A Penny Worth of Sweets - A Snippet of 1950s Life

Val MillsStarred Page By Val Mills, 23rd Apr 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/1e80_js9/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

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?

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.

If you enjoyed reading this, you may also enjoy:
Meccanno Sets and Hornby Trains Weren't Just For Boys
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Tinker: The Cat Who Walked Across Town
Thoughts on Writing Memoir
2 August 1911 - One Hundred Years Ago


1950S, Aniseed Balls, Blackballs, Childhood Culture, Gobstoppers, Grandparents Time, Jaffas, Lollies, Memoir, Memories From The Past, Old Fashioned Sweets, Penny, Stirling Currency, Sweets

Meet the author

author avatar Val Mills
Self-published writer, coffee drinker, enjoying life. Also found at
writingyourstories.wordpress.com and http://downatthebaths.blogspot.co.nz/

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author avatar Steve Kinsman
24th Apr 2012 (#)

Having been born in 1938 I remember those days well, so your great star page article transported me all the way back there. Ah, nostalgia.
Wonderful post Val.

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author avatar Val Mills
24th Apr 2012 (#)

Thanks for Star and quick publication Mark. I was surprised any moderators were awake at the time I sent this off!

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author avatar Gail
24th Apr 2012 (#)

Good one, Val - happy memories of standing in front of the counter making the agonising decision of how to spend the penny!!

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author avatar David Reinstein,LCSW
24th Apr 2012 (#)

Oh, for a strip or two (they were two for a penny) of Candy Buttons!

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author avatar Karman's Kreations
24th Apr 2012 (#)

Wonderful report. I still teach my grandchildren the power of a penny. We use them for good luck. "Find a penny pick it up and all day you'll have good luck."
This made me smile this morning (it is 730a here) and that is always a great way to start the day.

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author avatar Buzz
24th Apr 2012 (#)

Thanks for sharing, Val. Wow, what a simple life those times were!

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author avatar Christine Crowley
24th Apr 2012 (#)

My favorite penny candy was fudge - either chocolate or vanilla. Yummmy. It was in a tall glass canister. Bring back the candy store!

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author avatar Pradeep Kumar B
24th Apr 2012 (#)

Thank you for sharing your memories of childhood, Val.

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author avatar Hickory Cottage
24th Apr 2012 (#)

I love this, Val!

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
24th Apr 2012 (#)

Val this is so memorable in so many ways! I remember the penny coloured lollypops we would buy at the corner sweet shop next to the Gaumont cinema in Coventry...oh oh oh...so delightful and delicious..thank you so much

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author avatar Md Rezaul Karim
25th Apr 2012 (#)

This is not simply a matter of nostalgic, rather its an economic history too, how inflation brought our currency at this position and could it be reversed?! Thanks for nice writing.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
25th Apr 2012 (#)

Memories of childhood are mostly "sweet" (inadvertent pun!) in between some horror periods when we felt totally lost and alone. I too remember my childhood sweet carvings that resulted in tooth decay! Thanks for taking us down your memory lane, Val. I could relive my childhood 1950's days - now looks like from another age! siva

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author avatar Don Rothra
25th Apr 2012 (#)

Great memories of childhood. Nice work

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author avatar Delicia Powers
26th Apr 2012 (#)

Lovely page and tasty memories...:0)

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author avatar Martin
4th Feb 2013 (#)

Thanks for the memories, Val! A Mars bar was 4d when I was a kid!
One correction: there were 20 shillings to the pound, not 10!

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