During the reign of Queen Victoria many things changed. Advances in science, medicine, technology, and industry allowed for a greater range of consumer products than had ever been seen before. It wasn’t just new objects available to buy, but how people could buy them was changing as well. The automat was a concept that was first developed in Germany in the 1880s and soon spread to other parts of the world. The vending machine was invented not long after and there was one company that went even further with the idea by creating street light vending machines that served hot drinks and hot water to patrons!

Refreshment Lamp London 1890s
Via: British History

The Pluto Hot Water Syndicate Ltd. was responsible for the manufacture of the Refreshment Lamp the 1890s. This gas street lamp was stationed on the street, Exmouth Market, in London and dispensed hot tea, cocoa, coffee, or plain water for a half penny.

Expansions to the offerings included postcards, cigarettes, and beef broth. All drinks were dispensed into an attached enamel cup on a chain which all patrons would have shared. There was also a telegraph machine which ran straight to Scotland Yard so that passersby could report crimes and theft.

Scotland Yard in the 18th century
Via: British Library

The invention was a novel one that garnered quite a bit of interest, but in the end the contraption did not serve to be profitable. One of these lamps was removed after less than 1 year.

As it turns out the hot drinks were popular- but people didn’t always want to pay actual money for them. When the operators opened up the coin receptacle after many months they found a large proportion of fake coins made of tin inside instead of the half pennies that were supposed to be in there.

The vending machine may be older than most people realize, but so are the dummy coins used to get free stuff out of them. It seems that where ever there is vending machine counterfeit coins will follow.