At first glance, you could easily think that what you’re looking at here is a pair of everyday, fairly bog standard liqueur glasses, the sort of thing you might fill with a tot of warming sloe gin on a winter’s evening.
But look again and you’ll see that the bowl is solid glass almost to the top – there’s only a shallow indentation there. That’s because these are ice cream ‘lickers’, or ‘penny lick’ glasses.
Until the general introduction of mechanised refrigeration around the turn of the last century, ice cream was a real luxury. In this country, for centuries, ice had been imported from Scandinavia and stored in purpose-built ice houses – there’s a lovely example of one just behind the church in Wykeham, probably built around 1800.
Ice cream vendors would sell their wares in these glasses, which became known as ‘penny licks’ because – guess what! – you could buy a penny-worth of ice cream in one. The refractive qualities of the solid glass bowl would give the impression that the glass was full, but in fact, the quantity of ice cream would be fairly small – hence the ‘lick’ part of the name.
The buyer would eat the ice cream then hand the glass back to the vendor, who would wipe it not-terribly-clean for the next person. This lack of hygiene, possibly coupled with the fact that the basic ingredients for ice cream – eggs, milk, cream – were not pasteurised in those days, meant that this little luxury item was responsible for many gastroenterital problems and eventually led, in the early 20th century, to the introduction of the edible waffle cone that we know and love today.
The two penny licks pictured have been in the collection for many years, but it’s possible to find them in charity shops and auctions for a small cost, so they’re worth looking out for!