XXII

Another lottery humbug⁠—​Two hundred and fifty recipes⁠—​Vile books⁠—​“Advantage-cards”⁠—​A package for you; Please send the money⁠—​Peddling in western New York.

The readiness with which people will send off their money to a swindler is perfectly astounding. It does really seem as if an independent fortune could be made simply by putting forth circulars and advertisements, requesting the receiver to send five dollars to the advertiser, and saying that “it will be all right.”

I have already given an account of the way in which lottery dealers operate. From among the same pile of documents which I used then, I have selected a few others, as instances in part, of a class of humbugs sometimes of a kind even far more noxious, and which show that their devisers and patrons are not only sharpers or fools, but often also very cold-blooded villains or very nasty ones. Some of them are managed by printed circulars and written letters, such as those before me; some of them by newspaper advertisements. Some are only to cheat you out of money, and others offer in return for money some base gratification. But whatever means are used, and whatever purpose is sought, they are all alike in one thing⁠—they depend entirely on the monstrous number of simpletons who will send money to people they know nothing about.

Of the nasty ones, I can give no details. Vile books, pictures, etc., are from time to time advertised, sold, and forwarded, by circular, and through the mails, and for large prices.

There have been some cases where a funny sort of swindle has been effected by these peddlers of pruriency, by selling some dirty-minded dupe a cheap good book, at the extravagant price of a dear bad one. More than one foolish youth has received, instead of the vile thing that he sent five dollars for, a nice little New Testament. It is obvious that no very loud complaints are likely to be made about such cheating as that. It is, perhaps, one of the safest swindles ever contrived.

The first document which I take from my pile is the announcement of a fellow who operates lottery-wise. His scheme appeals at once to benevolence and to greediness. He says: “The profits of the distribution are to be given to the Sanitary Commission;” and secondly, “Every ticket brings a prize of at least its full value, and some of them $5,000.”

If, therefore you won’t buy tickets for filthy lucre’s sake, buy for the sake of our soldiers.

“But,” somebody says, “how can you afford this arrangement, which is a direct loss of the whole cost of working your lottery, and moreover of the whole value of all prizes costing more than a ticket?”

“Oh,” replies our benevolent friend, “a number of manufacturers in New England have asked me to do this, and the prizes are given by them as friends of the soldier.”

One observation will sufficiently show what an impudent mess of lies this story is, namely;⁠—If the manufacturers of New England wanted to give money to the Sanitary Commission, they would give money; if goods, they would give goods. They certainly would not put their gifts through the additional roundabout, useless nonsense of a lottery, which is to turn over only the same amount of funds to the Commission.

The next document is a circular sent from a Western town by a fellow who claims also to be a master of arts, doctor of medicines, and doctor of laws, but whose handwriting and language are those of a stable-boy. This chap sends round a list of two hundred and fifty recipes at various prices, from twenty-five cents to a dollar each. Send him the money for any you wish, and he promises to return you the directions for making the stuff. You are then to go about and peddle it, and swiftly become independently rich. You can begin with a dollar, he says; in two days make fifty dollars, and then sweep on in a grand career of affluence, making from $75 to $200 a day, “if you are industrious.” What is petroleum to this? It is a mercy that we don’t all turn to and peddle to each other; we should all get too rich to speak!

The fellow, out of pure kindness and desire for your good, recommends you to buy all his recipes, as then you will be sure to sell something to everybody. Most of these recipes are for sufficiently harmless purposes⁠—shaving-soap, cement, inks⁠—“five gallons of good ink for fifteen cents”⁠—tooth-powders, etc. Some of them are arrant nonsense; such as “tea⁠—better than the Chinese,” which is as if he promised something wetter than water; “to make thieves’ vinegar;” “prismatic diamond crystals for windows;” “to make yellow butter”⁠—is the butter blue where the man lives? Others are of a sort calculated to attract foolish rustic rascals who would like to gain an easy living by cheating, if they were only smart enough. Thus, there is “Rothschild’s great secret; or how to make common gold.” My readers shall have a better recipe than this swindler’s⁠—work hard, think hard, be honest, and spend little⁠—this will “make common gold,” and this is all the secret Rothschild ever had. A number of these recipes are barefaced quackeries; such as cures for consumption, cancer, rheumatism, and sundry other diseases; to make whiskers and mustaches grow⁠—ah, boys, you can’t hurry up those things. Greasing your cheeks is just as good as trying to whistle the hair out, but not a bit better. Don’t hurry; you will be old quite soon enough! But this fellow is ready for old fools as well young ones, for he has recipes for curing baldness and removing wrinkles. And last, but not least, quietly inserted among all these fooleries and harmless humbugs, are two or three recipes which promise the safe gratification of the basest vices. Those are what he really hoped to get money for.

I have carefully refrained from giving any names or information which would enable anybody to address any of these folks. I do not propose to cooperate with them, if I know it.

The next is a circular only to be very briefly alluded to: it promises to furnish, on receipt of the price, and “by mail or express, with perfect safety, so as to defy detection,” any of twenty-two wholly infamous books, and various other cards and commodities, well suited to the public of Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. The most honest and decent things advertised in this unclean list are “advantage-cards” which enable the player to swindle his adversary by reading off his hand by the backs of the cards.

The next paper I can copy verbatim, except some names, etc., is a letter as follows:

Dear Sir⁠—There is a Package in My care for a Mrs. preston New Griswold wich thare is 48 cts. fratage. Pleas forward the same. I shall send it Per Express Your recpt.”

It is some little comfort to know that this gentleman, who is so much opposed to the present prevailing methods of spelling, lost the three cents which he invested in seeking “fratage.” But a good many sensible people have carelessly sent away the small amounts demanded by letters like the above, and have wondered why their prepaid parcels never came.

Next, is an account by a half amused and half indignant eyewitness, of what happened in a well known town in Western New York, on Friday, January 6, 1865. A personage described as “dressed in Yankee style,” drove into the principal street of the place with a horse and buggy, and began to sell what is called in some parts of New England “Attleboro,” that is, imitation jewelry, but promising to return the customers their money, if required, and doing so. After a number of transactions of this kind, he bawls out, like the sorcerer in Aladdin, who went around crying new lamps for old, “Who will give me four dollars for this five-dollar greenback?”

He found a customer; sold a one-dollar greenback for ninety cents; then sold some half-dollar bills for twenty-five cents each; then flung out among the crowd what a fisherman would call ground bait, in the shape of a handful of “currency.”

Everybody scrambled for the money. This liberal trader now drove slowly a little way along, and the crowd pressed after him.

He now began, without any further promises, to sell a lot of bogus lockets at five dollars each, and in a few minutes had disposed of about forty. Having, therefore, about two hundred dollars in his pocket, and trade slackening, he coolly observes, with a terseness and clearness of oratory that would not discredit General Sherman:

“Gentlemen⁠—I have sold you those goods at my price. I am a licensed peddler. If I give you your money back you will think me a lunatic. I wish you all success in your ordinary vocations! Good morning!”

And sure enough, he drove off. That same cunning chap has actually made a small fortune in this way. He really is licensed as a peddler, and though arrested more than once, has consequently not been found legally punishable.

I will specify only one more of my collection, of yet another kind. This is a printed circular appealing to a class of fools, if possible, even shallower, sillier, and more credulous than any I have named yet. It is headed “The Gypsies’ Seven Secret Charms.” These charms consist of a kind of hellbroth or decoction. You are to wet the hands and the forehead with them, and this is to render you able to tell what any person is thinking of; upon taking anyone by the hand, you will be able to entirely control the mind and will of such person (it is unnecessary to specify the purpose intended to be believed possible). These charms are also to enable you to buy lucky lottery-tickets, discover things lost or hid, dream correctly of the future, increase the intellectual faculties, secure the affections of the other sex, etc. These precious conceits are set forth in a ridiculous hodgepodge of statements. The “charms,” it says, were used by the “Antedeluvians;” were the secret of the Egyptian enchanters and of Moses, too; of the Pythoness and the heathen conjurors and humbugs generally; and (which will be news to the geographers of today) “are used by the Psyli (the swindler misspells again) of South America to charm Beasts, Birds, and Serpents.” The way to control the mind, he says, was discovered by a French traveler named Tunear. This Frenchman is perhaps a relative of the equally celebrated Russian traveller, Toofaroff.

But here is the point, after all. You send the money, we will say, for one of these charms⁠—for they are for sale separately. You receive in return a second circular, saying that they work a great deal better all together, and so the man will send you all of them when you send the rest of the money. Send it, if you choose!

Now, how is it possible for people to be living among us here, who are fooled by such wretched balderdash as this? There are such, however, and a great many of them. I do not imagine that there are many of these addlepates among my readers; but there is no harm in giving once more a very plain and easy direction which may possibly save somebody some money and some mortification. Be content with what you can honestly earn. Know whom you deal with. Do not try to get money without giving fair value for it. And pay out no money on strangers’ promises, whether by word of mouth, written letters, advertisements, or printed circulars.