Penny University

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Penny University is a term originating from the 18th-century coffeehouses in London, England. Instead of paying for drinks, people were charged a penny to enter a coffeehouse. Once inside, the patron had access to coffee, the company of others, various discussions, pamphlets, bulletins, newspapers, and the latest news and gossip. Reporters called "runners" went around to the coffeehouses announcing the latest news, perhaps not too unlike what we might hear on the TV or the radio today.[1]

This environment attracted an eclectic group of people who met and mingled with each other at these coffeehouses. In a society that placed such a high importance on class and economic status, the coffeehouses were unique because the patrons were people from all levels of society.[2] Anyone who had a penny could come inside. Students from the universities also frequented the coffeehouses, sometimes even spending more time at the shops than at school.[3]

Since that time, various coffee shops all over the world have used the name "Penny University".

The original sense of a coffee house probably grew out of a common experience: that one came out of a coffeehouse feeling more intelligent or enlightened than when entering (as Montesquieu observed in The Persian Letters). As, indeed, wide-ranging conversations ensued therein, from the commercial (leading to the founding of, in London, Lloyd's of London, and in New York, the New York Stock Exchange) to the political, and the purely intellectual; the idea that one could acquire an education for the price of a cup of coffee, that is, a penny, took hold of the poetic imagination.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pelzer, J. and L. The English Coffee Houses. December 1, 2003
  2. ^ Boulton, William B. The Amusements of Old London. London: Ballantyne, Hanson & Co., 1901.
  3. ^ Ellis, Aytoun. The Penny Universities; A History of the Coffee-houses. London, Secker & Warburg, 1956.

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