So it was probably inevitable that it would migrate to cyberspace, where virtual tip jars have been sparking debates about greed, overreaching and taxes.
With the tax deadline just past, there has been chatter about whether cybertips are income, an issue the IRS has yet to address.
But for bloggers with high traffic, devoted followings, or persuasive begging skills, tip jars can mean big bucks, with some A-list bloggers pulling in thousands of dollars a year.
Susie Madrak’s tip jar yielded a car.
"My readers sent me $1,500 when my car died," said Madrak, of Bensalem, Pa., whose feisty Suburban Guerrilla is at www.suburbanguerrilla.blogspot.com.
Madrak, a fraud investigator and former newspaper journalist, is tooling around in a used Infiniti after sharing her car woes. She begged, hectored, and put up a photo of a cat, warning: "Hit the PayPal or I kill the kitten."
PayPal is a service that transfers funds electronically through the Internet. Some bloggers take checks, money orders and American Express.
Some beg boldly, others subtly.
Attorney Eugene Volokh at Volokh Conspiracy (www.volokh.com) set out his first virtual tip jar in February – a "donate" button with the slogan: "Tips are quite unnecessary yet much appreciated."
While the IRS requires employees to report tips as income, some bloggers say their tips are really gifts.
"Tips are gratuities for services rendered," Madrak said. "A gift is not taxable. You don’t pay taxes on your birthday presents."
Many blogs have "wish lists" in addition to tip jars – registries of a blogger’s favorite books, games, music, movies and more, which fans are encouraged to send. But there is nothing like cold, hard cash.
Andrew Sullivan is not asking for any more tips. The widely published gay conservative blogger said in an e-mail last week that he would never do another pledge drive. The last one provoked outrage.
Previous beg-athons, it was widely reported, netted him $79,020 and $120,000. Sullivan said only, "My critics think I did much better overall than I did."
In July, on www.andrewsullivan.com, Sullivan asked again for funds to help defray rising bandwidth costs.
"As you all know, blogosphere bandwidth, like fine diamonds and Grey Poupon, is incredibly expensive," wrote Iowahawk at iowahawk.typepad.com. "It takes a cool $8.95 each and every month to keep this blog humming ... (which) comes directly out of my budget for Pabst Blue Ribbon, or, as I like to put it, ‘research.’"
One angry blogger launched the Give Your Money to Anyone But Andrew Sullivan Project.
"When I started to criticize Bush, the money dried up," Sullivan said, adding that he is now "trying to get by on blog ads. They are helping a lot."
Sullivan is asking fans to become "supporting subscribers" for $20 a year.
Tip jars can generate controversy wherever they appear, from sub shops soliciting "for the sandwich artists" to sports arenas where purchasers of $6.25 beers encounter an empty cup asking for more.
"They’re everywhere. And it’s frustrating for customers who don’t want to tip if the level of service doesn’t warrant it," Philadelphia-area business psychologist Larina Kase said.
At least in cyberspace, nobody can see you’re not tipping. Plus, bloggers write thank-you notes.
"Thanks to all the folks who’ve sent donations lately. They do a fine job of offsetting the hate mail," University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds wrote recently on Instapundit (www.instapundit.com).
Reynolds, who says he averages 175,500 page views daily, has told readers he prefers tips to ad revenue because "there’s something about someone paying you when they don’t have to that makes it nice."
(c) 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.