The coffeehouse of early 18th century England was a social institution from which many modern day customs arose. They were places where both the highest and the lowest social strata could convene and socialize, engaging in all the activities that men wanted to, away from their wives and significant others (women were not allowed to enter at that time). Originally, the coffeehouse was just that, but once introduced, tea quickly infiltrated and became quite popular.
Three particularly common customs arose from the coffeehouse, which are still used today:
– When discussions would become heated and a democratic resolution was called for, one coffeehouse, the Turk’s Head, would take out what is now the familiar ballot box, and vote upon the issue. The concept took hold, and before the electronic age began, this box was used in our modern political voting system.
– There was another box that was often stationed in coffeehouses. When the establishment was particularly busy, patrons would put money into a wooden box labeled T.I.P (to ensure promptness) for the wait staff. This is how our modern concept of tipping came to be.
– Often, due to the large number of people who would congregate there, items were auctioned in side rooms of the coffeehouses. From this activity (and these coffeehouses) came the modern auction houses, such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s.