A Penny Worth of Sweets - A Snippet of 1950s Life
Sweets or lollies were part of the 1950s childhood culture. And, a penny was a small fortune for a child. Just how many sweets could you buy for a penny?
- What was a penny?
- A child's perception of a penny
- Sweets as part of the 1950s culture.
- How many for a penny?
- Retro sweet stores today
- Anne Frank even had her say
What was a penny?
Some of you may be old enough to remember what a penny was and what it looked like, but I'm sure for many readers they'll not be totally sure. Pennies were coins made of copper, used as currency in many British speaking countries.
These days a penny is an insignificant amount, but back in the 1950s a penny, for a child, was a treat. You see, in the stirling currency back then there were twelve pennies in a shilling and ten shillings in a pound. I'm not sure of the average weekly take home wage back then, but there weren't too many pennies to go around in those days.
A child's perception of a penny
When we were good, my sister and I were given a penny to spend at a local corner store. This usually happened in the weekend, after we'd done our weekly chores, but wasn't automatic.
It's hard to describe what that penny meant. That big round copper coin felt like a fortune clutched in a small hand. We'd skip all the way to the store, discussing how we'd spend our money. Each child had its own idea of getting the best value for money.
Sometimes we'd be given tuppence, two pennies, one for the money box and one to spend.
Sweets as part of the 1950s culture.
The local store and it's display cabinet of sweets or lollies was very much part of the 1950s childhood culture, The sweets were often displayed in a glass topped cabinet or in huge glass jars, from which their magical colours beckoned any child.
Everyone had their favourite colours and flavours, from aniseed balls, jaffas, spearmint leaves and spearmint chews, pineapple chunks, blackballs, jelly babies, and many more whose names I've since forgotten. There were even gobstoppers that hardly fit into your mouth, huge balls of coloured layers that you sucked away, but they cost tuppence. Licorice straps were a real favourite at tuppence, as you could peel away, strip by strip, making it last all day.
Once purchased, all were carefully transferred from the display into a small white paper bag, with such care I'm sure the store keeper knew the treasures he was handing us.
We'd carry those bags of sweets home as if we held the whole world in our hands, usually sucking one along the way. Those who had any willpower would save some of their treasure to enjoy later, while others would scoff them all down in one sitting. Often my sister and I would trade, in order to have variety.
How many for a penny?
It didn't take children long to work out how many of each sweet you received for a penny. My favourites were aniseed balls, as you got five of those little brown coated balls for a penny. However, as these were strong in aniseed flavour not all kids liked them.
Jaffas were another favourite, as you got four of these for a penny. It's only in recent years I've discovered these red or orange coated sweets with a chocolate centre were manily to be found in New Zealand and Australia.
You also got four jelly babies when you handed over your coin, little baby shaped slabs of bright hard jelly, and four blackballs, although blackballs weren't so popular with younger children. Three spearmint leaves and three spearmint chews were yours for a penny, as were two pineapple chunks.
Another I remember popular because of their strong flavour and potential for quantity was the small, bright pink lollies called smokers lollies.We felt grown up having smoker lollies as we pretended they were to hide our smokers breath.
Retro sweet stores today
Often I come across a retro sweet store, where there are hundreds of old fashioned sweets to choose from. Some are familiar to me, others I've never seen before. From time to time I'm tempted to buy a few and enjoy their sweetness, just for old times sake of course. These are even more exciting when the shops are decked out to look like an old 1950s store.
Anne Frank even had her say
Sweets weren't just the domain of the 1950s child. Anne Frank is well known for the diary she kept while in hiding as a Jew during the Second World War. Her diary was published after her death and in it can be found the following quote:
"As long as you're in the food business, why not make sweets?"
I guess, for many children, that says it all.
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