Historical Prices of Citterns

Last updated Sunday, April 02, 2023.
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What follows is a collection of references to the historical price of citterns (and other early instruments for comparison). The list is broken down by country/region and is by no means complete! If you have an addition or correction, please contact me.


"The goods of Robert Mallet, Manciple of St. Edmund Hall were inventoried on 2 July 1612. In his 'workhouse' (workshop) was some some furniture, and '4 orpharions, 5 citternes whereof one in a case, 2 citternes unfinisht, a flatback lute & case, 2 chists, working tooles, with divers lumber', together valued with the furniture at £5. 4s. 4d." (Spring)

By comparison, "John Mathew 'singingman' at Christ Church College and whose probate inventory was proved on 23 September 1602 ... had 'a paire of virginals' as did most singing men at Chrisy Church, 'songbooks' which was relatively unusual, and eleven lutes, valued together at £3. 6s. 8d.—not very expensive at just over 6 shillings each—and a chest of viols, valued at £4." (Spring)

" ... and George Lane owned 'a cisterne [sic] with his Case,' valued at 6s. 8d. (Bristol Record Society Publ., XIX, 72)." (Ward, footnote 98, p. 25)

"... Sir William Petre, principal secretary, who paid 6s. for a 'gyttron' in 1550104" (Ward, p.27)

"Emmison 1961, p.210. In The Rates of the Customes house (London, 1582), 'Gitterns the dosens' are listed at 53s. 4d., or 5s. apiece; and 'Lutes with cases called Cullen [i.e. Cologne] lutes the dosen' at 31s. 4d., or 5s. apiece; and 'Lutes with cases called Venice lutes the dosen' at 12l. or 1l, apiece; in other words, a gittern and a cheap lute were rated about the same (see Willan 1962, passim)." (Ward, footnote 104, p. 27)

Hardwick ms 10a July 1602. "To Mr Starkey at hys going away, for a bandora iils, treble lute xxs, bass vyoll xls, treble vyoll xxs, for the case to lay them in xvis, and that he paid for the carriage of these from London to Hardwick xiis". (Price)


"An indication of the price of citterns can be found in an inventory of a Frisian clerk, Pibo Gaulthieri (Leeuwarden 1618).3 He possessed, among other musical intruments, five citterns: two six-course citterns by Michiel Vredeman, together worth 13 guilders, two five-course citterns worth 10 guilders and a four-course cittern worth 3 guilders. To compare these prices: a seven-course lute with ebony and ivory inlay was estimated 6 guilders, and a virginal or harpsichord 60 guilders." (Grijp)

"The Amsterdam bookseller, Hendrick Laurentius, still sold [Sweelinck's Nieuw Chyter-boek] in 1647 for 14 stuivers (1 guilder = 20 stuivers), as well as Vredeman's violin-cittern book ... for 10 stuivers and another Cyterboeck Vredeman for 1 guilder." (Grijp)

American Colonies

Citterns mentioned in Seventeenth Century Inventories in Suffolk, Middlesex, and Essex Counties, Massachusetts Bay Colony with their Owners and Valuations (Data from Lambert)

Date Inventory of: / Occupation Instrument / price Total estate value
1654 Augustine Walker, sea captain and merchant 1. Citterne: 5 shillings 221/7/6
1660 Comfort Starr, surgeon A Smale Carpitt & a Gittorne: 6 shillings 404/13/0
1660 Joseph Farnsworth, yeoman A trible viall & a Cithern: 1 pound 206/28/2
1662 Nathaniel Upham, ? yeoman, sometime preacher By a Cittorne & a Case for it: 15 shillings 48/17/0
1662 Samuel Haugh, minister A Citturne: 8 shillings 1,797/11/10
1662 Henry Blague, brickburnor (sic) A Cittorne & a hat rufe: 8 shillings 464/12/9
1665 Peter Hubbard, mariner 1 citterne & Silver: 2 pounds, 5 shillings 197/8/0
1666 Thomas Wells, yeoman a citterne: 10 shillings, 1 penny 1,214/3/3
1667 Samuel Winsley, no occupation given a sittern: 1 pound 421/1/0
1667 Jonathan Browne, ? merchant one old sitterne & an old case with some bottells & an old barrell: 6 shillings, 8 pence 68/8/8
1668 Jonathan Eliot, minister 1 citterne & a Case: 8 shillings 457/2/5
1672 Lieutenant Joshua Fisher, yeoman 1 citterene: 5 shillings 1,145/6/5
1676 John Franks, cloth merchant and innkeeper one Cittron: 15 shillings 187/3/8
1676 Ralph Day, yeoman one Table, Joyned Stooles, chayers, Cushins, one Round basket, one sitterne, one warmeing pan & some smal things: 2 pounds, 4 shillings 262/13/2
1677 Samuel Alcott, physician 1 Great Looking glas-i Cittron & case napkins, cloth goods: 2 pounds 639/15/0
1677 Thomas Shepard, minister A Citharen: 10 shillings 2,386/4/0
1679 Thomas Sexton, mariner 1 old Cittern: 2 shillings 85/8/0
1680 Elizabeth Holloway, cloth shopkeeper one cittern: 12 shillings 458/8/0
1683 David Jackson, tailor One old Cittern: 4 shillings 14/14/3
1685 Captain William Condey, mariner a Quilt, a Cytorn, a baskett & Toyes: 3 pounds 201/16/0
1688 William Marshall, mariner 1 Cittorn, Andirons, doggs, fireshovell, Tongs Looking glass, glasses: 2 pounds, 12 shillings 230/18/10
1692 Joshua Atwater, mariner and shopkeeper two cittorns & one gittorn: 10 shillings 18/11/0

"By way of comparison...here are the lutes: (1659) Beter Bulkeley, minister: 2 lutes: 4 pounds (total value1,302/0/11)

"And that's it [for the 17th century in this Massachusetts Bay Colony]. You'd have to be pretty rich—and/or pretty foolish—to bring a lute to the other side of the moon.

"... So, the answer in this little part of the 17C seems to be: citterns were fairly well distributed throughout the property-owning class; we have everything from estates of 14 pounds to 2,386 pounds. Even if the smallest amounts represented estates drained by poverty brought on by long illness, it would STILL be extremely interesting that the deceased hung onto their citterns right to the bitter end. The closest we get to a barber is the surgeon—at this time, almost a synonym—who is fairly well off. The godly trade is well represented, which should certainly put 'paid' to any nonsense about the puritans and their alledged distate for music, per se." (McDermott)


  • Grijp, Louis Peter. "The cittern of Sweelinck and Vermeer. Contextual information for the excavated Zuyderzee citterns," in: Michaelsteiner Konferenzberichte 66: Gittare und Zister — Bauweise, Spieltechnik und Geschichte bis 1800. (2005). p.79-85. Grijp takes some of his information from Visscher, below.
  • Lambert, Barbara. "TABLE ONE: Musical Instruments and Their Owners from the Inventories of Suffolk, Middlesex, and Essex Counties," in: Music in Colonial Massachusetts, 1630-1820, vol. 2 (1985), p. 422-431. Cited in an e-mail from Kevin McDermott to the Dartmouth cittern list, ibid., below.
  • McDermott, Kevin. "[CITTERN] Re: cittern prices." E-mail to the Dartmouth cittern list. 9 February, 2008.
  • Price, David. Patrons and Musicians of the English Renaissance, Cambridge Univeristy Press (1981). Cited in an e-mail from Peter Forrester to the Dartmouth cittern list, "[CITTERN] cittern prices," 9 February, 2008.
  • Spring, Matthew. "Reconstructing the consort lessons of Richard Reade." Lute News 55, June 2000, p.8.
  • Ward, John. "Sprightly and Cheerful Musick: notes on the cittern, gittern and guitar in 16th- and 17th-century England." Lute Society Journal 21 (1979-81).
  • Visscher, R. Iets over het muziekleven te Leeuwarden in het begin der 17e eeuw, in: De vrije Fries 28 (1928), p.17-31.

How to cite this page: Hartig, Andrew. "Historical Prices of Citterns ." Renovata Cythara: The Renaissance Cittern Site. Ed. Andrew Hartig. 02 April 2023. 16 July 2024. <http://www.cittern.theaterofmusic.com/misc/prices.html>.

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