Coffee Houses

Penny University of Yesterday

So great a Universitie
I think there ne'er was any
In which you may a scholar be
For spending of a Penny.
News From The Coffee-House
(Broadside of 1677)


In the 1700's, there were over 2,000 coffee houses in London alone. In the latter half of the 18th century tea became the common drink, but the establishments still were called "coffee houses". One would pay a penny upon entry and then indulge in a cup of coffee, later tea, and the talk of the day. The coffee house was the place where scholars, tradesmen, politicians, poets, writers, and the like would meet to share new ideas and discuss current events. One did not ask where a man lived, but which coffee house he frequented. It is intriguing to note how the conversations that took place in these coffee houses influenced the politics and literature, and the social and commercial life of those times.
For instance: The Committee for the Reform of Parliament met at Mile's where there were many heated debates. Addison's famous letter-box was put up at Button's to receive contributions from the public for Addison's paper, The Spectator, which was an introduction to journalistic writing.
Insurance underwriters met at Lloyd's Coffee-House to make themselves available to seafarers, forming Lloyd's of London. "Stock-jobbers" met at Jonathan's, and after the decline of coffee houses, formed themselves into a "stock exchange".
Because of the shortages of coins in England, coffee house owners issued their own coins, as was done by many tradesmen in the 17th century. Often these coins were made of brass, pewter, copper and sometimes leather bearing the issuers name, address, or some reference to their trade. These were usually a "half peny" These pennies were used as fees upon entering coffee houses--thus, the name Penny Univerisities. If you had a token, you were welcome.

Characters at the Coffee Houses
"All People May Here Be Seen" was a motto inscribed...