Penny University  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Penny University is a term originating from the eighteenth century coffeehouses in London, England. Instead of paying for drinks, people were charged a penny to enter a coffee house. 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 coffee houses announcing the latest news, perhaps not too unlike what we might hear on the TV or the radio today.

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

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 you came out of a coffeehouse feeling ten times as smart as you were when you went in (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.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Penny University" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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