The song was an advertising jingle for the aniseed-flavoured sweets that he manufactured in Melrose and sold around the markets of the Border towns. The recipe is no longer known, but the song lived on.
In 1958 a letter to The Weekly Scotsman reported that a man remembered hearing it from his grandmother, who in turn had learned the song in around 1845. It was collected in a children's playground in 1964 by James T. Ritche, who published it in a book called The Singing Street.
However, Norman Buchan published it earlier in 101 Scottish Songs, Collins, 1962. He states there: "This song probably produced more correspondence than any other when I printed it in 'The Weekly Scotsman' a few years ago. Robert Coultart - the 'Coulter' of the song - made and sold his own candy round all the country fairs and markets in the Borders... etc. I first heard it from Scots actor, playwright and folk singer Roddy McMillan." He also added one of the verses.
Poor wee Jeanie's gettin' awfy thin, (awfully)
A rickle o' banes covered ower wi' skin, (bones) (over)
Noo she's gettin' a wee double chin, (now)
Wi' sookin' Coulter's Candy. (sucking)
Mammy gie's ma thrifty doon, (give) (money box) (down)
Here's auld Coulter comin' roon', (old) (around)
Wi' a basket on his croon, (with) (crown/head)
Selling Coulter's Candy.
Ally bally, ally bally bee,
When you grow old, a man to be,
you'll work hard and you'll sail the seas,
an' bring hame pennies for your faither and me,
Tae buy mair Coulter's Candy. "(more)"
Coulter he's a affa funny man, (very)
He mak's his candy in a pan, (makes)
Awa an greet to yer ma, (away) (cry) (your)
Tae buy some Coulters candy. (to)
Little Annie's greetin' tae,
Sae whit can puir wee Mammy dae, (so) (what) (poor) (do)
But gie them a penny atween them twae, (between) (two)
Tae buy mair Coulter's Candy.
The following verse is also sung, at least in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire since before the 1920s:
Coulter's Candy, a penny a lump,
'At's i' stuff tae mak ye jump. (that's) (the) (to) (make) (you)
If ye jump you're sure tae fa', (you) (to) (fall)
Coulter's Candy, a penny fur a' (for) (all)