"…he was amazed to discover, partly exposed,
what appeared to be a large bar of gold,
weighing about one hundred pounds troy."
The Gold Brick Confidence Game
There’s a story in a book about graft from 1914 which explains the long con called the gold brick scam. A long con is a confidence game which takes, as the name implies, a long time, and requires more patience and acting skills on the part of the fraudsters. It’s a form of participatory theater where the victim or "mark" is the major player in an elaborate, deceptive game – one he doesn’t even know he’s playing.
Of course, the game’s ultimate purpose is to steal a large amount of the victim’s money by getting him to willingly hand it over to the crooks.
The gold brick swindle comes in various forms, but the basis of the scam is that a victim is persuaded to buy a bar of solid gold which turns out to be worth much less than the price he’s paid for it, if it’s worth anything at all.
When you read the entire story, you’ll notice how expertly the swindlers con the victim by creating stories within stories. These overlapping stories help to obscure the ultimate purpose of the scam.
Yet not all the stories are told directly to the victim. By manipulating the mark, they also cause him to create stories inside his own head. In this con, they control the victim so that he thinks he’s actually going to cheat them. They make him believe that he’s in control, and that he’s running his own cheating scenario. The irony, of course, is that when a mark is greedy and trying to hide it, he doesn’t notice that he’s the one who’s going to get stung.
This scam is also the origin of the term "goldbricking", which refers to someone who is worthless at their job because they avoid doing any work.
When was the first gold brick scam? While explaining the origin of the term goldbricking, Michael Quinion from World Wide Words writes about the first gold brick con, perpetrated in October, 1879 in Colorado:
What happened was that Mr N D Clark, the president of the First National Bank of Ravenna, Ohio, was visiting a mine he owned at Leadville in Colorado. He was approached by five miners, who asked him to advance money on a 52-pound gold brick, which for some reason they weren’t able to ship at the time. The owner told a hard-luck story about having lost all his property and urgently needing money. Mr Clark had the brick taken to a blacksmith, who cut off one corner. An assayer pronounced the gold to be genuine and Mr Clark advanced the miner $10,000 on condition the brick, and the miner, accompanied him to Chicago to get the balance. The miner, of course, vanished off the train on the way… The corners were gold right enough but the body of the brick was worthless…
The following colorful account of the gold brick scam is from the book "The Destruction of Mephisto’s Greatest Web or, All Grafts Laid Bare" written by H. K. James in 1914. It’s about 5,000 words.
The Gold Brick Confidence Game
Origin of the Term "Gold Bricked"The Fleecing of Mr. BlackmoreHis Special QualificationsWealth of BlackmoreThe Two ProspectorsBlackmore Picks up a TenantThe Sick Man Blackmore Calls for Money His Amazing DiscoveryLong’s Confession"High Grading"A Rich PartnershipThe Mine ExplosionVoted OutThe Long and Thompson CombinationPurchasing SuppliesThe Gold BarThe Tunnel CampThe Killing;A Dying RequestDodging Through the Country Blackmore’s TrustThe Sampling$10,000 for ThompsonBlackmore Obtains TreasureA Sudden Recovery"Gold Bricked"
The Gold Brick Confidence Game
This game has been operated so frequently that it has added a new expression to our languagethat is the term "Gold Bricked," which is applied to those who have met with a loss in any venture that they were positive would have resulted in certain gain. But there are few, excepting those that have been victimized by the "Gold Brick Game," that know the origin of the expression.
The tactics employed by the operators of this particular style of swindling will be so minutely explained that not only will the reader recognize the origin of the term, but will be so familiar with all the details of the imposition as to be immune to the wiles of the crafty Gold Brick operators.
First we will show why Blackmore appealed so strongly to Thompson and Long, two noted confidence men, that he was chosen as the most likely subject for their purpose in the town in which he resided. The reader will see that the avaricious and dishonestly inclined are the ones more easily ensnared. This is quite natural, as they are familiar with conniving and deceit; therefore the proposition of the confidence man hits the bull’s eye in their responsive nature. The honest man, unless he be in sorry straits financially, will refuse with disdain any opportunity to make money in any dishonorable way, even if assured that there will be no publicity; while another with perverted ideas of honesty will grasp the opportunity presented. He is more familiar with deceit and has confidence in his ability to succeed in that which favors his natural inclinations.
Blackmore was wealthy. In addition to being interested in several large business enterprises, he owned a number of houses which he rented. His income from his numerous interests was large and should not only have satisfied, but should have put him in a position to have been far beyond the reach of the temptation of Thompson and Long.
Blackmore was of the scheming nature described above, the only shrine at which he worshiped was that of Mammon. Gold was the only God that he acknowledged; and his one ambition was to add to his already great wealth. It was Blackmore’s widely known avidious reputation that attracted the attention of Thompson and Long. They were certain that he would accept any proposition to acquire wealth, where the only investment demanded of him would be the sacrifice of his conscientious scruples. This to a man of Blackmore’s caliber, void of any principle, meant absolutely nothing to be involved in the deal.
Having selected Blackmore as a victim, Thompson and Long proceeded to lay their plans to separate Blackmore from some of his surplus wealth.
The result of their planning was that one sultry afternoon, as Blackmore was returning from collecting the rent from a number of his tenants, he was met by two men on horseback who were leading a pack animal; both men and horses showed marks of travel and had evidently traveled a long distance. One of the men accosted Blackmore and inquired if there was a small furnished house, with a barn in connection, that could be rented. Blackmore having such a place on the outskirts of the city, informed them of the fact and entered into negotiations with them. The result was that they secured the place and paid him for one month’s rent in advance.
Thompson was the man that made the deal, explaining that his partner, Long, was a very sick man and wanted to get into a house so that he could rest and have medical attention.
They had occupied the house about one month, during which time Blackmore met Thompson frequently, but never saw Long. Upon inquiring from Thompson, he was informed that Long was a very sick man and seemed to be getting worse; in fact, he had left a hospital in Nevada before he had fully recovered from an attack of pneumonia, and the exposure during the journey had resulted in the present relapse, which promised to end fatally.
Blackmore had not seen Thompson for several days and as the rent was overdue, he called at the house to collect it. Upon entering he found Long in bed and alone. Long informed him that Thompson was out of town for a few days, and that the attendant that was taking care of Long during Thompson’s absence had been given permission to go away for a few hours. Long’s apparent illness did not deter Blackmore from stating his errand. He told Long that he had called for the rent, which should have been paid the day before. Long told him that he was sorry, but as he had no money in the house, it could not be settled until the return of Thompson, which would be in a few days. Blackmore told him that he did not do business in that way; it was the money or the house with him, and that he could not wait.
Long replied, "If that is the case, although I have no money in the house, I have its equivalent; in fact, I have a small quantity of gold dust, but being unable to go out, I have no means of weighing it, but if you will, you can take it and have it weighed and deduct what is due you from the proceeds, then return the balance to me." This being agreeable to Blackmore, Long handed him a key and requested Blackmore to open a trunk that was at the foot of the bed and take out a small buckskin sack that he would find there. Blackmore complied, but in searching for the sack, he was amazed to discover, partly exposed, what appeared to be a large bar of gold, weighing about one hundred pounds troy. He did not betray any signs of having discovered the valuable contents of the trunk other than changing his attitude toward the sick man. The man with a fortune in his trunk was of more importance to him than the man who could not pay his rent.
After receiving the sack from Blackmore, Long removed several small articles before he finally took out a small parcel tied up in brown paper. This parcel contained about two ounces of fine gold; this he gave to Blackmore with the request that he have it weighed and exchanged for cash, after which he could deduct the amount due him for rent and return the balance to Long on the following day.
Blackmore, with servile politeness, said that he would be pleased to accommodate him and left in order to execute his commission. The next day when he called to give Long the receipt for the rent and the balance due him from the sale of the gold, he found Long apparently much weaker than on the previous day. He was gasping for breath and seemingly in great pain. He motioned to the attendant to give him some medicine that was on a table near the bed. The medicine seemed to greatly revive him, but he imploringly asked Blackmore to remain with him, as he realized that he had but a short time to live and might not last until the return of Thompson.
After lying in a seeming stupor for about fifteen minutes he seemed to regain strength enough to motion for Blackmore to come to the bedside, which he did. Long, in a faint, gasping voice, told him that before he died he had a confession to make, and also wanted to make restitution to one that he felt that he had wronged. Long now dismissed the attendant, telling him that he need not return for two hours.
After the attendant had left, Long asked Blackmore if he could be trusted with a criminal confession and the custody of a fortune. The thought of wealth to be placed in his keeping caused Blackmore to eagerly promise anything that the sick man might ask.
After receiving Blackmore’s promise to do anything in his power to relieve his mental worry, Long told him that in order to justify his action in the terrible events that he wanted to speak of, he would have to go into details and would consume considerable time in explaining how he came into possession of the wealth that belonged to another party.
Blackmore told him to spare no details, as he would have to hear the full story in order to be able to do his duty to the commission he was about to be entrusted with.
Long began his confession by telling Blackmore that he and two other men, named Allen and Snow, respectively, had been employed as miners in Nevada. "There was a very rich vein of free gold in the mine in which we worked; this aroused our cupidity and we entered into a conspiracy and formed a partnership for stealing this rich ore by what is called ‘high grading.’ This is accomplished in various ways. The miners when leaving the mine have to exchange their digging clothes for their every-day clothes, also to submit to a thorough searching before leaving the mine; this is all done in what is called ‘the changing room.’ In spite of all these precautions the miners succeed in carrying considerable gold from the mine. This is accomplished by secreting the gold in small holes bored in their candle-sticks, or by having double bottoms or sides in their dinner buckets, enabling them to secrete the gold in the space between. Sometimes they would put gold nuggets in the last car of waste that would leave the mine previous to their going off shift; this would be thrown over the dump and the miners would sort out the nugget later. The best results were obtained by having the mine blacksmith in with the conspirators. He would hollow out the steels, such as gads, drills, scrapers and picks; these tools he would send down into the mine at certain times agreed upon; the miners would dull the tools and fill the hollows with ‘high grades,’ then return the tools to be sharpened. The blacksmith would then take out the gold at his earliest opportunity and re-sharpen the tools and the operation would be repeated.
"While my partners and I did not use the blacksmith in our operations, we managed to average about two hundred and fifty dollars a day between us. Of course the gold was not entirely pure, but contained some quartz.
"The partnership had existed about six weeks when I was seriously injured by a premature blast. At the hospital it was discovered that in addition to a fractured arm and rib, I had sustained internal injuries from which it was doubtful that I would recover.
"About six weeks after, while I was convalescing, Allen, who had called quite often to see how I was progressing, told me that inasmuch as I was unable to assist in the high grading, he and Snow had decided that it was only fair that our partnership should end, and that I could only expect a share of the gold smuggled out of the mine up until the time of the accident. I protested against this, but as I was in such a feeble condition, I had to appear to agree, but made up my mind that if I recovered, I would try and recover that which I thought was justly my due.
"Shortly after this conversation with Allen, I became acquainted with Mr. Thompson, who was in the hospital convalescing from a pistol wound that he said he had received in a friendly game of poker, in which he had been accused of doing something a little irregularsimply holding six cards. He had an extra card in his hand that he had absentmindedly taken from his sleeve and had failed to discard one from his hand. Without giving him a chance to remedy this little oversight, an ill and hasty-tempered individual protested against this monopoly of cards on the part of Thompson, and emphasized his objection by playfully trying to shoot the cards out of his hands. At least, that is what he supposed that he was trying to do, for he shot six times, but he said that he never saw such a poor marksman, for after the first shot, Thompson sprang from the table and made a bee-line for the door, holding both hands above his head; one of them still retained the cards. The poor shot came closer to his head than his hands and one of the shots took effect in his shoulder.
"As we became more intimate and I was gaining strength so slowly, I was unable to watch the movements of my former associates, so I decided to make a confidant of Thompson and obtain his assistance. I told him of what I called my unjust treatment and of my desire to get even. In exchange for his co-operation I agreed to divide equally with him what gold we might obtain in trying to get possession of my share. I now told Thompson that in order to watch the movements of Allen and Snow, he would have to obtain employment in the same mine that they were working in.
"Thompson secured a position in the mine and after he had been working about three months he reported to me that Allen and Snow had drawn their time and were preparing to leave the camp. Although I was not supposed to leave the hospital for two weeks more, I put aside all fear of ill results when I heard of this proposed flight.
"I had Thompson buy two good saddle horses, with all equipment for a long chase, part of the outfit consisted of two guns, which I thought would be of use in our efforts to adjust matters. Thompson, by spying, had discovered that Allen and Snow were separating the quartz from the gold in the stolen ore and were making the gold into one large bar.
"He also discovered that they had purchased two saddle horses and one pack animal for their journey, instead of leaving on the regular stage; their intention was to go to Las Vegas and to take the train from there.
"I did not deem it advisable to let them know that I had left the hospital, so had kept myself in seclusion while Thompson was picking up the information. It was on the third day after I had left the hospital that Thompson, in his reconnaissance, saw considerable activity in the Allen camp; they had evidently completed the conversion of the gold into a solid bar and were preparing to leave. We made hasty preparation for the chase and when they left the camp we were not far behind. I was perfectly familiar with the country through which they would have to pass and made my plans accordingly. With the aid of a powerful field glass we were enabled to keep our quarry in sight and still keep a long distance in the rear.
"It was on the second night out, and one day’s journey from Las Vegas, when Allen and Snow arrived at the last watering place that they would pass before arriving at Las Vegas. After they had made their camp for the night, and sufficient time had elapsed for them to have gone to sleep, we carefully approached their camp and judging from the tranquil appearance of the camp, we decided that the time for decisive action had arrived and we crept quietly to the side of the sleeping men. I immediately covered them both, with a revolver in each hand, while Thompson, holding a revolver in one hand, proceeded to remove the guns from beside the sleeping men. After accomplishing this he reached under the saddle that served Allen for a pillow and without awakening him, withdrew what he supposed to be the treasure sack. Upon examination his judgment was verified, so after removing the gold and guns to a distance, I called loudly to awaken Allen and Snow and told them to get up and to throw up their hands. The men, thus rudely awakened, reached for the place where they had laid their guns, but not finding them and noticing the belligerent attitude of Thompson and myself, they complied with my demand without further hesitation; ordering them to stand a few feet away from the bed I proceeded to tie them hand and foot, while Thompson kept them covered with his gun.
"The water which made this place the only camping ground where passing teamsters could stop, flowed from an old, abandoned tunnel near the road. Thompson and I carried the men into this tunnel. I proceeded to tell them that I was sorry that I was compelled to take such drastic measures to secure my share, as per our agreement, but that it was not my intention to rob them, as they had tried to do to me; but as they had acted so unfairly in the past, I was going to take charge of the company’s affairs and divide as we had formerly agreed; but through their greed they had added an extra expense, for in order to properly adjust matters, I had been compelled to add another member to the firm, in the person of Mr. Thompson.
"Their action in converting the gold into one solid bar would cause a delay in the settlement, for I would have to take the bar and sell it, after which I would deposit their share in a bank, the name and location of which I would inform them by letter which I would address to them at Las Vegas. I also told them that I was not putting my proposition before them with the expectation of their advice, for I was the sole arbitrator, but I wished them to know that it was through their cupidity that I was acting in this manner.
"I then told them that we proposed to leave them securely bound so that they could not escape and interfere with our plans, but we would leave food and water within reach; this would enable them to exist until they were liberated by passing teamsters, who were sure to pass in the next two or three days. As we proposed to leave at daylight, this would give us plenty of time to execute our plans.
"Thompson went to attend to all of the horses and I carried the belongings of Allen and Snow into the tunnel, after which I started to prepare us something to eat, for we had not eaten since noon and it was now ten o’clock.
"An hour later Thompson had not returned, for Allen and Snow had not staked their horses, but hobbled them, and in their browsing they had wandered a long distance from the camp, which caused Thompson to be a long time in catching them. I had supper ready and was stooping to get a cup of water, when I heard a shot and a bullet whizzed past my head. Drawing my gun, I whirled around and saw Allen and Snow rushing toward me. I fired at the foremost man, which was Allen, who fell to the ground. Snow immediately returned my shot, but missed. I fired and killed him instantly. Allen was not dead, but was groaning and gasping for breath. Upon examining the wound I found that the bullet had entered his left breast and passed through the body, coming out below the left shoulder. It was plainly to be seen that he had but a few minutes to five. I gave him some brandy from a flask that I had in my pocket; it revived him for a few minutes and he was able to speak. He said that he did not blame me for what I had done, but realized that he would not last long, but’ made me promise that after I had sold the gold I would send or take his share to his daughter, who was so soon to become an orphan. His daughter, Lily, was fourteen years of age, and lived in a village called Tayson, N. J., in care of a family named Barnes. I had no sooner given the promise than I heard the rumbling of a wagon, seemingly quite a distance away.
"I knew that it would not do for me to be caught in such a suspicious position, so I was relieved to see Thompson return at this time. We hastily threw the meal that I had cooked into a sack and while I was saddling the horses, Thompson went after the pack horse that had belonged to Allen and Snow. It was staked nearby and when he returned we immediately loaded it with the precious contents of the sack, which we had secured at such an enormous sacrifice. We hid the bodies further back in the tunnel, where they would be less likely to be found at once. All being in readiness, we immediately started on our flight.
"We avoided Las Vegas, for we knew that if the killing was discovered, we would be in danger of arrest. By taking a circuitous route, it was some time before we reached the borders of Arizona.
"From papers we had seen on the way, we saw an account of the discovery of the bodies and knew of the search that was being made in trying to apprehend the supposed murderers. These reports caused us to be afraid of trying to dispose of the gold; and as we knew that the trains would be closely watched, we did not care to take any chance by riding on them. We traveled on horseback, trading our horses from time to time, thus obtaining fresh mounts; but in traveling in this manner our progress was slow and we had been on the road three months when we rented this house from you.
"What with leaving the hospital too soon and the worry and fatigue of the trip, I was completely worn out and it was in the hope of regaining strength that we stopped here, for I was anxious to sell the gold and fulfill my promise to the dying Allen. I am now convinced that my hours are numbered and I would like to see my promise fulfilled before I die."
The relating of this long story had fatigued Long, but after a short rest he proposed that Blackmore bore into the bar and secure a sample of the gold, also to have the sample assayed to ascertain the value, and weigh the bar and sell it for what it was worth. He then requested that after selling the gold, Blackmore would send half of the value to Allen’s daughter Lily, less two thousand dollars, which he might keep for his trouble in the matter, and give the other half to Thompson. Long said that he had not spoken to his partner about this plan, but he was sure that Thompson would have no objection. He asked Blackmore to bring tools for filing or boring the gold, also scales with which to weigh the bar. As his condition was so low Long requested him to be sure and come the following evening, when Thompson would be sure to be there.
Blackmore, seeing the certainty of making two thousand dollars, and with everything in his own hands, no doubt expected to make more, so he readily agreed to do as Long requested. He was at the cottage shortly after dark and brought the tools and scales in a light wagon.
In the meantime, Thompson had arrived; he told Blackmore that the arrangement was satisfactory to him. Long seemed much weaker than on the previous day, and was anxious to have everything completed as soon as possible, so without further delay the gold was produced and Blackmore was told to bore into different places; also to use his own judgment as to where he took the samples from. The metal that came from the borings was caught on a piece of paper that was spread for the purpose. Blackmore bored six holes, after which Thompson held a small sack into which they poured the filings.
Just as they had poured in the last of the samples, Long gave a faint shriek and began to clutch at his throat. Blackmore turned quickly toward the bed; as he did so Thompson instantly substituted another sack of the same appearance as the one that Blackmore had just filled. The sack that Thompson had substituted contained the same amount of gold dust that the former did of filings from the bar. Concealing in his hand the sack that he had abstracted, Thompson rushed to the table and proceeded to pour some medicine from a bottle that was on the table; this he gave to Long, who seemed to derive immediate benefit from it. While he was giving the medicine to Long, Thompson pointed to the sack and told Blackmore to put it in his pocket.
Blackmore did so and when Long, seemingly much benefited by the medicine, was resting quietly, Blackmore weighed the bar of gold. It weighed one hundred and eight pounds troy.
Blackmore now departed, promising to return as soon as he had ascertained the value of the gold.
It was two days before he accomplished this. When he called to state the result of his investigation, Long told him that Thompson had just stepped out. Blackmore told Long that he had received returns from the assayer and seemed to be greatly excited and anxious to know how soon Thompson would return. A few minutes later Thompson returned and he seemed to be greatly excited. He called Blackmore to one side and took a paper from his pocket that he said he had just removed from a prominent place in the city. This notice was a reward of two hundred and fifty dollars for information that would lead to the arrest and conviction of the parties that had murdered the men found in the tunnel in Nevada.
Blackmore now told Thompson that he also had seen a notice like it, but had been afraid to tell Long about it. Thompson told Blackmore that although he had not been implicated in the murders, he was afraid of being arrested and that he would be willing to sacrifice a large portion of his share of the gold if he could get cash for the balance, for he would then be able to leave the country and have enough to start him in business in some place where he was not known. He would be willing to take ten thousand dollars, if he could get it at once in cash; and as Long could not live more than a day or two, it would be useless to inform him that the crime was known in the city.
If Blackmore would buy his equity in the bar, he would depart at once. After which Blackmore could arrange matters to suit Long. Blackmore had discovered that the bar was worth about thirty-five thousand dollars, and as matters had now adjusted themselves, he would only have to pay the ten thousand dollars that he was to pay Thompson.
He accepted Thompson’s offer, knowing that Long was in no position to protect his own interest; and as the gold bar was to be in his possession, he felt safe in promising to obtain the money that night.
Blackmore now departed, but soon returned with the cash, as Thompson said that he could not use a check. Thompson then told Long that he had just heard from his home, that his mother was very ill and that if he wished to see her alive he would have to go at once; being that he could be of no use and could do no good by staying, he would start at once. The kind Mr. Blackmore would look after Long and also see that the money was sent to Lily.
Long said that he would have liked Thompson to have stayed with him until the end, but it would be selfish on his part to keep him away from his dying mother. Having perfect confidence in Mr. Blackmore, he consented to Thompson’s departure.
It was not long before Thompson left, but before leaving he hunted up the attendant that had been looking after Long and left Long in his charge.
Blackmore now put the bar of gold in his wagon and drove away, promising to call the next morning and draw up the papers regarding the transfer, also to attend to the forwarding of the money to Lily Allen.
Shortly after his departure, Long dismissed his attendant, telling him that as he was feeling so much better, he would not need him. The man had barely departed, when Long suddenly recovered from his feigned sickness, saddled his horse and joined his partner at a place previously agreed on, a few miles out of town.
The next day Blackmore discovered the fraud that had been perpetrated upon him. The supposed gold bar was nothing but a bar of copper, instead of his dream of additional wealth being realized, his bank account had depreciated to the tune of ten thousand dollars, for when he tried to dispose of the gold his vision of wealth was dispelled when the assayer informed him of the worthlessness of his purchase.
This discovery came too late for him to recover his money, for the perpetrators of the fraud were beyond his reach.
Blackmore was another added to the list of victims that had been swindled by the Gold Brick Game.
Reader, although the loser in this particular case had been selected on account of his being specially endowed with the traits of character best suited for the purpose of the bunco men, others of more honorable and less grasping nature are very liable to be caught in a trap that is so carefully and cunningly baited.
Note the consummate acting, the cleverness displayed by the confidence men; the elaborate detail of their story, with just enough romance to attract and hold the attention of the prospective victim; their ingenuity in forming his acquaintance, even to renting his house and delaying the payment of the rent so as to introduce the gold to his notice and arouse his cupidity; the ruse employed to enable Thompson to substitute the genuine gold for the copper filings; the notice of reward, posted by the conspirator himself, to furnish an excuse for a sudden flight, no little detail necessary to their ultimate success being overlooked;all requiring a superior quality of intellect and perseverance that, if applied to legitimate channels, would place the possessor of these attainments on the highest pinnacle of social and financial success; but by wasting their talents in acquiring money in such an underhanded way is productive of nothing but ultimate ruin and disgrace. When the average man is pitted against men of this mental caliber, it is not surprising that so many are Bo easily swindled. After reading this expose, the reader should be able to not only protect himself, but to save others who might be tempted to enter into any of the many "Gold Brick Schemes."
– Goldbricking, World Wide Words>>
– The destruction of Mephisto’s greatest web: or, All grafts laid bare; being a complete exposure of all gambling, graft and confidence games, with stories illustrating the methods employed by the different "operators" by James Henry Keate, Google Books>>
– Gold bar image, Goldberg Auctions>>