February 5, 2009

The "Soap Sell" in New York, 1889...

It is known that Soapy Smith was not the only con man performing the prize package soap sell racket. Circumstantial evidence shows that he may not have been the first either. Below is an 1889 newspaper clipping describing the "soap sell" and other fascinating swindles in operation on the streets of New York City.

The New York Sun
April 29, 1889,

———
ASSORTED SWINDLERS.
———
Some of the Clever Gentlemen who are
Waiting for the Visitors From the Country.
———
The big scoop net that the police are throwing out to gather in the thieves and disreputable characters who are ready to make prey of our country cousins when they come to town to see the centennial show has not yet been drawn tight upon the bunko sharpers and the petty fakirs.

The bunko workers, jovial chaps who meet you in the street, shake you by the hand, call you by a wrong name, apologize, and when you have told your right name hurry away with it to a confederate who will rob you gracefully, are first to be avoided.

Another fakir is the worker of the soap game, who lets you, as if by accident, see him tuck a $2 bill into a tiny box and drop it into a bag, but who, when you pick the box out of the bag show you that the $2 bill was in the one just alongside it. Still another swindler that the police are after is the man "in hard luck," who will offer to sell a genuine $4 meerschaum pipe to take home to the farm for 50 cents, although you could get it in a store for 5 cents if you only knew it was composition.

The man who has the celebrated Mexican lily seed is expected here with a choice assortment of “only a few more” samples of the packet that you put in water, and which in less than three days will begin to sprout into superb lilies. The seeds will be offered at the great sacrifice of a dollar a packet. But any policeman will know that the dollar packet contains some oats of no appreciable value.

Beware, too, of the sad-eyed and forlorn man who will hang around ferries and elevated railroad stations, and will offer you an eighteen karat gold ring for the ridiculous small sum of a quarter because he is one the verge of starvation. The law doesn’t take kindly to this method of disposing of brass rings worth five cents a dozen.

The man who has the celebrated Mexican lily seed is expected here with a choice assortment of “only a few more” samples of the packet that you put in water, and which in less than three days will begin to sprout into superb lilies. The seeds will be offered at the great sacrifice of a dollar a packet. But any policeman will know that the dollar packet contains some oats of no appreciable value.

Beware, too, of the sad-eyed and forlorn man who will hang around ferries and elevated railroad stations, and will offer you an eighteen karat gold ring for the ridiculous small sum of a quarter because he is one the verge of starvation. The law doesn’t take kindly to this method of disposing of brass rings worth five cents a dozen.

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