The reality that we buy egg by the dozen has constantly seemed like among those daily facts the life that's not specifically worth reasoning too tough about. Yet this week, while prepare an omelet, the question suddenly gripped me: Why are eggs offered by the dozen? Life deserve to truly be surprising sometimes. One minute you’re making breakfast, the next you’re pondering the meaning of the number 12. And then the next moment you're call an egg farmer in upstate brand-new York to ask she why eggs are sold by the dozen. At least, that’s what taken place to me.

You are watching: Why are eggs sold by the dozen

The farmer to be Betsy Babcock, co-founder the Handsome Brook Farm. “My knowledge is that earlier in the 1400s and also 1500s in England, egg were sold in dozens since there were 12 pence come a shilling, so you could buy 12 eggs for a shilling. So once they came over from England come the States, they carried that principle over here,” Babcock told me.

Interesting, ns thought. Where had actually she heard that?

“That’s a item of trivia i picked up year ago. I don’t recognize if the was throughout Trivial quest or something like that. We have a most British friends that live close to us. Ns asked them today to check out if you will do it heard that, and also they’d heard the exact same thing,” she said.

Turns out, a many of people are acquainted with that explanation, consisting of Jesse Laflamme, chief executive of Pete & Gerry’s Organic egg in new Hampshire. “I think i may have heard it from my grandfather early on on,” Laflamme said. Shauna Aeschlimann, that Oliver’s organic Eggs, knew it, too. “I don’t recognize if the an old wives’ tale. That’s just what i’ve heard in passing,” she said.

Historical expertise is funny, no it? we know, for instance, that ice age Britons offered the skulls the the dead as cups, but it’s really difficult to say for sure why us buy egg 12 in ~ a time. I asked Dr. Monica Gisolfi, the writer of The take Over: Chicken Farming and the root of American Agribusiness, 1914-2007, about all this, and also she essentially answered through a shrug.

Story continues

“I don't actually understand the price to the question,” she said. “In my own research top top the poultry industry I never came across any thinking for or against selling eggs by the dozen.”

Doug Hurt, head that the history department in ~ Purdue University, called me the “farm women sold eggs through the dozen in ~ least because the late 19th century,” however didn’t know exactly why. “Country vendors probably had something to do with it because that shipment and sales to urban markets,” he said.

Twelve isn’t just crucial number in the food world, the course. Old Egyptians provided a duodecimal numeral system—one that uses 12 as a base—according to metrologist Michael A. Lombardi of the nationwide Institute the Standards and Technology, since there are 12 finger joints ~ above a hand and also 12 lunar cycles in a year.

See more: “Shortage” And “Scarcity” Mean The Same Thing., Understanding Economics And Scarcity

Bon Appétit’s Sam Dean writes the “as good as it would be come say that we have actually twelve egg in a carton because we have twelve full moons in a year (the symbolism!), it more than likely has an ext to do with simple math than anything. The number 10 have the right to only be split by 2 and also 5, while 12 have the right to be viewed as 2 x 6 or as 4 x 3, which makes it right for things choose shipping and selling goods.”

In some components of the world, however, egg aren’t offered by the dozen. They can be purchase by 10s, or 8s, or by the piece. Laflamme stated there’s technically nothing avoiding American producers from marketing eggs this way, however “everything in our entire supply chain is adjusted for the one dozen” and also altering it would “definitely be a retooling.” Besides, the said, americans have gotten used come the existing system that dozens, half-dozens, and other multiples the six, and they probably wouldn’t take too kindly to a change.

“It kind of provides me think of when the us tried to move to the metric system and also it to be rejected,” he said. “Consumers and egg producers would certainly probably disapprove anything however the dozen.”