One of the things I used to like about going shopping with Mum when I was a kid was when Mum would let me have ten pence to buy some penny sweets. You’d take your ten pence piece, and exchange it for a little white paper bag with your own selection of yummy sweeties safely stored inside. Looking back, I always remember having trouble deciding what to eat first, and thinking that there was an almost never ending supply in that little paper bag. Ten pence wouldn’t stretch far these days, but in the days of the half pence you could have ended up with twenty sweets in there, which to a four year old certainly appeared close to infinite.
There were two ways in which you could choose your sweeties. If the shop was a small one (e.g. a corner newsagent) then quite often there would be a tray containing all the various sweets stocked, usually under a piece of glass meaning it was only accessible from the shopkeeper’s side of the counter. You’d point a little digit at the sweets you wanted, and the shopkeeper would count up the price as they popped them into the bag.
Larger shops, or more trusting ones, would have all the sweets in tubs on a shelf. The little white bags were hung by a piece of string from the shelf, so you’d tear one off, and fill it with your choice of sweets before taking it to the till to pay. Sometimes you’d try your luck in this case, putting in an extra penny or twos worth and lying to the shopkeeper. If you did do this, you’d always leave the shop as quickly as possible, because you still thought you would get caught.
It’s getting harder and harder to find shops that still sell penny sweets in this way. The closest you’ll get is the pick ‘n’ mix section in Woolworths. Whilst you still have a similar selection of goodies, including white mice, foam shrimps, chocolate footballs, jelly cherries and the like, pick ‘n’ mix takes the fun out things since you have to buy by weight, and its too expensive. Another option is to use one of the online stores, such as A Quarter Of, who whilst they still won’t be able to sell you just ten pence of sweeties, have a vast range and do offer some bargain hampers containing loads of your old favourites.
Update 9th February 2009 – Looks like old fashioned style newsagents and the online shops such as A Quarter Of are probably your best bet now, since Woolworths has now disappeared from our high streets taking Pick ‘N’ Mix with it…