January 4, 2012

The Corona prize racket game.

In my book on page 101 I published a letter from confidence man F. H. Anderson to Soapy Smith on November 21, 1885. In the letter, Anderson  is attempting to sell Soapy on the idea of a new prize game, an "improvement on the Corona." The following comes from my book.

In the same month, an old friend wrote Jeff of his hope that Jeff would not only encourage him to come to Denver but also want to buy in with him as a partner.

Friend Jeff R. Smith

Thinking you would like to hear from an old friend I thought I would drop you a line informing you of my whereabouts.

I left New Orleans last March for California, where I remained long enough to work all the fairs, but I only got in 3 weeks graft at Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and Oakland, [—] Sacramento, Stockton, San Jose, and Salinas were queer. 5 weeks throwed away. Taylor was there but did not make any money. Tim Parker was there also, so was “Jew Ned,” Sam Nathan and Big Burns, nobody made anything [—] absolutely nothing went in Stockton, and Sacramento. They even arrested them for playing poker at Sacramento. You never saw the like. The gang all disgusted. Tim Parker brought a young wife out from Boston … and settled down in S. F. how is that for high?

I have a new fake, … a great improvement on the Corona. …[O]ne man can run it and the numbers can all be shown up, nothing to hide, when the Boosters win they can call out the number and show it to the suckers and the number that wins this time may lose the next and visa versa. Do you think I could get to open it up in Chase’s this winter? It took better in Santa Rosa, Petaluma & Oakland … than any other game in Sherman Tex. I … took off more stuff [in] one night than all the rest of the games in the house at the J. T. Saloon in Sherman and the beauty of it is that nobody can get on to the fake, nobody has yet either in California or here. Write soon and tell me just what you think can be done or any other place in Colorado that I might go and work for a month or so. I got a partner now because it is too hard work for one man…, but if I can go to work in Colorado, I might buy him out and let you buy in. It will cost you $150.00 for half interest, which you can make in a week if there is anything at all doing, and I would rather have you for a partner than the one I got now because he is more of a gambler than a sure thing man and pays too much attention to gambling to suit me. Answer at your earliest convenience & oblige.

Your friend,
F. H. Anderson
Texarkana, Ark.

The book goes into who the gangsters mentioned in the letter are, but after as much research as I could muster, I could not explain the Corona by publication time.

Recently I had the pleasure of reading Fools of Fortune or Gambling and Gamblers, by John Philip Quinn, 1890, which not only explained the game in detail, but also had a drawing (see top illustration). The explanation from the book follows.

This game is of recent date as compared with the needle wheel and squeeze spindle, of which it is, in effect, but a modification. I first saw it in the autumn of 1884, while I was traveling with "Mexican Cortenas' Wild West Show."

To operate the machine two men are necessary, in addition to a number of "cappers." The apparatus consists of a circular piece of wood, usually some 2-1/2 feet in diameter, at the outer rim of which are painted numbers from 1 to 60. Inside this is placed a round plate of heavy glass, on which is painted either an arrow or a small pointer. This inner plate revolves upon a central pivot. Prizes of money or jewelry are placed upon the numbers. Those who wish to win any of them buy tickets, on each of which is inscribed a number, the purchaser selecting his ticket at random, from a large number which are placed in a box. At the right of the ostensible proprietor sits his confederate, who poses as "book-keeper." In order that no "sucker" may, by any chance, win a prize of any value, a lever, similar to that used in the squeeze spindle is sunk into the table and concealed by the cloth cover. The "book-keeper," by pressing on the end of the wire rod, which is directly underneath his book, can apply friction to the pivot and cause the wheel to stop at any number which he may choose. It is hardly necessary to say that the box from which the purchaser takes his ticket contains none bearing the number which would call for a valuable prize. In order, however, to keep up the interest of the dupes and stimulate their spirit of gaming, the "book-keeper” occasionally brings the glass to a stand still at a point where the arrow indicates a money prize. Instantly a "capper" steps forward from among the crowd, presents a ticket and claims the prize. The ticket is carelessly thrown on one side and the money handed over to the confederate, who takes his departure. The unsuspecting fools who are not in the secret pursue the play with fresh zest, each one fancying that he has some chance of winning a large stake “next time," but unfortunately for the victim the moment for his winning never comes.

In case any of the players should become suspicious, and demand a sight of the tickets remaining in the box, in order to satisfy himself that the numbers corresponding to the money prizes are actually there, the proprietor cheerfully assents, readily producing the box, into which he has surreptitiously transferred the necessary cards from his pocket.

The Corona: page 101.

Jeff Smith


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