In a previous Jot posted a couple of years ago we discussed various domestic topics dealt with by one of those agony aunts or uncles ( in this case an uncle) of the thirties who reckoned himself pretty up to date regarding the problems besetting the average person on their journey from cradle to grave. Now we have found a more substantial guide (no date, but c 1940 and bound in that very ‘thirties material, Rexene) that seeks to offer over its 640 pages similar advice. It was called Everybody’s Best Friendand was edited by Harold Wheeler, Hon D.Litt. F. R. Hist.S, who was, it would seem, a respected historian, the author of popular biographies of Nelson and Wellington, among other works.
Unfortunately, Wheeler does not reveal who the various contributors to Everybody’s Best Friend are, except in the final and most fascinating section, which is entitled ‘ Pitfalls for the Unwary ‘. We are told that this was ‘compiled ‘( rather than edited ) by Major-General Sir Wyndham Childs, a distinguished war hero who became ‘Director of the Investigation Department’ of the popular magazine John Bull. This role suggests that Childs was a sort of investigative journalist, and though, as we shall see, some corporate frauds were exposed by him, most of the scams revealed by Childs and his team, were small scale domestic ‘ramps‘ visited by doorstep pests on naïve housewives.
Many of the ‘ shady characters ‘ were salesmen offering trashy ‘free gifts’, worthless ‘ bargains ‘, cruel hire-purchase schemes and other scams that are still being perpetrated today. ‘.Childs also includes examples of individuals who gained access to homes by posing as ‘ officials ‘, such as sanitary inspectors, in order to filch objects while the householder is elsewhere in the building. Then there was the ‘bogus gardener ‘familiar to householders today who offers to dig your garden (or perhaps in the modern day version of the scam, to lay tarmac or fix your roof ) but who demands money before the job is completed. In Childs’ example some ‘gardeners ‘ asked for money to buy rose trees that were going cheap, but on receiving the cash sped off never to be seen again. Continue reading →
Found in The Fingerpost: A Guide to Professions for Educated Women, with Information as to Necessary Training (Central Bureau for the Employment of Women. 1906) an article called 'Literary Catchpennies' which outlines various scams played on would be writers of the time. Some of these scams, often for bigger stakes, are still with us on the web.
The perennial literary advertisement trick is, perhaps, the most specious of all. A "Publishing Firm" will offer to consider MSS. sent to Box so-and-so at the offices of the paper in which the advertisements appears. Or the advertisement asks for some specified requires a fee; sometimes he merely swallows all the MSS. sent to him and is heard of no more. A plausible gentleman, with an office in London, extracted from a struggling authoress of my acquaintance a fee of 10s. 6d. for the purpose of making copies of a little tale of hers for the American Press. Another required a specimen of already existing work as a "proof of competency," before employment. With wary caution a printed specimen was submitted, which was duly returned, with a word of approval and with an article taken from a Nonconformist journal - a sketch of some famous preacher - which the applicant for employment was required to paraphrase and return. This being done the MSS. apparently vanished into space for upon a visit of inquiry being made to the address mentioned in the advertisement, the advertiser's name was unknown! Again, a budding composer advertised for "Lyrics." A little poem on "Daffodils" was sent to him. After a weary wait, a gentlemanly young man called on my friend to explain that out of hundreds of lyrics though which he had waded hers was the only good for anything. He asked permission to set it to music and promised to pay a small sum - with many apologies for the smallness. A few days later came - not the small sum - but a tortured love song of Elizabethan or Stuart period. That is to say a phrase here and there was given with dashes in between. These gaps were to be filled up with suitable words. This curious piece of literary patchwork being done, it joined the Daffodil lyric - in oblivion. What budding authoress has not sent precious MSS. to advertised "Literary agencies" with timid hopes that the agent's joyful acceptance of them - together with the "unusual deposit" for "placing same" - will set her free on the first step of the ladder of fame. If the MSS. is "placed" the deposit may nicely counterbalance the price secured for the article plus the commission to the agency; or, more probably at some pains and after some delays the article may be rescued by the author - minus the deposit. Since, however, no author is entirely comment to judge of the selling value of his work, it may reasonably be supposed that a properly conducted literary agency could serve a useful purpose in introducing the budding author to his public. The unfortunate thing is that the budding author generally pays dearly before he discovers that the really bona-fide agency has little need to advertise daily in a score of papers for "suitable MSS."
Other pitfalls to unwary persons "who can write" are the advertisements offering prizes in competitions for more or less intricate word spinning. It is hardly necessary to utter warnings against these, for they appeal mostly to the enterprising speculative sort of person, in whom the gambling instant is not strictly suppressed. It may be noted, however, that "prizes" won in such conceptions seldom pay the competitor for the trouble involved in winning them. They certainly do not pay the genuine work seeker.
Fortunes to Order
Answers to much-advertised offers to teach the work seeker "How to make a fortune" generally result in the return of a fascinating booklet, detailing with the utmost gravity the "trade secrets" of some industry which is sure to be entirely foreign to the fortune seeker's taste or capacity. Two such treatises are before me; one has to do with allotment gardening and the other with pastry making. When all the "ifs" and "ands" are counted the reader comes to the conclusion that although the advertiser's experiences might be genuine a fortune would be much more quickly made by writing a similar booklet and selling it in thousands at 1s. or 1s. 6d., than by rolling out any of the precepts contained therein.
Found - Journals and Journalism (with a guide for literary beginners) published by the Leadenhall Press (London 1880.) The author is stated as 'John Oldcastle' - a pseudonym of Wilfrid Meynell (1852-1948) who became a newspaper publisher and editor. It is likely that the book appeared because at the time journalism was all the rage, like photography in the 1960s or developing apps now…It is full of good advice, occasionally caustic in tone, and starts out with a warning to 'amateurs'. The final part of this extract from the first chapter deals with vanity publishing scams, and refers to an amusing scandal when one scammer sued another. These 'bubbles' were then common and are still with us on the internet. The entire text can be found at Brewster Kahle's incredible expanding Internet Archive.
Even more fatally amateurish is the practice, not uncommon with beginners, of addressing a more or less gushing note to an editor, disclaiming any wish for remuneration, and intimating that the honour of appearing in his valuable paper is all the reward that is asked. A contribution that is worth printing is worth paying for; and to an established paper the trifling sum due for any ordinary article is a matter of no consequence whatever — a mere drop in the bucket of printing and editorial expenses.In the case of a new paper, not backed by much capital, it is different.Gratuitous contributions may there be welcome ; but such a paper will hardly live; nor, if it did, would there be much prestige attached to an appearance in its pages. Besides, the offer of unremunerated labour to an experienced editor will often, and legitimately, be resented. He feels that an attempt is being made to bribe him, and, however absurd the bribe, the idea is not pleasant. There is, in a word, only one fair and sufficient test of capacity in literature as in the other arts, and that is the test of competition in the open market. Our old friends Supply and Demand ...are the only trustworthy umpires in the matter...
As to the style of amateurs, though we have just spoken of freshness as their possible characteristic, the curious fact is that, contrary to natural expectation, they generally write more conventionally than the hacks of journalism. The amateur sets himself too energetically to keep the trodden ways ; he is too timid to allow any originality which he may possess to assert itself; and it is only when he is familiar with the necessary laws that he gives himself a desirable ease and liberty in non-essentials.
Finally, let amateurs beware of " amateur magazines," and of agencies for the profitable placing of literary work. These are generally bubbles — bubbles that will burst as soon as they are pricked with a silver or a golden pin. Some years ago an action was brought by one of these amateur associations against another ; and a number of dreadful young men of nineteen, with long hair, and spectacles, appeared in court as plaintiffs and defendants. No doubt the original promoters of such an organisation traded to good purpose on the credulity and ambition of the provincial and the young, beginning with a profession of philanthropy, and ending with a request for a subscription. They soon had their imitators, however ; the monopoly was broken, the spoils divided; and what with the exposure resulting from their internal dissensions, and the bitter individual experience of the thousands who lent willing ears and purses to their allurements, we may hope that their occupation is now gone.
From the Peter Haining papers, this typed manuscript by the great researcher and expert on British comics and periodicals W.O.G. ('Bill') Lofts (1923-1997). The type of the bogus colonel (and, more commonly, the bogus major) is well known from 1950s British films but here is the real thing - a rather pathetic tale where Lofts' losses were low and the Colonel appears to have been a reader of Henty…
The letter addressed to me was in bold flourishing handwriting, and the address was 'The Lodge' Cranbrook near Epsom, Surrey. I don't know why, but I slightly suspicious of the person at first sight, but briefly the letter read as follows…
Found in a sensational crime paperback The Big Con (Pocket Books, NY 1949) a press cutting dated 1975 - the obituary of an amazing conman/ hustler/grifter Joseph Weil (1875-1975). He seems to have been the first to put forth the idea (often mentioned in the TV series Hustle) that 'you can't con an honest man.' It is possible that their character Albert Stroller (Robert Vaughn) the elderly 'roper' responsible for ensnaring potential marks, is based on Weil. There is an exhaustive profile of Stroller at Wikipedia with no mention of any influences but useful info such as '...he cannot go to Indonesia as he sold the air force some fighter jets in the '70s, and they still haven't arrived.' Weil's comments on bankers are especially prescient..
Joseph (Yellow Kid) Weil, 100, Leading U. S. Trickster in '20s. From Wire Dispatches Chicago, Feb 27- 1975.
Joseph (Yellow Kid) Weil, 100, the 1920s confidence artist whose con schemes netted him an estimated $8 million, died yesterday in a convalescent home. For nearly three years, the fragile little man had been a welfare patient, living out his life on the memories of his heyday, when his canary-yellow gloves, cravats and suits, yellow calling cards and autos, yellowish red hair and golden whiskers made him an international figure. "If I had to do it all over again, I would be foolish if I didn't," Weil told an interviewer last summer on his 100th birthday . "I don't feel a day over 70. I still like to look at the ladies and take a sip of wine. I like to listen to the radio, but I'll be damned if I'll play bingo with the rest round here. It's a ripoff."
As pugnacious ex-offenders go, Darius Guppy is a bit of a one-off. The convicted insurance fraudster, fellow Bullingdon Club member with Boris Johnson and David Cameron, doesn’t do remorse. Instead of keeping a low profile in his newly adopted home in South Africa, he has come out fighting. Guppy, as readers of Private Eye will know, is said to have once asked his friend Boris to arrange to have a pesky reporter beaten up for violating some sort of honour code — a Guppian honour crime, if you like. Johnson refused, but according to the TV profile of the London Mayor, the two men remain friends, and not long ago Guppy defended his Oxford pal. In the past couple of years Guppy has several times railed publicly against the moral failings of Western society, comparing them to the honourable principles upheld by the present Iranian government, who continue to practise public hangings and still persecute, among others, the peace-loving followers of Ba’hai.
On his mother’s side Guppy has some dubious claim to ancient Persian aristocratic blood. One ancestor was a poet and indeed the talent for verse manifested itself quite early in young Guppy’s life. Although he has never published a collection, in 1984 he edited with John Adlam an anthology of Oxbridge poetry entitled First Set: Blue Jade, which has become a bit of a collectors’ item. Guppy wrote eight of the fifty poems in it, some of which demonstrate a genuine lyricism, especially when applied to descriptions of place, in this case, Venice:
By a lamp post, on an edge, A blue green wave danced up to me And kissed a pair of Dangling legs, draped on a ledge Then melted into blue jade
Immortal like stone, a stony city Rose up from the pearls with a ruby sun To haunt the ghostly speckled sea blanket With shadeless colours, vague reality Which rolls and sways and dives into itself… ( Blue Jade in Venice)
Found this ad in a pulp magazine Clues - A Magazine of Detective Stories from November 10 1930. The advertiser pleads:
Help! Who can get me out? I'll pay $8000. Come to my rescue – quick. I'm HOPELESSLY lost in these treacherous, trackless catacombs.
I've tried for hours to find the right path to freedom but here I am right back in the middle again. Can you find the right path? Will you try? 1000 thanks! – I knew you would. But first let me warn you there is only one path to freedom and it's oh so hard to find... Mark it plainly with pen or pencil and send it to me fast. If correct, I'll see that you are qualified at once for an opportunity to win as much as $2320 cash out of the $8000 in rewards that I'm going to give away. It's all free...
Is this an eccentric millionaire, or a wily entrepreneur garnering the addresses of mug punters, or a publicity stunt?
The clue is the word 'qualified'. Surely this is a forerunner of the Nigerian scams? The maze is probably not that difficult-- you send in your solution and soon hear that you have qualified to win a big prize and must send in, say, $10 (a useful sum in 1930) to enter for the big prize. After that you never hear from him again or are asked for further sums for even bigger prizes. Chap was based in Chicago.