No. 424
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 23, 2019

The Pawn-Ticket Game.

March 5, 2013
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English Franciscan John Forest was burned at Smithfield on this date in 1538 … the undercard to the simultaneous “execution” of a downthrown idol of Saint Derfel Gadarn. The latter had been ripped from its shrine at Llandderfel in Gwynedd, Wales: the place gets its name from Derfel himself and its devotion to its Celtic […]
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Coming in May! Warps and Wefts is excited to announce the publication of “Dressing Miss Lizzie”, a collection of paper …

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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 4/23/2019

via Newspapers.com Phantom cats and a mysterious death. Who can ask for more in an old newspaper story? The "Brooklyn Daily Eagle," March 13, 1886: Ghost stories from the credulous and nervous gentlemen who draw salaries as guardians of the peace in the precinct covered from the Graham avenue station are becoming frequent. Last week they saw the ghost of an Italian. On Thursday night a
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Jeff and Joe Soapy Smith buries Joe Simmons The Illustrated Police News April 9, 1892 (Click image to enlarge) oe Simmons was a tall, slender gambler known to many as “Gambler Joe” Simmons, a member of the Soap Gang who managed Soapy Smith's Tivoli Club in Denver, 1890, and Soapy's Orleans Club in Creede, 1892. According to William Devere’s poem "Two Little Busted Shoes," Simmons
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 3/25/2019
In July 1890, a man came into the 126th Street Police Station in Harlem, New York City, to report a conversation he had overheard in an elevated train. A young man and woman sitting near him were talking about the mysterious disappearance of Miss Goodwin from the Storm King flats on East 126th Street. They believed that she had been foully dealt with by “professional malpractioners.” The woman
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I’m not the first old sign enthusiast who came across this beauty of a beer sign on the tenement at 317 East Fifth Street. Grieve wrote it up back in January, and I’m sure other fans walking along this quiet East Village block noticed the ancient signage, too. “S. Cort Wines & Lager Beer” the […]
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Ephemeral New York - 5/19/2019
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
The St. Patrick's Day Parade. | George Dixon’s Victory over Australian Billy.

The Pawn-Ticket Game.

pawnbroker

In theory, a pawn ticket would be ideal collateral for a loan. The value is printed on the ticket and the pawned object it represents is easily worth three times that amount. In practice, however, anyone who loaned money to a stranger with a pawn ticket as collateral found himself the owner of a very expensive piece of paper.

The pawn-ticket game had the same appeal as all con games—the lure of easy money—but it was simpler than most. The holder of a pawn ticket, claiming to be in desperate need of money, was willing to pay high interest for a short-term loan, using the ticket, worth far more than the borrowed amount, as collateral. Finding a willing lender was not difficult; sometimes just a classified ad in a newspaper did the trick:

ATTENTION—$30 wanted immediately; return $50 week; security given salable $200. YOUMANS, Herald Harlem.

Mabel WrayMabel Wray, "Queen of the Pawn-Ticket Players."

Anyone who answers this ad will be visited by a gentleman with a clever story and a pawn ticket or two to be used as collateral. He will emphasize that the jewelry in pawn is worth far more than $200 which will guarantee his return in a week with the promised $50. Of course, the borrower does not return and when the lender redeems the pawn ticket he finds that he is not able to sell the jewelry for anything near the $200 it had cost him to get it out of pawn.

The pawn-ticket game worked because the conmen were in league with the pawnbrokers who furnished them with tickets and who made a sizable profit if the bogus tickets were redeemed.  The game was so lucrative that a number of people in New York City were able to make their living this way.

Hotels were another good source of marks for the pawn-ticket games. Traveling  men proved to be extremely trusting of newly acquired drinking buddies and young ladies they had known for only one evening. In the 1870s, Mable Wray was known as the “Queen of Pawn-Ticket Players” for her ability to secure loans from married men away from their wives, using worthless pawn tickets as collateral.





Sources:

  • Cochrane, Charles H.. "Humbugs Labelled "Business Opportunities"." Moody's Magazine: The Investors' Monthly May 1906: 666.
  • Farley, Phil. Criminals of America, or, Tales of the lives of thieves enabling every one to be his own detective : with portraits, making a complete rogues' gallery. New York: Author's edition, 1876.