The sticky coin craze: How customers’ tips were stuck to bar-room walls


WHILE my wife ran a few errands, I waited over a schooner of Resch’s at the White Horse Hotel on Crown Street, Surry Hills, Sydney.

Pulling-up a bar stool, I noticed sitting beside my beer, a tip jar, with a clever spruik for my loose change. The year was 2016, and pinned to a tiny tin bucket was a pretty-good likeness of the US president Barack Obama, with the clever slogan: “WE DO NOT FEAR CHANGE”. It got me thinking.

Although this one was clever, more often then not, tip jars are unimaginative receptacles on the bar. Just as imaginative are donation tins, left on the bars for various charities.

tip jars
The clever ‘tip jar’ at the White Horse Inn Hotel, Surry Hills NSW. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.

This wasn’t always the case though. During the 1940s a craze evolved in pubs across Australia, when drinkers stuck their loose change onto walls or above the suspended bar shelving by dipping coins in beer.

Chief-Engineer James Leslie contributing another coin to the Red Cross Fund Collection, Pyrmont 1941

At first the coins, mainly pennies, were stuck in place as tips for barmaids or barmen.

The idea was said to have originated in England, and in Australia the quirky method of tipping bar staff evolved into a unique way of raising a few ‘quid’ for charitable or not-for-profit organisations.

A notable fundraiser evolved from the ‘sticky coins’ at Bulli, on the New South Wales South Coast, during the early 1960s, where the pennies were ‘glued’ with beer onto a large concrete pylon.

When the pylon became full of pennies, the publican of the Bulli Family Hotel scraped them off, thoroughly washed the sticky coins in soapy water, and donated them to the nearby Police Boys Club. But, more on that later.

The earliest references I found to the ‘sticky coin’ method of fundraising appeared in various Australian newspapers in the first half of 1941. The Newcastle Sun published an image of  “Chief-Engineer James Leslie (see image above) contributing another coin to the Red Cross Fund collection, started by Mrs Clarke at her husband’s hotel, Pyrmont, on July 4 1941. The North Western Courier (Narrabri, NSW) reported on July 10:

Here with two easy money making ideas for your men folk: At Boylan’s Hotel, Pyrmont, a saucer of beer is kept on the counter and men are asked to put their penny change in tbe beer and then stick it on the walls of the bar parlour. The sum of £5 was very quickly stuck on the walls and proceeds given to the Red Cross. At a Red Cross Sanatorium the soldiers thought they were swearing too much so have inaugurated a fine system of a penny a swear. Contributions have already reached 19/-.

Fines for swearing inside pubs was not a new idea, particularly in bars frequented by hard drinking miners. In the coal mining town of Thirroul, on the New South Wales South Coast, publican Johanna Ryan of the Bulli Pass Hotel raised bucket-loads of money for the two local hospitals during the 1920s by placing a swear jar on her bar. The Robertson Mail reported on April 2 1926:

To Cure Swearing

Mrs. Ryan, of Bulli Pass Hotel, Thirroul, has a unique way of assisting Bulli Hospital. Mrs Ryan keeps a bottle specially made, and if any customer swears he is asked to place a coin in the bottle for Bulli Hospital. The bottle was broken open a few days ago in the presence of a hospital committee man and the sum of 30s. was found. The secretary of the Illawarra Cottage Hospital [Coledale]. Mr J. Cavill, acknowledges with thanks the sum if one pound, two shillings and nine pence forwarded by Mrs Ryan proprietress of the Thirroul Hotel [Bulli Pass Hotel] from men who used swear words inside the hotel.

-South Coast May 6 1927

A woman attaches another coin to the wall of a Sydney pub in the 1940s

At a Broken Hill hotel, in outback New South Wales, a publican also adopted the swear jar method to raise money for a local charity. The Barrier Miner (Broken Hill) Saturday 13 March 1943:

New Income Source For War Prisoners

Swearing, which hitherto has always been one of man’s wasted talents, has at last been capitalised. Men who swear in the bar of a local hotel are asked to pay a fine. The fines are put into a collection box for the Red Cross Prisoner of War Fund.
This novel practice has been going on for about two months now, according to a barmaid who is one of the most diligent collectors of swear-ing fines at the hotel.
“The fine varies according to the fluency of the language,” said the hotel licensee today. “It is always put in a joking way. A fine of a penny might be suggested or a half-penny or a silver coin.
“When the men see the joke of it they often respond by automatically increasing the fine on themselves.”
The day’s takings in fines are “stuck” up on a glass panel , above a drinks cupboard. How the pennies and silver coins are made to stick against the glass frequently puzzles the men, but it is simply done by wetting them in beer and pressing them against the glass. Suction and air pressure does the rest. The collection ranged from half pennies up to 2/1- pieces.
Asked whether the fines tended to make the men cut out swearing, the licensee said, “Not a bit.”
Apparently the source of income for the Red Cross is fairly well assured. It is an idea that could be adopted in other hotels with profit to the prisoners of war.

The craze continued after the war, with the industrial city of Newcastle in New South Wales also getting into the act. The publican of the Federal Hotel, Mr B. Whalley raised money for the Lake Convalescent Home for war veterans, the Newcastle Sun reported on Saturday February 21 1948:

Customers are encouraged to dip surplus coins in beer and stick them on the bottom of the suspended bottle rack over the bar. The idea has been on for three weeks and there is about £3 in pennies, half-pennies and threepences stuck there. Larger coins go into a box. The recent beer drought caused a shortage of ‘gum,’ Mr. Whalley says, otherwise the amount would have been ‘doubled ere now.

Besides New South Wales, the craze also caught hold in Victoria. The sticky coins appeared in the bars of Melbourne pubs in 1948, the Sporting Globe reported on May 22:

Coins for sick kiddies
POUNDS, SHILLINGS AND PENCE are being constantly donated by customers of the Saracen’s Head Hotel (Mr Harold Stevens). Bourke Street, Melbourne, for The Globe’s appeal for the Children’s Hospital. The picture shows a section of the bar shelves, stuck with the gifts of patrons. The yield for five weeks was £20. A new start has now been made. Left to right In the picture (below) are Jack Peterson, Tommy Richards (Tivoli Theatre). Raymond Jones (Park Orchards Cabaret), and Roy Sparks, well-known composer.

The sticky coin collecting also spread to South Australia and Adelaide, with the Alberton Hotel adopting the method to raise money for charity. The Adelaide Mail reported on March 13 1948:

KEITH KRAFT, a patron of Alberton Hotel, Alberton, sticks a penny on to the bottom of a glass shelf in the bar while barman Rod Lidstone serves him with a pint.

FOR the past six weeks drinkers and barmen at the hotel have dipped small change in beer, pressed the coins on the underside of an overhead shelf which runs the length of the bar. Today every available square inch of space is taken up with coins. Licensee Peter Brien says more than £15 is stuck to the shelf.

The “stick-up-your-small-change” drive started when barman Jack Garbett pressed a money tip to the shelf and announced in a loud voice he was going to give it to charity. Immediately drinkers in the bar followed suit with small coins. They found the wet coins stuck to the shelf and remained there when the beer dried off.

Jack Garbett and the customers decided they would send the money to Estcourt House. Mr. Breen said today: “This is known as the ‘wharfies’ hotel. You can’t beat the wharfies when it comes to giving money to crippled children.

“One chap gave a pound note and another gave 10 shillings last pay day. We had to pin the notes to the shelf, but the coins are all stuck on with beer.

“There’s no room for more coins, so well have to take them down and send them to Estcourt House next week.”

The craze also caught hold in Queensland with “moistened coins” stuck on the shelf above the bar in a Brisbane pub to raise money for orphans. The Perth Daily News reported on February 26 1949:

In the Brisbane hotel front and saloon bars many coins have been stuck above the bar. The first coin was stuck by Mr. H. Brady, professional billiards ; champion of SA. Mr. Brady assisted many charitable efforts in SA. For many weeks the coins were stuck on the underside of the shelf for no purpose until it was decided that it could be turned into a method of collection for the orphans. The coins will be collected periodically as a donation to the Daily News Orphans’ Appeal.

The sticky coin craze continued into the 1950s. The Girilambone pub, in a small country  village north of Nyngan in western New South Wales, adopted the method to raise money for a dental clinic. The Lockhart Review  Tuesday 4 July 1950:


When dentist Walter Wearn and Superintendent Sid Coleman stayed at the hotel at Girilambone during a recent visit of the Far West Scheme’s mobile dental clinic to that centre, they were ushered into the bar. There they saw a frieze of cheques and £1 and 10/- notes hanging from the shelf around the counter. These were all donations to the Far West Scheme from customers — travellers and district friends. Hundreds of pennies were stuck with beer froth to a ledge above the counter, and round the corners were stuck threepences, sixpences and shillings.

Swear Box

In addition, a money box, in the shape of a little red house, is the hotel ‘swear box,’ where all slips of the tongue must be paid for in coppers. As a culprit drops in his coin, a bulb flashes through the windows of the house. Hence, he ‘sees the light.’ All this money, too, goes to the Far West Scheme. At the date of the party’s visit, more than £30 in notes was hanging round the bar. Miss Schutz, proprietress of the hotel, went to Girilarbone only 8 months previous to the visit, and started this novel idea. When the dental party was leaving, Miss Schutz refused to accept any payment for accommodation and insisted that the visitors were her guests. “Your work for the kiddies in this district has been so great that it is the least that I can do,” she told Dr. Wearn and Mr. Coleman.

Swear boxes or jars became common, with the Scone Advocate reporting in December 1950 that a pub at Willawarrin, near Kempsey on the New South Wales North Coast, had a “full-sized kerosene tin” as its collection recepticle for foul language.

A bloke, Hugh Flood, is ‘bung’ of the joint. He not only conducts an exemplary house, but with his staff keeps the boys in order, even though the kero container is flooded with coin of the realm. The fines are assessed and come under four categories: Swear words, deliberate untruth, long-winded yarn and evil thought. You must not put a foot wrong or change your mind when within the precincts of the pubbery. Assessments, or fines, are on a ‘progressive’ scale, ranging from 1/- to 6/-. However, the experienced assessors of epithets certainly know their job, and from their verdicts there is no appeal. When the tin, which had stood on guard for about two months, was emptied quite recently, a local banker, who notched the hundreds as they do in the domain of the sheep, finished his job when the count went to fifteen. Yes, the Kempsey District Hospital came in for a windfall of approximately £1500 – some effort, some swearing and prevaricating. We hear that the boxes are ‘raking in the shekels’ in the hotels where they are installed. -Ed. W.H.

Down on the South Coast of New South Wales, the Wollongong Hotel got into the act, when customers spontaniously put their own twist on the sticky coin fundraising method. The Illawarra Daily Mercury  reported on November 30 1954:

Novel Money Raising Idea

One of the most interesting items ever to adorn a hotel bar has been causing some considerable interest and competition at a Wollongong hotel over the past month or two.

Cause of all the interest is a framed photo completely covered with sixpences, pennies, two shilling pieces and even halfpennies. The photo, picturing 1844 winery stores hangs on the wall of the saloon bar.

The pennies and other coins were first stuck on the glass of the photograph several weeks ago by two ‘regulars’ who noticed that dipping in beer ‘glued’ the coins to the glass. Since then practically every customer — and 75 per cent, are ‘old faithfuls’ — has added a coin. One of the customers then decided that the coins should be donated to one or other of the charitable organisations in the City and thus started a competition, now finished, for the correct amount of money on the glass for which the winner would receive £1. The correct amount, when counted, amounted to £11/14/9½, and the amount gained from the guessing competition was £10 making a total of £21/14/9½ which amount is to be donated to the Crippled Children’s Society. Another pound note has been affixed to the photo to start off the second glass collecting competition, this time to aid the Smith Family Christmas appeal. The management has been keenly interested in the idea formed by its ‘regulars’ and has drawn up a list of charities to whom it has been decided to donate the ‘photo money’.

bulli pub pylon
The public bar of the Bulli Heritage Hotel (formerly Family Hotel) showing the concrete pylon after the bar was shortened in 2001. Copper coins were stuck onto this pylon with beer and donated to the nearby Police Boys Club during the early 1960s. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

A coin collection, stuck on a concrete pylon by customers in the public bar of the Bulli Family Hotel during the early 1960s, evolved into one of the more interesting fundraisers – a one mile wheelbarrow race. The late Syd Fairs, a local journalist, was involved in the Bulli Copper Derby, and recalled the fundraiser in a story he wrote in the Wollongong Northern Leader in 2000.

DURING the mid 1960s when middies of beer were nine cents and schooners a few cents more, customers generally left their copper change on the bars of local pubs where licensees usually donated this money to charity.

Bulli Family Hotel [Heritage Hotel] licensee Jim McGee, long before the introduction of dollars and cents, started building a column of copper pennies on the hotel bar.

The column had reached a great height and pennies had ceased to be legal tender when Jim realised he would have to decide soon how to distribute this wealth.

As Bulli Police Citizen’s Boys Club was in its fledging years and urgently needed financial support, a benefactor was not a problem. After discussing the idea with Woonona Royal Hotel publican, “Bud” Norton, it was decided to make the presentation a major event.

Publicans and licensed clubs secretary managers were invited to wheel barrows loaded with coppers from McGee’s pub over the race route for depositing at the Wales Bank, Woonona. (In those days, there were a few more banks between Woonona and Austinmer!).

Apart from the aforementioned publicans, other contestants included “Chicka” Green (Bulli Workers’ Club), Syd Spiller (Bulli Bowling Club), Keith Nolan (Thirroul Leagues Club), Jock McQuire (Austinmer RSL Club) and me representing Woonona-Bulli Soccer and Sports Club.

Drink stops – The clubs also benefited from the event because barrow pushers made compulsory drink stops at the Workers and Soccer clubs along the way.

Although the race was supposed to be a fun day for charity, local bookmakers soon got into the act and Spiller, the youngest entrant became the early favourite among the punters.

The race was held around noon on a Saturday. The road between Bulli and Woonona was lined with cheering crowds and blocked off to traffic by police.

I have no idea where Spiller finished but it was Green, a swimming champion and incidentally Wollongong High School’s longest serving student who won the first race in great style.

Official placings were never announced. From TV and newspaper coverage, however, I apparently took third place (I was never a sprinter).

Green proudly carried the winner’s trophy back to the Workers Club and I never saw it again.

New Race Rules – Undeterred by this initial defeat, Norton tried to rig the race the following year.

The new rule was that publicans and club managers need only push the barrows from Bulli Hotel to the Workers Club, after which the “real” race would begin, with those more agile runners making the final 300 yard dash to the bank.

At the same time Norton nominated John Mercer as his runner. Mercer was then among the district’s top beach sprinters. These days his sons Darren and Dean are well known local Iron Men.

The clubs meanwhile, entered leading footballers and athletes. I kept my runner a secret until entries closed a few days before the race.

I had engaged Jim Kelly, a former Blackpool and England B soccer professional who was promoting the code in the district at the time.

Young runners – My opponents claimed Kelly was too old, that he lacked the pace to run down the younger entrants. But they were wrong. On the day, he left them for dead.

Although I cannot recall receiving a trophy, several photos of the great victory were taken and I presented these much later to Bulli Soccer Club when it opened its new Balls Paddock room.

A great spirit of comradeship existed.

The Illawarra Mercury reported on the last Copper Derby on December 16 1965:

copper derby 3 edited
The Bulli Copper Derby nearing the finish line in front of the Bulli Family Hotel in 1965.


One of the most popular sporting events held regularly on the South Coast will take place at Bulli on Saturday.

The event – the “Copper Derby” – is held annually to raise funds for Bulli Police Boys Club.

This year it will be contested by 19 hotel licensees and club managers from Fairy Meadow to Helensburgh.

The contestants, pushing wheelbarrows laden with coins, will race over a one mile course from Woonona Hotel to Bulli Family Hotel.

In the past four years the race has benefited the Police Boys’ Club by nearly £1500.

The organisers hope that this year the event will raise at least 600 pounds.

The derby was the brainchild of the Superintendent of Bulli Police Boys’ Club (Sergeant Ray McKellar) and former licensee of the Bulli Hotel (Mr. Jim McGee).

They decided that a pile of pennies on the bar of the Bulli Hotel could be used in a novel way to raise more money.

The penny-pile was formed from “tips” left on the bar by drinkers at the hotel.

Mr. McGee annually gave the pile to the Police Boys’ Club.

Last year he transferred to the Charles Hotel, Fairy Meadow, but retained his interest in the event.


The new licensee at Bulli Hotel (Mr. Jack Davies) decided to continue with the penny pile.

At noon on Saturday the 19 contestants will receive an equal share of the pile in their wheelbarrows.

They will then race down the main street to the Bulli Hotel.

Spectators will be encouraged to give more money to the club by tossing coins in the wheelbarrows as they pass.

Winner of the event will receive the “Copper Derby” trophy.

In the past the coins were taken to the Woonona branch of the E.S. and A. Bank and lodged in the Police Boys’ Club account at the end of the race.

But this year the club hopes to sell the penny pile to a coin collector.

Sergeant McKellar hopes to sell the eight-foot high stack of coins for more than their face value, which is known to be at least £120.

But some of the coins could be rare and be worth more to a collector than the face value of the complete pile.

It is believed one collector already has offered £150 for the coins.

The highest bidder will receive the coins immediately after the race.

They will not have been sorted.

copper derby trophy
The Bulli Copper Derby Trophy

The sticky coin method of collecting money for charities died out with the introduction of decimal currency in the mid 1960s. Swear jars have disappeared altogether from the bars of Australian hotels, although I would be interested to hear from anyone who knows of a bar still enforcing fines on customers with foul mouths.

Next time you drop money into the tip jar, or charity tin at your local bar, take a minute to think of the creativity of those pub drinkers from another time – but keep your coins dry.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2016

UPDATED February 2020

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