Victorian London - Crime - Con-men - as street traders

    One of the first lessons in prudence we get in our childhood comes to us metaphorically in the shape of a warning never to buy “a pig in a poke.” There is a world of wisdom involved in this oracular monition, and people of all ranks would benefit not a little by giving due heed to it. But the population of the streets is not so purely prosaic as it has generally the credit of being, and though it does not like to be cheated, it does like a little mystery, it is not averse to a little cajolery and flattery, while it is notoriously fond of a bargain, or even the chance of a bargain, and has no objection to speculate in a small way in the hopes of getting one. These phases of the popular mind are perfectly well known and appreciated by Jack Bogus, who, having been born and bred in the classic purlieus of the Seven Dials, has learned the art of turning them to account, and turns them to account accordingly.
Our artist has shown us how he does the business. It is a summer’s evening, and the sun is about sinking, when Jack takes his stand upon some temporary elevation in a judiciously selected spot a little apart from the main current of traffic, and which, if it it not a paved court or cul-de-sac, is a sideway leading to nowhere particular, and is on that account favourable to his purpose, as he can there easily gather a small crowd around him. He selects this time of day and a situation not brightly illuminated when the gas is turned on, simply because a subdued light is necessary for the successful consummation of his performances. He trusts mainly to his eloquence, which is a constantly-running stream, Jack having the gift which scholastic persons sometimes call copia fandi, but his “pals” call “patter,” in the highest perfection. He is also obliged to trust in some degree to the sharpness of his vision, which he is constant]y exercising in all directions, with special reference to the possible appearance Policeman X among his audience. The sight of that tall functionary’s helmet is almost the only thing which disturbs’ Jack's copious flow of language, and at times it is evidently so agitating to his nerves as to spoil his little game altogether and send him suddenly off in search of other quarters.
    For Mr. Bogus comes out in the twilight with the design of making a little money by a species of traffic which is anything but fair and honest—his single intention being to confirm and illustrate the
truth of an ancient adage having reference to fools and their money. ...
    When, by dint of bawling, he has lured a group of simpletons round him, Jack will disburthen himself somewhat in the following manner, after a system of grammar, you will perceive, not moulded on that of Mr Lindley Murray, and with a delightful unconsciousness of punctuation to which one might almost award the merit of originality.
    “Here you are ladies and genmen come agin yer see as I telled yer tother night which if so be there's any man as offers a better bargain nor me I'd like to know where to fine him that's all a gold ring an' a pair of drops fit for the Dowager Duchess of Dunahoo's darter a real gold suvrin a pair o'dimond studs a silver thimmle an’ a bakker-stopper all shet hup in this ere ansome -caskit an’ all for sixpence no more an’ no less who ses done let the young lady come forrad there you small boy and don’t be a diggin’ everlastin’ wi’ them helbers o’ yourn you asks how I can sell a gold suvrin for sixpence an’ a lot of other hartic]es on to it dear ‘art alive it’s for a geminan I does it as have bin an’ laid a wager wi’ the Dook o’ Kamberidge as I’ll sell four hundred of’em in a hun­dred hours though I doubts if I shall win the wager - for the gemman folks is so unbelievin’ which it ain’t nothin’ to me yer see cos I gits paid for my trouble sell ‘em or not sell ‘em (thanky sir sold agin) who has the nex’ lot here’s the nex’ lot a gold ring a pair o’ drops a gold suvrin a pair o’ dimond studs a silver thimmle an’ bakker-stopper the lot is well chose which they suits either a lady or a gent and mootual compliments to both if yer don’t want the drops sir mayhap your sweetheart do an’ if yer don’t wear studs miss your young man might like to ‘ave 'em don’t I wish I was a buyer to-day instead of a selles wouldn’t I lug in a lot o’ tin,” etc., etc., etc.    
    This sort of stuff rolls in a ceaseless volley from Jack s mouth, and all the while he is dexterously fingering the items of his bargain one after another in a way to dazzle the eyes of the gaping group. There is a remarkable contrast between the vicious cunning of the rogue’s face and the artless simplicity of language he will at times make use of. Still with all his cunning and effrontery, it is a wonder that simpletons can be found in sufficient number to make his trade profitable. Were not the fools in such a huge majority among us, Jack might bawl himself hoarse all day long and weary his lungs for nought. But the humiliating truth is, there is no snare, however palpable —no frauds however gross—but some one will be found in London streets to be victimised by it. 
     ... Sometimes the unsuspecting purchaser of their trash gets angry on discovering the fraud—will throw the worthless wares back to the seller, and demand his money again In the last case Jack will launch at him a shower a mingled sarcasm and virulent abuse, not at all wanting in humour, which is pretty sure to turn the laugh against the complainant, though it is apt to have the effect of stopping Jack’s trade for a time, even if it does not break up the assembly.

The Leisure Hour, 27th July 1872

Auctions, of all kinds, are institutions which those who have not their London at their finger-ends would do well to avoid. The “MOCK AUCTION” is a swindle pure and simple. It is commonly carried on in a small shop, carefully darkened by filling the window with all kinds of ostensible merchandise, and tenanted chiefly by the proprietor and his confederates, who k?? up a lively bidding till some unwary passer-by is seduced into entering, and speedily “stuck with” some perfectly worthless article at a fabulous price. Should the victim find that he is called upon to pay too dearly for his folly, he may, by stoutly denying having made any bid, calling in the police, and, if necessary, showing fight, make his way out again scot free. But he will possibly be roughly handled, probably have his pockets picked, nd certainly pass an extremely “mauvais quart d’heure.” There is also a kind of sale of a less distinctly fraudulent description, but still anything but bona fide. It takes place at auction rooms of more or less legitimate position, usually in the evening, and is known to the initiated as a “rigged sale,” consisting chiefly of articles vamped up or originally manufactured for the purpose. It is, indeed, a too frequent custom among the less responsible auctioneers to introduce a number of such articles into sales, and the purchaser will do well to bear this in mind. But the “rigged sale” is practically a mart for such articles only, and for anyone in search of value for his money there are few better places to avoid. The legitimate auction is, of course, a different affair. But the casual patron of the smaller auction sales will not find himself very much better off. As a buyer he will be opposed by a mob of “brokers,” all in league with each other to either crush him altogether or run him up to the highest price that can be screwed out of him. As a seller he will find the same combination exerting all their skill to secure the knocking down of each lot to one of their own gang; the article being afterwards again put up privately amongst themselves, and the profits of the transaction divided among the confederates in the “knock-out.” The only chance for a novice is, when selling, either to get an experienced friend to watch the sale, or to put a reserve price upon the article; when buying, to make up his mind as to the highest price he is prepared to pay and put himself in the hands of a broker, who, he may be quite sure, will find it necessary to go stall events exceedingly near it. The good behaviour of the brokers is, it may be added, in direct proportion to the professional standing and firmness of the auctioneers, with some of whom even the most persevering and obtrusive never attempt to take any liberties. The principal auction-rooms are :—Christie’s, King-street, St. James’s, and Foster’s, Pall Mall, for pictures, china, and valuables generally; Phillips, 73, New Bond-street. for works of art, furniture, &c-; Hodgson’s, 115, Chancery-lane, Puttick and Simpsons 47, Lexcester-square, and Sotheby, Wilkinson, and Hodge, 13 Wellington Street, Strand for books &c.; Oxenham’s, 353 Oxford Street, and Bonham’s, 409, Qxford street, for household furniture. &c.; Debenham, Storr, and Sons, 26, King-street, Covent Garden, for wearing apparel jewellery, and all kinds of miscellaneous propertv; Johnson and Dymond, Gracechurch Street also for miscellaneous property; and Stevens, 38, King-street, Covent Garden, with a specialty for poultry and pigeons, plants and bulbs. The principal sales, by the leading auctioneers, of valuable property, such as land, houses, reversions, &c., are held at the Auction Mart, Tokenhouse-yard, E.C. Horses, carriages, &c., are sold at Tattersall’s, Knightsbride, and at Aldridge’s, St. Martin’s-lane. The principal sales of foreign and colonial produce are held by the brokers concerned at the Commercial Sale Rooms, Mincing-lane. The wool sales take place at the Wool Exchange, in Coleman-street. Timber is largely sold at the “Baltic.”

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

Greenhorns, Tricks on. — These are too numerous mention, for they comprise all the snares that human ingenuity can set for credulity. To avoid them there is but one maxim—be on your guard. There is the confidence trick, wherein two con federates obtain possession of the greenhorn’s purse, ostensibly for a few minutes, “just to show his confidence” in one of them, who has previously entrusted him with his purse, filled probably with fictitious notes on “The Bank of Elegance,” or some other imaginary name, the alleged proceeds of a legacy which he is anxious to divide with his new found friend, from charitable motives. These confidence-trick people lurk about Westminster Abbey, the British Museum, the Zoological Gardens, and other places visited by strangers. They sometimes spend days in the company of a dupe before they put his credulity to a test. Then there the ring dropping trick, by which a dupe is induced to buy a worthless ring, but purporting to be a diamond, by a man who pretends to find it just in front of the dupe, but alleges he has neither time nor inclination to seek a better market. The three-card trick, and other tricks with cards, practised often in railway trains, may cost an innocent man, who is so foolish as to play with strangers, all he possesses. The painted bird trick, whereby a worthless sparrow is passed off as a valuable piping bullfinch or canary, ensnares many ladies. People who consider themselves knowing in horseflesh are often entrapped by horse-copers, who, by a variety of artful means, make worthless horses appear valuable. In these cases the story generally is that the sale only takes place on account of the death of a relation. Every trial is promised; the horses will be taken back, and the money returned within a month, if the purchaser wishes; a veterinary warranty is to be given. Such are the falsehoods which ensure a constant supply of victims, who are afterwards ashamed to expose their folly in a court of law. The trial is put off on various excuses, the veterinary certificate is written by a confederate, and the guarantee is worthless.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879