COUNTERFEIT MONEY. – Facts About the Green Goods Business
The “Green Goods” Business
Exposed for the Benefit of
All who have Dishonest
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A. B. COURTNEY,
Room 74, 45 Milk Street,
Every good thing has its imitation, and this includes money. Counterfeiting dates back to the old Greek and Roman times, and the despicable business has been kept up ever since, and probably always will be. In some countries the laws are so severe that the conviction of a maker or passer of spurious coin or bills means death. In America the punishment is usually a long term of imprisonment. Nevertheless people of dishonest tendencies seem to have a mania for wanting to “shove the queer,” and are desirous of going into the business extensively if they can only find a manufacturer of bad money who will supply them. This demand has been the cause of establishing the trade popularly known as “green goods” business. The operators are usually in gangs, and they work scientifically. Perhaps you, respected reader, have received ere this a very confidential letter from one Johnson, or Bechtoldt, or Carruthers, or somebody else, (usually located in New York, Jersey City or Chicago) telling you about the “green articles” that they have to sell in denominations of “tens, twenties,” etc., and assuring you that they are “perfect in every respect.” Enclosed with the letter you probably found a clipping alleged to have been cut out of a newspaper, telling how a crack counterfeit dealer had been caught red handed but had passed the ordeal of a trial and had been acquitted, because the counterfeits were so good that neither prosecutors, judge nor jury would dare to say that the money in evidence was spurious. Yet, the clipping goes on to say, that it is well known that the money really was counterfeit, but had been printed from some plates that had been stolen from the treasury department, and were, to a certain extent, genuine.
As a matter of fact, no plates of money were ever stolen from the U. S. treasury department, and the so called newspaper clipping is a concoction of some ingenious rascal intended to convince you, if dishonestly inclined, that you can handle the “green articles” with perfect safety.
The letter doesn’t contain the address of the dealer; oh, no, he doesn’t do business that way. You can only reach him by telegraph to an address given by him, which is no address at all in reality except perhaps the location of a graveyard or aqueduct. It has been alleged that the Western Union Telegraph Company simply holds such telegrams and they are called for by the men who expect them and whose swindling game is understood by the telegraph people. The swindler sends back an answer by letter, telling the countryman to come on at once, and saying that he will meet him upon his arrival at the depot, or at some hotel, and one is to know the other by means of a colored handkerchief, a peculiar way of carrying the cane, or some other signal.
Well, the countryman goes to the city, meets the knave who shows him in some quiet room, a package of crisp bills. The countryman opens his eyes wide and visions of sudden wealth flit through his brain. Mr. Counterfeiter suggests that they try some of the bills and see whether or not they will pass without detection. They drop into a saloon, and courteous Mr. Counterfeiter insists that the other have a drink. Perhaps Mr. Wayback may be a prohibitionist, but that doesn’t matter as he will certainly be willing to drink a little pop beer or ginger ale, just to be social. The city rascal doesn’t even need to wink at the bartender to cause the latter to drug the drink, as he is well paid by the gang, and before the countryman and the city rascal have got far Mr. Wayback begins to feel stupid, and can be easily induced to go anywhere his leader suggests while they are “trying the counterfeit money.” However, the bills are just as good as gold, being absolutely genuine, and the “dealer in bad money” can safely lead his confiding friend into any bank, and have one or two bills changed, just to convince the jay. Perhaps Mr. Wayback is so thoroughly drugged that he falls asleep when landed in one of the out-of-the-way rooms of the gang. In that case it is an easy matter to drug him more and rob him of all the good money he possesses, then take him out after nightfall and leave him to sleep off the effects of his potion in some alleyway.
On the other hand, if the would be rascal of a countryman keeps awake he will be introduced to one or two other jolly good fellows, and a transaction will be made in the aforementioned room. The two or three thousand dollars in real money (which the countryman supposes to be excellent counterfeits) will be wrapped in a package and sealed. Then the jay will be asked to produce the $300 or $500 that he is to pay for the pile. While he is doing this, one of the confederates adroitly substitutes another package for the one on the table, being exactly similar in outward appearance and weight, but filled with sawdust. Mr. Wayback doesn’t see all this, and the crooks are very clever withal. About the time that he has his good money counted to pay over, one of the gang looks out the window, whispers that two detectives are approaching, and they suddenly skip, one of them, of course, grabbing the countryman’s payment, and hastily suggesting that he take his package and get out of the city as soon as possible. This he will do, and ultimately find out how he has been swindled.
But what can he do?
He intended to be dishonest, and if he complains to the police he will be liable to arrest. The swindlers have got his money, he has obtained the experience and goes home a sadder but wiser man.
This game is worked all the year around and it is astonishing how new “suckers” are obtained so readily. Police and post office officials use all sorts of methods to kill the business but their success is limited. The “green goods” men make large sums of money and live high.
To all who are looking for counterfeit money let us say, “Don’t.” You cannot get it anyhow, but even if you could, the chances are nine in ten that you would soon occupy a felon’s cell. Seldom a counterfeiter goes free for long, no matter how clever he may be. Frequently the styles of “green goods” invitations are altered, and to one who is bound to be dishonest, it might appear that, after all, the special scheme offered him may be all right—that is, dishonestly all right—and that the counterfeit money can be obtained after negotiations. But it can’t. We do not deny but that spurious money is passed, but only in the inner circle of crookdom are such things arranged, and it would be as easy for a camel to walk through a key-hole as for any but a “cut and dried” old time crook to get an “inside” on the counterfeit money business.
Be honest; it pays. The writer sincerely hopes that this little volume may be the means of saving the money of many a man, and of diverting his ideas in a more legitimate direction. Let such as are tempted by the “green goods” monster, and who have money that they could invest, put such money in the savings bank at a small per cent. The result will be a fair income, but better still, a clear conscience.
Here is a statement about the extensive mailing of “green goods” circulars. The story was told by Van Buren before the Lexow committee in 1894.
Benjamin D. Van Buren, a discharged chief clerk of the Jersey City post office, told a startling story.
“I was chief mailing clerk,” said Mr. Van Buren. “My attention was first called to the green goods business about eight years ago. The first thing that I noticed was the hiring of boxes by green goods men. I knew them by sight only. This lasted two or three months. Then my attention was attracted to some stories in the newspapers about the stopping of circulars at the New York post office. Large amounts of mail were stopped there. Then came some men with big bundles of circulars without the “return” stamp on them. I suspected they were green goods circulars stopped at the New York post office. I went to Postmaster Dickerson with my suspicions, and he told me to keep a strict watch and see if I could find an envelope open. I did in a few days, and found one of the regular circulars in it. I gave it to the assistant postmaster, who took it to Inspector James in New York. Then Postmaster Dickerson ordered me to send the matter out. Later on it was discussed with Inspector Egerton of Philadelphia, who has charge of the postal district in which Jersey City is located; and the rule went forth to forward at once, regardless of character. Immense quantities of green goods circulars were then handled from that office. After a time the circulars came in such quantities that they were not put through the windows, but taken around to the back door, the same as other big users of the mails. Postage stamps were sold in big lots by the assistant postmaster to the green goods men. I should say they must have bought $500 or $600 worth a day.”
The following interesting story appeared in the New York Herald of February 10, 1895, and indicates that there has been but little cessation in the “green goods” business:
Mr. Hace Ead, of Texas, who comes on to New York every spring to buy “green goods,” and who each time takes home a valise full of bricks, but who, nevertheless, returns to the business again, hoping against hope, will have no more difficulty in making his purchases this year than he had last. The “green goods” men are still at their games, flooding the country with circulars and disposing of bags of rubbish at fabulous prices.
The revelations before the Lexow committee did not have the effect of driving the “sharps” into legitimate occupations. While the testimony was being given against them they kept in retreat in Jersey City, but even during the hearing of the “green goods” witnesses, “come-ons” were arriving in shoals at all the Jersey City depots, and the brick maker who supplies the swindlers at wholesale prices made his usual daily deliveries at their offices. The bricks, carefully wrapped up in paper, were distributed to the four corners of the United States.
John Sheffield, of Manchester, N. Y., who came to Jersey City recently to rob the “green goods” men, and who did steal $1,600 from two of them, says that a large part of the savings of residents in his town has gone to the operators in this city. It was to get revenge and to obtain some of these savings back that Sheffield came along. The place where the operators said they would meet him at No. 87 West street, New York, but he preferred to do business with them in his room at Taylor’s Hotel, in Jersey City, where he kept his black jack, and where he succeeded in disabling one of the men who wanted to jabe him in the eye with an umbrella and recover the money.
The “green goods” men live in New York still. They always did a good deal of their business in Jersey City, and they do it there now. Some of the odd looking farmers who come from the central part of New York State, and who have never seen a piece of water so large that it could not be crossed by a bridge, are afraid to trust themselves to the ferryboats. As soon as they see the river they rebel, and positively refuse to leave dry ground. This necessitates a good deal of the business being done in Jersey City. Another reason for the selection of that town originally was the cheapness of police “protection” as compared with its cost in this city.
There are still other reasons. A “come-on” is frequently a wild looking being, with lengthy hair and an embarrassed manner, who continually falls over himself and gets buncoed or robbed before he reaches the swindlers to whom he morally belongs. “If he is a queer sight,” said an operator, “he won’t attract so much attention in Jersey City as he would in New York.”
Chief of Police Murphy told me the other day that there were many “green goods” men quartered in his bailiwick in temporary exile. They received visits from men who might be customers and who might be clergymen trying to convert them. It was hard to get evidence against these criminals, as their victims are as interested in not being found out as are the operators themselves. They continue to take many of the “come-ons” to Bound Brook and there perform the final act in financial juggle.
There “green goods” men who used to be very active in catching and despoiling “come-ons,” but who now say that they have reformed and are leading simple Christian lives, are John Morgan, James Wilson and Michael Ryan. If they have really become converts to religion the business they have gone into is probably that of guides, for they are seen meeting strange looking men with chin whiskers, wide hats, carpet bags and agricultural boots at the trains. In a short time, sometimes only two or three hours, these same men reappear at the ferry or railroad station carrying a valise that they did not have with them when they arrived.
So easily identified are the “come-ons” that the ferry employes recognized them half a block away. Sometimes they call out to each other so that the “come-ons” can hear:—“I’ll bet that fellow has $10,000 in that bag,” or “Looks like a counterfeiter.” Then they enjoy the alarm of the “come-on,” who turns pale and escapes as quickly as he possibly can.
At the Pennsylvania Railroad ferry in Jersey City there is a youth representing the “green goods” men continually on the watch. He scans the faces of all passers by and looks out carefully for detectives. Knowing all the employes of the police department by sight he can get an idea if there is anything unusual going on, or if the department is on the watch for some criminal. This youth was pointed out to me yesterday by a private detective once in the employ of the Law and Order Society, and who told me that the “green goods” men were still doing business on a large scale, though they were not so bold as before the sessions of the Lexow committee.
Some of the operators have been robbed lately by “come-ons.” So great has been the publicity of the exposure of the business that it is hard to realize that there can be a single man in the country who could be gulled by it, but still hundreds of New Yorkers make a fat living off “green goods.” During the Lexow investigation a few of the Jersey City operators who did not know human nature very well thought that the end of the “green goods” trade had been reached, and that they would have to think up some new scheme for making a dishonest living.
One of the tricks that has superceded “green goods” is the “country postmaster,” or “red goods” game. A circular is sent to postmasters in out-of-the-way towns where the level of intelligence is supposed to be very low, informing them that the writers have become possessed of a large quantity of postage stamps, and are waiting for a chance to sell them at from thirty-five cents to fifty cents on the dollar, according to the quantity taken.
After this the modus operandi is precisely similar to that employed in the “green goods” game. The victim is shown a lot of postage stamps, which are then packed in a valise, and at the last moment the valise is changed for one containing mud or stones or a brick.
This has not the same field as the “green goods” game, as the number of postmasters is limited, and in little towns their opportunities are smaller for disposing of any great quantities of stamps. It was invented by operators who had been clubbed or beaten by “come-ons” familiar with their game, and who decided that a change of ground was necessary. But it can hardly be said to have scored a hit.
The police have made a statement to the effect that Harlem is now free from “green goods” men, but it must be remembered that at all times, even when Harlem was overrun with the swindlers, the police have issued similar proclamations. It has been said that Captain Thompson, of the West 125th street station, has made an arrangement with the Western Union Telegraph Company by which all “green goods” messages shall be shown to him. This statement is made in order to show the vigilance of the police and the change of heart of the telegraph company, which has derived a large income from the swindlers, it being alleged that the company had a regular “green goods” department to look after that branch of the trade and to see that the operators got what they wanted.
It is denied, however, that the Western Union people could show telegrams to the police. It is against the law, for one thing, and any company that did not guarantee the secrecy of its messages would soon begin to lose its business.
We now offer a volume of the celebrated Sherlock Holmes’ Detective Stories, including “Sign of the Four,” “Haunted Man,” “Study in Scarlet,” “Battle of Life” and “Reminiscences.” These are the greatest detective stories ever written. Don’t fail to read them. You can get the volume, postpaid, by sending only six cents, stamps, to Keystone Book Co., Box 1634, Philadelphia, Pa., or to the firm from whom you received this little “Counterfeit Money” book.
Here is a new wrinkle in the line of green goods business. Ordinarily the country brother, when he speculates in this class of stock, goes in without regard for the proprieties, for the purpose of making whatever he can out of the scheme, and, if he gets the supply as promised, feels satisfied with the arrangement.
This new idea is something of a variation on the old plan, however, in that it swindles the man who is himself contemplating a swindle on his neighbors and on the government. Instead of sending the customer “green” goods, the swindlers send him a lot of confederate money.
Here is the way the new circular reads:
“Esteemed Sir—You have been recommended to me as being a person in whom I can place implicit faith; who will deal with me honestly and work for mutual interests. I therefore write you this confidential letter, trusting to your honor to use me fairly.
“My business is peculiar. I deal in money of several kinds. I want a shrewd, careful and energetic person in your locality to handle a branch of my business. Probably you are not wealthy, but you can recall some others who have quite suddenly achieved wealth, and the public has never known just how. Mine is a money making method, and will enable you to acquire good cash by exchanging bank bills for coins, etc.
“I will not go into details in this letter, but if you will send me $2, I will send you samples of money representing $50, also complete confidential instructions, lists of prices of various denominations of money.
“The above will enable you to get a proper start, and if you go into the business on a large scale, I will arrange to pay your expenses to Boston, where we can have a personal private conference and make negotiations.
“I enclose a strong envelope, addressed, in which you can place your $2, and it will reach me safely. Rest assured I shall deal with you fairly, Mr. ——, and I expect the same treatment in return.
“P. S.—The samples of money that I will send you are printed from original government plates, therefore, are not counterfeit (or imitation) money.”
It is necessary to read the letter twice in order to appreciate the fine points of composition, the seductive tone of the epistle, and yet, the clever way in which the writer avoids making any damaging admissions.
The opening and the general style is that of the regular “green goods” letter, but it differs in two important points—its tone is not so secret as those epistles generally are, and the address of the sender is given. Furthermore the customer is not required to answer by a secret telegraphic message.
The postscript is particularly inviting, as the writer guaranteed to send money from original government plates, and not counterfeits.
but the writer forgets to state that the government which is represented on the money went out of existence about 30 years ago.
Confederate money is what will be sent, and the agreement will be literally carried out so far as the amount specified goes. If the customer “kicks,” he is bound hand and foot, so to speak, for he has made himself a party to the fraud by sending for the article advertised, and which is really much worse than what he receives.