The משנה in בבא קמא‎ (9:4, as explained by the רע״ב and קהתי) says that if I give wool to a dyer to dye red, and he dyes it black instead, then he must return the black wool to me, and I must pay him whichever of the following is least: the amount he paid to dye it black; the increase in value of the black wool over the undyed wool; the amount we originally made up that I'd pay him. (There's a dissenting view in the משנה, but we rule like the one I outlined.)

This seems to my lovely intellect as totally unreasonable: I, the owner of the wool, now must find a buyer for black wool! Who knows when I ever will? Especially if it's not wool but some rarer material with low demand, and especially if I must sell it before I can afford to buy more undyed material, and especially if I need the red material soon….

Do any commentaries, הלכה works, or other authorities deal with this issue? What do they say?

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    Could it be that a dyer would only dye wool for which there is widespread demand? Or more to the point, that the amount of due available in those days was so limited that there was demand for everything? (did you read the tekhelet book?, he describes how rare and expensive fancy colors were). All this is only logical speculation, I have no proofs – mbloch Oct 2 '19 at 18:49
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    When I learned this Sugyah I wondered what value is - is it an intrinsic property of an item or purely its marketing value (this Mahlokes is expressed in Machazis Hashekel for example). I tend to think that the Mishnaic value in all Babot is the item's marketing value. If an item is worth say a dinar that means it can be surely and pretty easily be sold for a dinar. See also Sugyah of Kiddushin - if one can Mekadesh with that wool. – Al Berko Oct 2 '19 at 22:18
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    You're right that they didn't have the idea of collateral, see the Sugyah of שור שנגח. – Al Berko Oct 2 '19 at 22:20
  • Do all of the relevant writings assume that all three amounts are positive? – Jasper Oct 3 '19 at 7:21

I understand that this Halacha reflects the economic realities of the Mishna, where pretty much everyone was producing small handicraft and traded them. It could reasonably be assumed that you could sell the black wool as easily as raw wool or red wool, so it has a definite increase in value. While you may not have any interest in dealing with it, the wool still increased in value, and there is a market for you to sell it.

In today's economy where petty hadicraft are only a hobby and you would have nothing to do with the black wool and no real market for selling it I would expect the mistake to be a case of damaging the raw material, and the dyer would have to pay you the cost of the raw wool, and he would keep the dyed wool.

(Sorry, no sources. )

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