No. 643
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
February 29, 2024

The Pawn-Ticket Game.

Pawn tickets make bad collateral.
March 5, 2013
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Via Newspapers.comPhantom stagecoaches are always fun (especially when they generate manic headlines.)  The “San Bernardino News,” December 7, 1914:Have you seen the phantom coach that dashes madly, silently, down the steep, rugged mountain trail near Pilot Rock? It is a weird story, this. It deals with the apparently supernatural. Possibly it isn't that at all, maybe it is simply some
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Strange Company - 2/28/2024
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HE DUEL IN ELLEN'S HONOR. Soapy Smith’s grandmotherOn Wednesday, August 9, 1820, an argument between 17-year-old, James Bowe Boisseau (1802-1820) and Robert C. Adams (unknown-1820) vying for the attention of 18-year-old Ellen Stimpson Peniston (1802-1860), took a terrible turn. The happy party in her honor took a tragic turn when the competition for Ellen’s affections ended in a deadly duel,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 1/10/2024
There’s nothing wrong with the MTA’s usual subway signage: the directions are clear, the design is simple. But when a contemporary sign happens to be stuck underneath original signage made with decorative tile and an unusual typeface—as it is inside the Sixth Avenue F and M station at 14th Street—the old-school sign wins hands-down. Subway.org […]
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Ephemeral New York - 2/26/2024
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
 Alice Hoyle last saw her sister, Lillie, the night of September 1, 1887, in the room they shared in Webster, Massachusetts. Lillie left to use the outhouse, and Alice fell asleep. Lillie never returned. The next morning, Alice went out, thinking Lillie had already left for work. That is the story Alice told the police— as the investigation progressed, she would change it several times.Read
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Murder By Gaslight - 2/24/2024
Included in yesterday’s trip to Fall River was a stop at Miss Lizzie’s Coffee shop and a visit to the cellar to see the scene of the tragic demise of the second Mrs. Lawdwick Borden and two of the three little children in 1848. I have been writing about this sad tale since 2010 and had made a previous trip to the cellar some years ago but was unable to get to the spot where the incident occured to get a clear photograph.  The tale of Eliza Borden is a very sad, but not uncommon story of post partum depression with a heartrending end. You feel this as you stand in the dark space behind the chimney where Eliza ended her life with a straight razor after dropping 6 month old Holder and his 3 year old sister Eliza Ann into the cellar cistern. Over the years I have found other similar cases, often involving wells and cisterns, and drownings of children followed by suicides of the mothers. These photos show the chimney, cistern pipe, back wall, dirt and brick floor, original floorboards forming the cellar ceiling and what appears to be an original door. To be in the place where this happened is a sobering experience. My thanks to Joe Pereira for allowing us to see and record the place where this sad occurrence unfolded in 1848. R.I.P. Holder, Eliza and Eliza Ann Borden. Visit our Articles section above for more on this story. The coffee shop has won its suit to retain its name and has plans to expand into the shop next door and extend its menu in the near future.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 2/12/2024
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 … Continue reading
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
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.