In a dusty back room of a crumbling, disused Methodist chapel, in a small village near Nottingham, an old bookcase stood against a wall.
Tall and dark, its years seemed to weigh even heavier than the stacks of papers that lined its shelves.
The Victorian chapel, seen here in Google Maps, sat on a tiny plot of land. With no space to park vehicles it proved impossible to sell; its owners eventually realised that for the land to be useful the chapel had to be demolished.
As the contractors moved in, to start the painstaking process of taking the building down – literally brick-by-brick to avoid damaging nearby buildings – they found something unexpected in that undisturbed back room.
Under one corner of the century-old bookcase, a broken leg had been replaced with a stack of what looked like sheets of coloured card.
Only when the heavy brown frame was removed did they realise that a small part of England’s fundraising heritage had been discovered.
FOOT OF PENNIES
A Google search reveals only two mentions of this device, both from the 1930s – one in another village near Nottingham, and the other from a village near Pontypool in Wales. Both relate to fundraising for Methodist chapels.
The Foot of Pennies was a variation on a theme still familiar today. It was a device for collecting coins that could be taken home and used in house-to-house collecting or simply in private, family offerings.
Low value engagement
In 1935, one penny was worth the equivalent of about £0.17p or US$0.25c in today’s currency, meaning the Foot of Pennies would only raise the equivalent of £1.33 or a couple of bucks.
And that’s not much more than the £1 pack of today. (Although of course one penny could probably buy more than £0.17 does now...)
My hypothesis is that although it proved a useful vehicle for raising funds, it was primarily intended to work in a similar way to the £1 pack – by engaging the members of the community and building momentum towards regular, higher value giving.
It strikes me that although it is indeed a foot long, it only contains eight pennies. Why not 12? The mini die-cut envelopes, each with a gummed flap, could have been stapled in two staggered rows of six.
In ‘old money’, twelve pennies made a shilling, which would have seemed a more natural fundraising target.
For the historians among you, 20 shillings made one pound, meaning 240 pennies in a pound – in the Anglo-Saxon years of England in the late 700s, 240 silver penny coins weighed 1 pound (1lb).
Maybe the Methodists of the 1930s were unconcerned with price points and maximising their fundraising targets.
What they did appreciate, though, was clever design. The part-gummed, die-cut, roll-folded coin strip was stapled precisely to allow a row of pennies to be inserted.
And given that in the case of this chapel, and in one of the two examples on Google, the Foot of Pennies was used to raise funds for Sunday schools, the coloured cards and relatively small donations would have worked well to engage a younger audience. (Indeed, I wonder how many of our older donors today remember the Foot of Pennies.)
The wording is also worth a closer look: “Kindly help to fill this in” and “Every little helps”. The former is polite and direct, whilst the latter helps overcome any barriers that the small donation amount may raise.
What an intriguing – if little-known – piece of fundraising nostalgia.
Do you know about the Foot of Pennies – or anything similar?
Please add a comment if you do.
I will ensure this is featured on sofii, but if you know of a museum of fundraising, or anything similar, where you think a copy of this should appear, do let me know.
Would you like to own a Foot of Pennies?
I have ten copies from that Victorian chapel to give away. Simply email me with your postal address and I will happily share this delightful glimpse into the UK’s fundraising history with you. First come, first served.
For the very first reply I receive, I’ll also include a 1930s penny found under the old bookshelf – where it had probably rolled during a particularly busy counting session!