold was set at $35 per ounce. But, you were not allowed to own gold.  A .22 short cost 1.3 cents, or nominally .00037 ounces of gold.

In 1980, unskilled labor was $3.10 per hour. Gold was about $600 per troy ounce. 1 hour of labor was valued at .0051 ounces of gold. A .22 short cost .000034 ounces of gold, about 1/9 of the amount of gold it cost in 1911. 

The above unskilled labor rates may vary somewhat from those calculated in the chart.  They are chosen as examples.

The relationship of gold to .22 ammunition was greatly distorted by the price control the government put on gold, and the legal prohibition of owning gold.

This correspondent chose unskilled labor as the measure, because commodities are difficult to compare over a century, and gold prices were used directly as money, then artificially repressed by government edict. 

Once a standard is chosen to determine the value of a dollar, you can determine the value of an item, in the past, in today's (2022) dollars.

For consistency, the prices are those of smokeless high velocity .22 rimfire cartridges. Shorts were chosen with 29 grain bullets. Long Rifle cartridges where chosen with 40 grain bullets.  The prices are all from one highly successful American manufacturer.

This correspondent was curious as to when Shorts became more expensive than Long Rifles. It was in 1987. Presumably, the greater demand for Long Rifle cartridges introduced efficiencies of scale which overcame the advantage of a smaller amount of brass, lead, and powder.  The priming compound, manufacturing process, and labor costs would be nearly identical. 

The greatest differential between Long Rifle and Short prices occurred during World War one and just after World War II.  In 1917 and in 1947, a Short cost 60% of what a Long Rifle cost.

According to my scale, a .22 Short uses 2 grains less brass than a .22 Long rifle. It uses 11 grains less lead, and about .6 grains less powder. 

Industrial brass is running about $3 a pound. Lead is about $1 per pound. Nitrocellulose at industrial scales is about a $1 per pound. Converted to gunpowder it may be $2 a pound on an industrial scale. 

The production cost of a Short is thus about .26 cents per round cheaper because of lower material costs (in 2022).  As the popularity of Shorts diminished, the scale costs of shorter runs of cartridges may account for part of their increased price. 

As this is written, ammunition prices are falling, and .22 Shorts cost about 30% more than .22 Long Rifle cartridges at retail.

Shorts have become another specialty ammunition, while Long Rifle cartridges have become a commodity.  

©2022 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was considerably earlier than 1987 in my neck of the woods (deep South).