No. 479
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
July 14, 2020

The Pawn-Ticket Game.

Pawn tickets make bad collateral.
March 5, 2013
...
...

Patrick Eugene Joseph Prendergast, a madman who assassinated the mayor of Chicago, was hanged on this date in 1894. Prendergast seems to have been a mentally unbalanced character from his early childhood; one might speculatively attribute it to a youthful head injury, or the very early death of his father, or the strains of an […]
More...
Executed Today - 7/13/2020

`
Soapy Smith in July 4th paradeSkagway, Alaska 1898Broadway and Fourth Ave.Note Soapy is on the left of center, behind Joe Brooks.Behind him is Brooks' Pack TrainWhere is the Skaguay Military Company?Where is the Fitzhugh Lee wagon?Courtesy ofKlondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Click image to enlarge) ow Soapy Smith conned his way to be Grand Marshal of the 4th of July With
More...
Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 7/10/2020

Rhynwick Williams In March 1788, a London woman named Maria Smythe was standing on a friend's doorstep when a stranger suddenly accosted her, muttered some unrecorded but evidently horribly vile comments, stabbed her with a knife, and fled, leaving her slightly wounded. Although she had no way of knowing it at the time, she was the first victim of a bizarre crime spree that would not be
More...
Strange Company - 7/13/2020
It was a perfect weekend to journey out to Tyngsborough to get a glimpse of what was left of the …

Continue reading

More...
Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 6/13/2020
On the morning of March 19, 1875, Charles K. Landis entered the office of the Vineland Independent and demanded to see the paper’s editor and publisher, Uri Carruth. When Carruth entered the room, Landis approached him, waving a newspaper clipping. “Mr. Carruth, did you write that?” Landis shouted. “I did, and I will do it again,” said Carruth. “Will you promise not to attack my wife
More...
Murder By Gaslight - 7/11/2020

In 1976, the 92 acres of landfill that would one day become Battery Park City was in place and ready. Unfortunately New York City—which hoped this new development would help revitalize the lower West Side of Manhattan—was too broke to get construction started until 1980, according to bpcparks.org. So until the early 1980s, an actual […]
More...
Ephemeral New York - 7/13/2020
[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 […]
More...
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.