The Regime of the Coin Tea Has Come…

Person holding penny over cup and saucer on a table with other coins on it.

Coin tea anyone?

“The regime of the coin tea has come”, declared ‘Sympathiser‘ in the Brisbane Courier  in 1909.  This announcement was apt.  If you do a search for ‘coin tea’ on the National Library of Australia’s  online newspaper database (Trove) you will be struck by how popular this form of fundraising appears to have been in Queensland during the early twentieth century until the outbreak of World War II.  94% of articles and advertisements containing the phrase ‘coin tea’ in the Trove database (as at 28/7/2011) were published in Queensland.

I presume that the name ‘coin tea’ comes from the fact that people attended were expected to donate a coin on entry.  A 1915 issue of Rockhampton’s Morning Bulletin tells us that the Ladies’ Patriotic Committee raised nearly £10 at their Coin Tea.  Of this £7 7s was raised at the door. An advertisement for a “Coin Afternoon Tea” in the Clarence and Richmond Examiner of 1914 says “Admission, silver coin”.  The St Peter’s Presbyterian Women’s Guild held a coin tea in 1936 which was also described as a “florin tea”, presumably because attendees were expected to donate a florin.

The account of the fundraiser held by the Fitzroy Ladies’ Rowing Club is typical of many of the newspaper reports of coin teas:

Sweet peas, and calendulas tastefully arranged in crystal vases, decked the tables where tea was served. An amusing competition (“Jumbled Animals”) was won by Mrs. E. Mahoney, who was the recipient of a pretty Doulton sweet dish. Mr. Roy Baird’s Famous Players played appropriate selections.

Morning Bulletin, 15 August 1931, p. 11

The manner in which the venue was decorated was generally noted in reports of coin teas.  Flowers and other plants were often used.  In the tropical and sub-tropical coastal areas of Queensland there was no shortage of plants which could be used for this purpose.

Musical performances were often given at coin teas and various competitions were enjoyed by guests at many of these functions. The Methodist Church Aid Society in Cairns were imaginative with their competitions at a coin tea in 1913.  Participants guessed the contents of bags by “touch and smell” and identified “twenty most indispensable things in a kitchen”. Mrs Congdon won the ladies’ “sawing” competition while Miss Montodon won the “nail driving” competition. This was not a women’s-only affair.  Mr. Ratrey won the button sewing competition.  There was a song competition, a book competition and an author competition.  But what did participants in the “drawing square” competition have to do?

Generally, but not always, coin teas were held in the afternoon and afternoon tea was served.  Venues for coin teas varied from private homes to halls and other public places.

I stumbled across coin teas while researching Queensland’s “Bible in State Schools” referendum in 1910 for my honours thesis.  This referendum passed, thereby re-introducing religious instruction and Bible reading in Queensland schools.  The major lobby group campaigning in favour of passing the referendum, the Bible in State Schools League, used coin teas to raise funds.  Last year I found 17 coin teas held by the League mentioned in the newspapers of 1909 which have been digitised.  Unfortunately I was not able to track down the minute book or any other records of the women’s branch of the Bible in State Schools League which would presumably have held more details about these coin teas.

Speeches were often given in support of the work of the Bible in State Schools League at coin teas which were held in support of their work.  The 200 women who attended the coin tea hosted by Mrs. J. H. Fairfax in the Alexander Hall, Toowoomba in 1909, heard speeches from two leading campaigners for the re-introduction of religious instruction and Bible reading in Queensland’s public schools, Rev. Dr. Youngman and Rev. D. J. Garland.

Coin Teas Held in Other Regions of Australia?

Were these events held in other states?  I checked all the articles published in states other than Queensland that my search of the digitised newspapers in Trove had unearthed. The only other state where coin teas appeared to have been held was New South Wales.  Several advertisements for coin teas can be found in the Clarence and Richmond Examiner which is published in Grafton, northern New South Wales.  Newcastle, which is over 160 kilometres north of Sydney, was the southern-most place where a coin tea was held. There were possibly a lot more coin teas held in northern New South Wales, but we don’t know as the newspapers in which they were publicised have not been digitised yet.

People who attended coin teas paid a coin on entry and may have donated more money once at the event by participating in competitions and games.  This does not sound unlike some of the fundraisers I have attended.  Coin teas were probably held throughout Australia, not just Queensland, but they may have been known by a different name.  I think it is also likely that similar events were held elsewhere in the world.

Acknowledgements

I started writing this post last year while writing my honours thesis, but other things caught my attention and so it has languished in draft form.  It probably would have sat in my list of drafts for a lot longer if it had not been for two initiatives that prompted me to dust this off and publish it.  Firstly the State Library of Queensland started a “Tea & Me” project collecting tea cups and stories about tea from all over Queensland.  They have published some old photos of Queenslanders having tea on their Flickr site as well.  This is a fun project and even people living outside Queensland like me can contribute thanks to the digitised sources freely available online.

The other initiative that prompted me to complete this post came from Tim Sherratt.  He has created a user interface for his harvester of newspaper articles from the National Library of Australia’s Trove digitised newspapers.  I used this post to do some beta testing of the user interface and have found that it works well.  The harvester generates a file which can be read in excel.  It gives information about each article that was returned in the search such as date of publication, URL of the article, newspaper in which it was published, page number etc.  This helped me find patterns in my search of the Trove database such as the proportion of articles that were published in Queensland etc, when most of the articles were published etc.

Over to You…

This post is punctuated by questions about coin teas which I hope you will be able to answer.  Perhaps you can share an account of a coin tea?  Do you know of fund-raising events using the same format but called by a different name conducted in other states or elsewhere in the world before World War II?  I am particularly interested to know more about the coin teas held by the women’s branch of the Bible in State Schools League.  Please share your observations and knowledge!

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