No. 522
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 17, 2021

The Pawn-Ticket Game.

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

The following tale comes from that classic collection of mostly first-hand accounts of supernatural encounters, "Lord Halifax's Ghost Book."  It was related to Lord Halifax in 1920 by his nephew, Charles Dundas.  Dundas had recently heard the tale from a renowned Royal Air Force pilot named Edward Villiers.  (Later Sir Edward Villiers.)  It is one of the briefest stories in the "Ghost Book," but
More...
Strange Company - 5/17/2021

`
LOOK OUT FOR "SOAPY" SMITHSt. Louis DispatchSeptember 23, 1897(Click image to enlarge) e reported himself in good health and money."   New information showing that Soapy Smith did go to St. Louis to check up on his ailing wife, Mary, after leaving Skagway.  Below is the transcription of the article from the St. Louis Dispatch, September 23, 1897. LOOK OUT FOR “SOAPY” SMITH ― The Smooth Man
More...
Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 5/11/2021

Born in 1870 and completed 13 years later (at a cost of $15 million and with more than 20 worker deaths), the Brooklyn Bridge is marking its 138th birthday this week. What better way to honor an icon than with a brilliant lithograph produced by a Pearl Street publisher depicting the fireworks, ship parade, and […]
More...
Ephemeral New York - 5/17/2021
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
More...
Executed Today - 11/13/2020
The crack of gunfire startled the residents of 88 Merrimack Street, a boarding house in Lowell, Massachusetts, around 10:00, the night of  August 31, 1876. The boarders rushed to Lulu Martin’s room on the third floor, where the shot was fired. The door was locked; they heard a man inside shouting, “Go for the police! She has shot me! I will hold her! Break open the door!”A group of men broke in
More...
Murder By Gaslight - 5/15/2021

Along with Bertie Whitehead, Abby’s half-sister, May 13th was also the birthday of Helen Craig, famous stage actress best-remembered for Johnny Belinda. Helen Craig, who played Abby in The Legend of Lizzie Borden was born May 13, 1912, a month after Titanic sank. Helen Craig was not a great beauty by Hollywood standards, but a very fine actress. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0185871/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 Her portrayal of Abby Borden as a mean, greedy glutton, more than any other thing, has affected the way most people think of Abby Borden. Sadly it was not an accurate portrayal. Helen did some television in her later career, most notably The Waltons. She died in New York City in 1986. She was married to stage and film actor John Beal who played Dr. Bowen in Legend of Lizzie Borden. They are seen together in the publicity photo below.
More...
Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 5/13/2021
[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.