Monday, December 25, 2006

Penny Candy, Fudge & Sugar Pennies

I can’t remember the first time I ever bought penny candy as it was probably over fifty years ago. There were so many different kinds and how many I could get in that little brown bag will always be a nice memory of growing up. I think some of my favorites were the coconut creams, malted milk balls (they were two for a penny), red liquorish, orange slices, spearmint leaves, bacon slices, root beer barrels, pill stripes ( a lot for the money), squirrel bars and once in a while Double Bubble gum ……. never Bazooka. I know I tried each and every one over time and little did I know that I would sell it myself some day. I grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts and went to Grace Oliver’s beach on occasion in the original part of town called Barnegat. People at the beach would talk about Aunt Sadie’s, as a place to get penny candy, but she was also very well known for her peanut butter fudge. It was the best I ever had and to this day and I can still taste it! It was almost a 2” square piece that she would cut right from the tray and would serve it on a piece of wax paper. Aunt Sadie’s store was an old salt box house around the corner from the beach, up the pathway where the outdoor Coca Cola cooler was always packed with different ice cold tonic. It was tempting to get a tonic but I never had enough pennies to get one, which was five cents for a glass bottle. No, I went into Aunt Sadie’s and got a few pieces of candy and that would last much longer than a drink. On special occasions I spent three cents and got a piece of fudge. That was always a tough decision but I am sure glad I experienced that memory.

When I first started in business forty years ago, I had a store among antique shops in a small little north shore town called South Essex and did tavern signs, paintings on wood, decorated furniture and local drawings. I came across an old fashioned display case similar to the ones I remembered long ago. It would fit very nicely on an old country store counter I recently was given so it seemed a natural progression to sell penny candy. One of my favorite places to get candy was from Charlie Strong over in Gloucester, a man in his mid eighties who ran the business out of his home. He told me he was the first dealer to sell candy in town sixty five years ago, which would have been at the turn of the century. He happened to give me three photos of himself, the horse and the elegant wagon, complete with all the fancy lettering, which he used to deliver the candy in. He seemed to be able to get many of the familiar varieties I remembered and a few extra special ones. There was one small orange chocolate bar wrapped in tin foil and a colorful paper that was made in Israel. It had a great taste and I couldn’t believe it was selling for only a penny! I told Mr. Strong about a new museum in Newfield, Maine that had a country store that felt as if you were stepping back in time and they wanted to sell penny candy. I gave him a contact person there where he later would fill his station wagon up to make the trip for a few more years past his mid eighties. Taking the trip there probably reminded him of visiting the country stores back in his earlier days.

I had an idea of increasing traffic to my new business so I painted a large one cent candy sign and placed it in front of my shop which drew in customers. It also soon became a favorite stop for the neighborhood children particularly when getting off the school bus. Twenty years later when I see my little customers all grown up they tell me how much they enjoyed the shop and thank me for it. Selling the candy was also a way for me to save the monthly rent money of $75.00. The penny candy days seem to be over, like the kind that I sold, and if you do find some, it won’t be the variety, quality, size or price it was back then. It just isn’t the same, which brings to mind that I don’t think pennies are valued that much anymore and just kicked aside. I had a neighbor a few short years ago who told me her story of pennies. When having tea with her mother, Marvis was always asked if she would like some sugar or have a penny. It was the WW II days when there was rationing of several commodities, sugar being one. Marvis chose never to take sugar in her tea and saved enough later to buy U.S. war bonds. She called them “sugar pennies” and occasionally I use that phrase in my work when I decorate old small boxes.

The other day I bought a sandwich and handed over $3.35 waiting for the three cents in change which never had the intention of being returned to me I realized when I heard the cash drawer slammed shut. The three cents wasn’t even thought of as my sandwich was cheerfully given to me with a “have a nice day”. I was at the local market recently and the clerk asked me if I wanted my penny change or receipt. I said “I’ll take them both”. I thought of Aunt Sadie’s fudge, sugar pennies and how times have changed. Pennies still add up to a dollar.

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