A folder of invoices can offer quite fascinating information. Among the personal papers of Sir John Ross is a collection that gives us an insight into the high standards the founders of Knox College wished to attain when it came to furnishing the new College. The invoices and correspondence are all addressed to John Ross, later knighted, who was the main benefactor and took the responsibility though his Company Ross and Glendining for ordering the required furnishings and crockery.
One of the few artefacts which have survived from the establishment of the College in 1909 is a chair, possibly a dining room chair. An order was placed through James Park & Co. Importers, General Agents & Indentors in the NZ Express Building Crawford Street, Dunedin on 9 September 1908.
Described as Canadian Chairs two models were ordered; 80 chairs with arms made of solid wood with shaped seats for the students’ studies, common room and library and 224 for the dining room, bedrooms, classrooms and servants quarters.
The cost of the dining room chairs works out at 5 shillings and ten pence each. An additional 4 pence was added for a reinforcing of cross-rods to be added to these chairs ‘binding the feet diagonally together’ bringing the cost of the chairs to £69.
According to the Reserve Bank inflation calculator that today is roughly $26,000. It is interesting to note that the recent refurbishing of the Knox dining room, 100 years on, an appeal was launched to donate a chair at the cost of $250. The actual cost of the chair was $285. It is apparent that the cost is more than double what was paid back in 1908.
A note at the bottom of the quote for the chairs states: “our prices are based on a profit of 5%.” No doubt there is a considerably greater mark-up these days!