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January 29, 2012 10:09 AM   Subscribe

London coffee bars of the 1950s (SLYT)
posted by fearfulsymmetry (63 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
"a cup of coffee costing tuppence to tuppence ha'penny to make could be sold for 9 pence to 1 and 6"

Could someone translate this into... uh... English?
posted by PenDevil at 10:20 AM on January 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


"a cup of coffee costing tuppence to tuppence ha'penny to make could be sold for 9 pence to 1 and 6"

Tuppence = 2 pence
Ha'penny = 1/2 penny
1 and 6 = 1 shilling and 6 pence
shilling = 12 pences

"a cup of coffee costing 2 to 2 1/2 pence to make could be sold for 9 to 18 pence."
posted by Jehan at 10:25 AM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


That would be one shilling and sixpence , and I can cut the longer explanation on preview thanks to Jehan, but add that when you see the price boards in old photographs of shops and prices are written as "1/6" -- that is what the notation means. The abbreviations were s and d, so the coffee was 1s 6d or just 18d.

It was great that it takes two minutes for the film's topic to turn to people who buy a cup, nurse it at the table all night, "and they complain their coffee's cold at the end of it."
posted by cgk at 10:35 AM on January 29, 2012


"Half-an-hour? Some of them will sit here all night, if you give them half a chance."

Just wait till you put in the wifi, bucko.
posted by bicyclefish at 10:42 AM on January 29, 2012 [16 favorites]


The comedic sociological study needs to make a comeback. They were a staple in the 60. You have your narrator describing the scene.The main character, a lovable rogue with a very thin tie, addressing the audience directly.Throw in camera gimmicks like putting arrows or labels or freezeframes of a woman's bum and you have described three of the best films of the 60s. The Italian job, Alfie and, The Knack ... and How To Get It.

Not to belabor the point about the currency, but how many pence in a penny and how many shillings in a quid. Is it true there are two form of currency in the UK, if not what is the difference between quid and a pound. How many pounds in a crown? What is a sovereign? Are those simply archaic coinage no longer in use? How do I know whether to pay in quids, pounds, crowns or sovereigns?
posted by Ad hominem at 10:42 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Remember, people complained about decimalisation because it was "confusing".
posted by Artw at 10:43 AM on January 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Iron Foot Jack, from the cafe video, is also here in the video Soho Goes Gay, British Pathe, 1955.

Ironfoot Jack, who tried so hard to be a character that he became one.
posted by zippy at 10:43 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


It was great that it takes two minutes for the film's topic to turn to people who buy a cup, nurse it at the table all night, "and they complain their coffee's cold at the end of it."

I'ld be upset too. I think 1/6 in the 1950s would be about $8 in US money today. You probably could have had two pints of bitter for the same price.

Not to belabor the point about the currency, but how many pence in a penny and how many shillings in a quid. Is it true there are two form of currency in the UK, if not what is the difference between quid and a pound. How many pounds in a crown? What is a sovereign? Are those simply archaic coinage no longer in use? How do I know whether to pay in quids, pounds, crowns or sovereigns?

12 pence = 1 shilling
20 shillings = 1 pound
240 pence = 1 pound

Quid and pound are the same thing, and are names used before and after decimalization. Crowns were 5 shillings, sovereigns 1 pound bullion coin. Neither are circulating currency anymore. Always pay in crisp £20s, and never pay in crisp £50s.
posted by Jehan at 10:49 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Astrologers!
posted by cazoo at 10:53 AM on January 29, 2012


The Knack ... and How To Get It

Man that is a terrible film.
posted by Artw at 11:01 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


(On the other hand, after watching it we were discussing it's weird wacky terribleness for *days*, so that;s kind of a success I guess)
posted by Artw at 11:02 AM on January 29, 2012


The other things you might need to know if reading Austin, Dickens, or O'Brien:

1 bob = 1 shilling
1 guinea = 1 pound 1 shilling (21s)

At decimalization the 5p coin replaced the shilling, you may see coinage labeled with "new pence." There are 100p new pence, or 240d old pence to the pound. If that doesn't make sense you should have another cup of coffee and read again.
posted by cgk at 11:04 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is it true there are two form of currency in the UK, if not what is the difference between quid and a pound.

That is old currency. In 1971 the UK went decimal and now, in theory there are only pounds (£) and pence (p).

A quid is slang for a pound. As is a 'bar', 'spond' and I'm sure many other colloquialisms. The term shilling (slang for that is a 'bob') was still used for a while to refer to the new 5p coins.
posted by NailsTheCat at 11:09 AM on January 29, 2012


How on earth did your monetary system get so fucked up to begin with? Why did the guinea ever exist?
posted by empath at 11:14 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why is Farenheit used by peopl who otherwise appear sane?
posted by Artw at 11:16 AM on January 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


Dig the Cliff Richard poster!
posted by timsteil at 11:16 AM on January 29, 2012


I wonder if the two Stockpot cafés we see at 4:22 are the same as the two retro-style caffs of the same name currently operating in Soho? I see from their website that they were established in 1958, and having eaten at the Old Compton St one, the food (and its presentation) is certainly redolent of the sixties.

Also, I love The Macabre Coffee House! Will someone please resurrect it so I can hang out there?
posted by hot soup girl at 11:18 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Horses were sold in guineas (see War Horse)

If you think that's confusing wait until to move on to the advanced lessons: a pony and a money for a start then tick tack - double carpet, Burlington Bertie etc etc

It's bloody hard work being a spiv, gurnor.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:19 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, after watching it we were discussing it's weird wacky terribleness for *days*, so that;s kind of a success I guess

The movie has everything.It has the fake sociology narrator, random man in the street footage cut in commenting on what is going on in the movie, gimmicks like on screen labels of things like "cup of tea" and "hammer". It really is out there. It even won a lot of awards. It seems Ludicrous to us now, but my personal opinion is all the sex romp comedies that came later were more or less descendant of that movie.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:20 AM on January 29, 2012


Remember, in current UK money the one pence peice is a dongle, and two pence is a nonce. 5p is a bollock, 10p a double-bollock and 20p is a double-dog-bollock. The 50 pence peice is called an ASBO due to it's non-conformist shape and the pound and two pound couns are called the gee-pee and the eee-pee after their D&D 2nd edition equivalents.
posted by Artw at 11:21 AM on January 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


And it was all done to confuse visiting Americans 'one and six... no no no they told you wrong guvnor, it's one pound and six shillings... and let me show you this bridge you can buy'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:22 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


a pony and a money

Blast! I meant a pony and a monkey of course - don't want to confuse you even more
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:24 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember when you could take the missus to the flicks of a night, have a chip supper, three pints of mild and two stone of monkey nuts and still come home wi' change out of a tanner.
posted by Abiezer at 11:25 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


'In this style 10/6'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:25 AM on January 29, 2012


I'd be upset too. I think 1/6 in the 1950s would be about $8 in US money today.

That estimate seems a wee bit high. This price inflation calculator estimates 1d/6s in 1959 to be worth about £1.38 in today's money (about US$2.20).

Now saying that, I'm sure you can find a cup of coffee in London today for $8 and you can easily find a pint of bitter for that price too.
posted by rh at 11:26 AM on January 29, 2012


In this style 10/6

Thank you for pointing that out, I always thought that was a size or something. Never occurred to me you would express a price as a fraction.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:32 AM on January 29, 2012


How on earth did your monetary system get so fucked up to begin with?

By the time pre–decimal currency was abolished, it had been in existence for over a thousand years. You wouldn't be looking so smart after being around that long.

That estimate seems a wee bit high. This price inflation calculator estimates 1d/6s in 1959 to be worth about £1.38 in today's money (about US$2.20).

I was using average earnings from 1955, but your way is probably better as it's retail price index.
posted by Jehan at 11:32 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank you for pointing that out, I always thought that was a size or something. Never occurred to me you would express a price as a fraction.

No! It's not a fraction when it is displayed as 10/6 or similar, as the rightstroke is simply a separator between different units. The 10/6 is equal to ½ guinea, not "ten sixths" of anything.

Here's the long and overcomplicated explanation. Money was counted using three different units: pounds, shillings and pennies. Just like dollars and cents, when one unit reaches the end of its count, such as cents going form 99 to 100, its adds one on the next unit, a dollar. So pennies counted up to 11, then at 12 totaled 1 shilling, and shillings counted up to 19, then at 20 totaled 1 pound.

Prices were displayed as to how much of each unit there was, in a system known as £sd (pronounced "LSD", or "pounds, shillings, and pence"). £ meaning libra represented the pound, s meaning solidus represented the shilling, and d meaning denarius represented the penny. A price that was one pound thirteen shillings and seven pence would be displayed in full as £1 13s 7d. If there was nothing in the pound column the libra sign was omitted, such as 17s 2d. But even the solidus and denarius abbreviations could be omitted so long as the two were clearly separated, such as 17/2. Thus 10/6 is not a fraction, but simply 10 shillings and 6 pence.

The only time fractions were used is when prices included fractions of a penny, such as the ha'penny or farthing, 1/2 and 1/4 respectively. In such cases, a price might be displayed as 1/2½, which was 1 shilling and 2 and a half pence.

Clear? Probably not, but it's okay.
posted by Jehan at 11:57 AM on January 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


No!

Well I suspected it was 10x and 6y not 10/6x so perhaps fraction was the wrong word for me to use. Thank you though.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:14 PM on January 29, 2012


No! It's not a fraction when it is displayed as 10/6 or similar...

Adding to that statement, I suspect the notion of writing a fraction using a forward slash all on one line came about with common computer use, so after that 10/6 notation was devised. Otherwise vulgar fractions would be written with a true horizontal line or a diagonal line but with numbers clearly above and below that line such as ½.
Of course, I have done no research to back that up.
posted by NailsTheCat at 12:27 PM on January 29, 2012


There are old pennies and new pennies (post-decimalisation).

There were 240 old pennies in the pound.
There were 20 shillings in the pound.
There were therefore twelve old pennies in the shilling.

There are now, post-decimalisation, 100 "new" pennies in the pound.

Therefore:

One shilling = 12 old pence = 5 new pence. (One twentieth of a pound)

In old money we also had halfpenny pieces and (before I was born), farthings, which were quarter pennies. Even when I was a lad in the sixties we had "tanners", which were six old pence, thru'penny bits (cockney rhyming slang ahoy!) and half crowns (2/-6d, or 12.5 new pence - an eighth of a quid). We also had ten bob notes (10/-).

I trust this is all now abundantly clear to you foreigners and disgustingly youthful Brits.
posted by Decani at 1:10 PM on January 29, 2012


Wut? No Cafe Racers?

My mom started the first espresso bar in my town, but she was about 10 years ahead of her time. She imported a huge Gaggia machine, it cost a fortune. The tap water here was so full of minerals, the machine would clog with lime and it needed constant repairs. As the film notes, people will sit around forever and hog tables, so it was not economically viable.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:17 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Of course, really it was all about men in donkey jackets eating a greasy fry-up (with builders tea) then driving a truck up a cliff.
posted by Artw at 1:21 PM on January 29, 2012


Prices were displayed as to how much of each unit there was, in a system known as £sd (pronounced "LSD", or "pounds, shillings, and pence"). £ meaning libra represented the pound, s meaning solidus represented the shilling, and d meaning denarius represented the penny. A price that was one pound thirteen shillings and seven pence would be displayed in full as £1 13s 7d. If there was nothing in the pound column the libra sign was omitted, such as 17s 2d. But even the solidus and denarius abbreviations could be omitted so long as the two were clearly separated, such as 17/2. Thus 10/6 is not a fraction, but simply 10 shillings and 6 pence.

I've read this three times, and I still don't understand it, and I can't imagine that anybody ever thought this was reasonable.
posted by empath at 1:30 PM on January 29, 2012


In America, at the time, we could have a coffeehouse rendezvous!

I've read this three times, and I still don't understand it, and I can't imagine that anybody ever thought this was reasonable.

Sure, but I feel the same way about any city that was laid out before about 1850. It just developed that way, and the best you can do is get a native to help you around until you remember how it all works.

I love this little film. I could watch a dozen of them.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:35 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Been reminded me of the joy of a cigarette with an espresso...)
posted by marvin at 1:37 PM on January 29, 2012


I do sometimes wonder if the English-speaking world constructed its units of measurement as an elaborate hazing ritual. My father used to ask us joke questions like "How many shillings to the furlong?"

One of the great running gags of Trollope's Pallisers novels is Plantagent Palliser's dogged quest for the decimalisation of the currency. The funniest bit for a 21st century reader is how everyone else thinks he's absolutely crazy. (The BBC Phineas Finn, iirc, included a great rant from Geoffrey Whitehead {swoon} as the Duke of St. Bungay telling Planty Pall to give it up.)

Ah, coffee bars. And milk bars.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:39 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've read this three times, and I still don't understand it, and I can't imagine that anybody ever thought this was reasonable.

I find it helps if you think of it as the monetary version of the US's measurement system. Illogical and confusing, with a clearly superior system available to replace it, but it persists out of habit for many years.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:45 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wonderful film! And I didn't even expect the jitterbug, that was just a bonus.
posted by Miko at 2:06 PM on January 29, 2012


I find it helps if you think of it as the monetary version of the US's measurement system.

You mean the UK's old measurement system? Or are you talking about the very few US-specific units of measurement, like the "section"?
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:07 PM on January 29, 2012


I find it helps if you think of it as the monetary version of the US's measurement system. Illogical and confusing, with a clearly superior system available to replace it, but it persists out of habit for many years.

If God had meant us to use the Metric System, he would have made the distance between King Henry's nose and his thumb a meter instead of a yard.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:08 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I get about 6 pounds per week, which keeps the wolf from my door!"
posted by Miko at 2:08 PM on January 29, 2012


"A square, in the wrong hole, is just not dug. Even by the jukebox."

When you've seen this parodied so often by things like The Simpsons you start to forget that once every documentary feature about counterculture did really did do this.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:22 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


You mean the UK's old measurement system? Or are you talking about the very few US-specific units of measurement, like the "section"?

The US measurement system and the outdated UK measurement system aren't the same. The systems are superficially similar in names and units, but the measures themselves sometimes differ. "Imperial" and "customary" are not a unified system.
posted by Jehan at 2:43 PM on January 29, 2012


The one time I went to England, I put a lot of time into understanding the currency system, and was quite surprised, on arriving there, to find out it had been long since decimalised.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:15 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


If all that glamor and hep get too much for you, this video is worth watchin.
posted by Kattullus at 3:24 PM on January 29, 2012


An amusingly clunky film.

But man. the nostalgia does seep through.
Those coffee bars.
My favourite was the Partisan. Just off Soho Square. Down in the cellar, a smoky leftwing hangout with chess games and earnest conversations.
Sure the coffee a was bit wishy washy, and cost a fortune. But my brother and I would share one - and make it last all night.

In the room behind the french newspaper shop on Old Compton Street you could get a cuppa for only fourpence (four pennies to you) but they indicated that it was perhaps it was time to leave, after 2 hours over a shared cup.

Ironfoot Jack was there often and of course the Bohemians, we were just wannabees, still in our school uniform with the short trousers.

We sat a whole night at the Gyre and Gimble in Villiers Street having missed the last train out to Epsom, and Long John Baldry played mean guitar till dawn came up.

They played skiffle in many of the coffee bars, acoustic stuff as no-one could afford amplifiers and such. Hell, even I played in the more suburban places. Jimmy Page too.

And you could smoke.

For us - its where rock n roll come from.

But if you tell that to the kids these days..........
posted by jan murray at 3:28 PM on January 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm nostalgic for those manual espresso machines. My husband opened an espresso bar/comic book shop/art space back in the early 1990s (a little too early though since it folded eventually.) They had an old manual machine. I was always afraid of it whacking someone in the face on accident. (and yes, the high school students would nurse a single cappuccino for hours!)
posted by vespabelle at 3:55 PM on January 29, 2012


Apropos of nothing: The Beat Generation
posted by Sys Rq at 4:26 PM on January 29, 2012


Remember, in current UK money the one pence peice is a dongle, and two pence is a nonce. 5p is a bollock, 10p a double-bollock and 20p is a double-dog-bollock.

Really, this is only still regular usage in some parts of the country. However most parts will still recognize it. Visitors to the UK should remember to ask shop keepers for their change in bollocks, as these are useful for parking meters (not parking metres), and public telephones.

Haggling over prices with costermongers in the fruit and vegetable markets is expected and is sometimes called "talking bollocks." Older stall-minders in particular will particularly appreciate it if you ask them the price of onions, for example, and upon hearing their reply, tell them "you're talking bollocks, mate".
posted by carter at 4:46 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also if you feel someone is being cheap, overcharging you or splitting hairs over small amounts of money you should call them a nonce - realizing the tiny amount of money they are arguing over they will soon be shamed into submission.
posted by Artw at 4:49 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


And if they're then feeling really apologetic, and want to treat you as a local, they may ask, "How would you like a smack-in-the-gob?" (which is a local delicacy of jam-custard pudding). You should of course reply "Yes please!"
posted by carter at 5:04 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


you should call them a nonce

Erm. No, you shouldn't. Really.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:31 PM on January 29, 2012


Or they will offer a refund in the form of a bunch-of-fives.

In the past the Queen would put on disguises and randomly grant traders an award of 50 pence for exceptional fair dealing, so it is common to reply with "You're going to get an ASBO."
posted by Artw at 5:33 PM on January 29, 2012


Ah, sorry. People like me who don't read properly are called 'berks', after Howard Berk, a famous illiterate.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:34 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The US measurement system and the outdated UK measurement system aren't the same.

The volumes and masses differ (the lengths are the same), but the principles of numeration are the same, and originated in England, not in the US. (Not to mention that the US doesn't have the completely weird "stone" thing. It was infuriating to figure out whether Bridget Jones was getting plump or just being obsessive...)
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:37 PM on January 29, 2012


Sorry, I think I was parsing that entirely backwards. I was thinking that "the US measurement system" was the answer to the question "Who would think of such an unwieldy system?" rather than the question "How do people manage such an unwieldy system?"

The answer to the first question is, of course, "The same people who came up with the whole shillings and pence and pounds and sovereigns thing," but the answer to the second is "Who knows, but there are at least 300 million people still doing it, with a bunch of people in the UK and Canada going back and forth," yes?
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:00 PM on January 29, 2012


I've learned a lot in this thread thanks to artw and carter. I'm going to give my Yorkshire-born-and-bred mum a call here in a bit and try out some of my new vocabulary.
posted by maxwelton at 6:19 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


A little bit more about Ironfoot Jack:
The portly Jack flaunted long hair, a Homberg hat and a long black cape hung over his short leg which was elevated by an iron boot. He would approach the unwary and try to sell them copies of his poems on pieces of grubby paper.

Jack's abysmal personal hygiene - he was the man who put the BO in 'Bohemia' - meant he always had plenty of leg room in the French.
posted by unliteral at 6:47 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The weirdest thing it people like me who kind of straddle metrication as my parents generation and older still talked in pounds and ounces etc at home but we had kilos etc at school. So I think in stones for peoples weight, long distances in miles (well everyone does that), drinks in pints, (well...), temperature in centigrade, and short distances in both inches and cm, cooking weight in pounds mostly...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:17 AM on January 30, 2012


Some more useful vocab for London pubs and coffee bars... if you want to compliment a man call him a shirt-lifter, this is slang for a tailor and will thus imply he's very smartly dressed, similarly for a woman call her a brass (implying she's a bright as brass)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:24 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


But even the solidus and denarius abbreviations could be omitted so long as the two were clearly separated, such as 17/2.

Oh, and now I've just realized why "forward slash" is actually called U+002F SOLIDUS in Unicode (not to be confused with FRACTION SLASH or DIVISION SLASH.

aitch-tee-tee-pee-colon-solidus-solidus
posted by rh at 9:37 AM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


That is an excellent piece of information, rh.
posted by carter at 10:06 AM on January 30, 2012


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