Penny Candy

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

penny candy remains common in the contemporary lexicon, even though few candies can now be bought for a penny. The term “penny candy” broadly refers to cheap, bulk, sugar-based candies usually associated with children. Over the nearly two centuries of the term’s existence, relatively little has changed in its meaning.

In the United States, the origins of penny candy can be dated to 1847, when small boiled sugar sweets were pulled, crimped, colored, striped, twisted, and cut to fit the mouths of eager children. The 1847 invention of the hand-cranked lozenge candy machine by Oliver Chase in Boston made rapid mass production of boiled sugar candies possible for candy makers both large and small. Some of the dies for early candy machines resembled pennies, providing another explanation for the origin of the phrase, as the penny candies actually mimicked money in sugar form. Other dies resembled fruits, nuts, figures, animals, ships, and other objects that doubled as sugary toys for children to play with and suck on. In 1851 the first revolving steam panning cookers were imported to Philadelphia, revolutionizing the laborious process of sugar panning jujubes, gumdrops, and dragées. See panning. All manner of these candy-coated treats, previously unattainable by the masses, were now available in bulk at confectionery shops, usually sold by the scoop or piece and starting at a penny each. The proliferation of penny goods, as they came to be known in the nineteenth century, allowed children of various means to spend their own coins at the candy counter, while adults and the upper classes consumed fancier boxed chocolates and bonbons. See bonbons; chocolates, boxed; and chocolate, luxury. The strong distinction between the confectionery preferences of children and adults remains, despite the waning tradition of the old-fashioned candy store today.