"penny" pre-1831 for 'U.S. cent'?

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue Feb 15 20:24:23 UTC 2005

The following refers to a hypothetical or rhetorical coin, but still:
Hickory sold this morning for Five Dollars, and Oak for Four and a Half
a load, about one third higher than at any time during the past severe
winter months. . . . we have witnessed a shameful monopoly in this
article, carried on by certain persons: An odious proceeding that
causes extensive distress among the poor of our city by wringing from
them their last penny for the purchase of a single stick.  New-York
Evening Post, April 4, 1807, p. 2, col. 5

"My name is De Grass Griffin -- I am ten years old --  my father is a
boatman in Killingsworth, Connecticut  --  my mother left there for
Philadelphia last summer -- she parted from my father -- he don't take
care of me.  [He went to Philadelphia looking for his mother.]  When I
got there I found that she was dead -- I remained there, going about
town for about a week -- I then started to come back.  A gentleman in
Philadelphia gave me a twenty cent piece and eleven-penny bit, and a
five-penny bit --  I have the twenty cent piece yet.  I got into this
town yesterday morning -- had nothing to eat yesterday till in the
evening, when I got some clams at a little stand near the river.  I
calculate to start for home this morning, and to get a stage driver to
give me a ride."  Commercial Advertiser, January 18, 1821, p. 2, col. 1.
This is from the story told to an NYC magistrate by a wandering boy.

The great difficulty he meets with, is in procuring persons to come
forward as witnesses, although scores of poor people could testify to
the facts, if it were not for the reluctance they feel at the supposed
disgrace they should incur by being pointed at as common informers.
But let those greater offenders, who hire the petty rogues by giving
them ten percent of the profit to procure these insurances during the
day, and late at night make over the book to them, let these be watched
and severely punished.  I am informed that at some of the insurance
offices even a penny premium is taken from the lowest of their
customers.  New-York Evening Post, February 16, 1818, p. 2, col. ?
This refers to the practice of "policy" gambling.  There were various
legal lotteries at the time, all requiring a fairly costly bet.  The
numbers brokers (in modern terms) sold supposed insurance policies
against the possibility of a certain number being drawn.

The letter was delivered to Mr. Hopson by the penny post, yesterday.
New=York Enquirer, June 4, 1828, p. 2, col. 1

These are the only occurences of "penny" in my notes, mostly from NYC
newspapers, through 1830.  1500+ pages.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

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