Skip to Content

What the Heck is a Penny Lick?

If you’ve never heard of a penny lick, you’re not alone. When we first heard the term, we thought it was some sort of cheap mineral block for animals. Turns out we were way off base.

Penny licks were popular during the Victorian era. Some folks even consider them valuable antiques. 

We’ll explore the history behind one of the world’s weirdest pieces of glassware and why it’s no longer in use today.

Let’s go!

Did You Say Penny Lick?

Penny licks were solid glass ice cream cups used throughout the United Kingdom during the 1800s. The small vessels looked like a shot glass sitting atop a thick stem and sturdy base. They were purposely designed for street vendors to sell ice cream with a quick turnover.

However, their design was also purposefully deceptive. The thick glass obscured the amount it held, so people thought they were getting more sweets than they actually were. Penny licks also kept ice cream colder for longer periods than other containers.

Vendors scooped licks for half a penny, one penny, or two. Customers would then lick the ice cream out of the glass and return it immediately. That same glass would go out right away to the next customer with barely a rinse. 

Did Penny Licks Make You Sick?

Although penny licks surely impressed entrepreneurs of the day, they also made people very sick. But no one intended for this to happen. Glass designers didn’t think about how the cone-shaped cup made them hard to clean.

More importantly, most folks didn’t understand how germs spread between people. In fact, they didn’t even know that germs existed.

Before scientists discovered germs in the 1860s, people thought disease spread through things like foul-smelling air and water. But as cholera and tuberculosis ran throughout the streets of London, researchers slowly put two and two together. Penny licks were carriers of disease.

Consequently, London banned the use of penny licks in 1899. By 1930 they were banned everywhere.

Pro Tip: Get the scoop on How Gelato Is Different than Ice Cream.

Penny lick
Before there were ice cream cones, penny licks were the solution.

What Replaced the Penny Lick?

Given the popularity of street ice cream, vendors needed a quick solution to the penny lick problem. At first, they altered ice cream recipes to make them easy to hold with a paper wrap. 

Hokey-pokeys, as they were called, were more coarse and icy than the usual scoop. But since the hokey-pokey was less yummy than regular ice cream, entrepreneurs kept working towards other solutions.

Italian immigrants Antonio Valvona and Italo Marchiony invented a pastry mold for edible ice cream wafer cups. If the goal was a single-use cup, why not make it eatable?

By 1901 waffle cups and wafer ice cream sandwiches were all the rage. Valvona and Marchiony opened up ice cream cup factories in the US and UK. But the best was yet to come.

Although there’s debate about who created the ice cream cone, the first photos of their use appeared at the 1904 World’s Fair. According to the International Dairy Foods Association, Ernest A. Hamwi deserves the credit.

As a vendor at the St. Louis event, Hamwi’s Syrian food stand was next to an ice cream seller. When his neighbor ran out of cups, he ingeniously rolled one of his pastries into a cone and gave it to him. 

And thus, the ice cream cone was born. Whether it’s a rolled waffle cone or a molded sugar cone, the world has never been the same. What a genius idea. So much better than a germ-spreading penny lick.

How Was Old Fashioned Ice Cream Made?

Humans experimenting with sweetened frozen drinks dates back centuries. At first, people mixed fruit juices with snow. In medieval times, chefs added cane sugar to drinks and stirred them before storing them in the coldest location possible.

But it wasn’t until the mid-1600s that the science really got going. First, there was Spanish sorbet. Antonio Latini thankfully wrote down the recipe, based on fruit with some milk. Next came gelato, the Italian version, more based on cream than fruit puree.

When Italians brought gelato to France, they added eggs to the recipe. If you’ve ever wondered why French Vanilla is so darn good, it’s the eggs. Things got so fancy in Paris that chefs began to boil their sweet cream yolk mixture before pouring it into a mold. Although it was called Fromage, this ice cream wasn’t made of cheese.

By the late 1700s, Europeans figured out the trick was using a suitable container. First, you’d fill a wooden bucket with ice and salt. Next, fill a cylindrical metal tube with your cream, sugar, and other flavors. Then stir and turn the cylinder while it’s in the middle of the ice.

American Nancy Johnson invented the first ice cream maker in 1846, making churning the cream much easier. The ice cream factories came just a few decades later with the availability of electricity and refrigeration. 

Pro Tip: Love vanilla flavored ice cream? Learn more about Where Does Vanilla Flavoring Come From?

Penny lick
Penny Lick Ice Cream Company still makes ice cream today.

Is There Penny Lick Ice Cream?

Yes, and fortunately, it’s very safe to eat. Not only that, they use dairy from local cows treated with care. Founder and CEO Ellen Sledge says she’s on a mission to provide ice cream with a clear conscience.

Penny Lick Ice Cream Company is located in Hastings-on-Hundson, about 30 minutes north of New York City. They chose the name to harken back to the good side of old-fashioned ice cream – simplicity. You can visit the store for a cone or a cup. Or you can order a pint for delivery.

The Penny Lick Ice Cream brand raises safety standards even higher for allergy sufferers. All of their products are tree-nut and peanut free. Flavors range from plain vanilla to sophisticated s’mores. City folks love the chai latte flavor. But if you want to go for nostalgia, we suggest the creamsicle.

Can You Buy Penny Lick Antiques?

Even though these old-fashioned ice cream cups caused more harm than good, they’re considered antiques. And they’re worth a pretty penny. 

Victorian-era penny licks came in several shapes. Some were narrow V-shaped funnel bowls. While others resembled wide-rimmed parlor cups. Fans of antique glass collectibles pay anywhere from $30 to $80 per cup. You can even find Edwardian-era bowls that sell for over $100.

A Better, Edible Solution

Penny licks were as weird as the name itself. The glass ice cream vessel did the job of getting goodies to the people very fast. And with an incredible turnaround. But it also made them sick.

Luckily, panic for a quick solution led to the invention of ice cream cones. And what’s better than your favorite ice cream flavor nestled in a delicious crispy cone?

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers who love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: