STRANGE WAYS OF MAKING MONEY.
A Thousand Ways to Make a Living—The Humbug of Great Names—The Mania for Old and Rare Things—The “Relic” Manufacture—The “Imitation Enterprise”—The “Box Office” Clique—The “Cure” Fad—The “Fake” News Agency—The Museum “Freak”—The “Treasure” Excitements—The “Literary” Bureau—The “Watered” Stock.
There are ways of making money that lie so far out of the ordinary channels as to warrant this chapter. Some of them are only strange because they are new, as the telephone and the wood pulp were strange a generation ago. Others, being decidedly odd in themselves, will doubtless always be pursued only by a few, and considered by the many to be curious ways of making a living.
Success is easy when once you succeed. This is the case with goods which have achieved a name. Frequently the founder of the name is bankrupt, retired or dead; but the goods continue to be manufactured and sold under the original trade-mark. Countless thousands of dollars are paid every year for shoes, hats, hardware, groceries, and innumerable other articles, at rates above the average price when the goods are not a farthing better. The deluded buyers are simply paying for a name.
Others have a mania for the collection of all kinds of bric-à-brac—old coins and rare books are seized and hoarded as eagerly as if made of gold. This mania is harmless in itself, and gives its possessors no doubt much pleasure, but they are made the prey of Shylocks who carry on a regular trade of manufacturing “old” articles.
So also with the “relic” craze. There are actually manufactories where relics are made. Conscienceless persons take advantage of the curiosity and piety of travelers to palm off all sorts of “relics” upon them at preposterous prices.
Then there are the limitless imitations that are on the market. Some of them, such as patent medicines, brands of groceries, oleomargarine, etc., are imitations pure and simple; others are adulterations with more or less of the genuine. So vast and profitable are these methods of deception that the government has been compelled to interfere to protect its citizens from fraud.
The box-office clique is only a less pernicious, but equally barefaced, means of getting money. When a Bernhardt or an Irving is to perform, an announcement is made that the box-office will be open at 9 o’clock on a certain morning, as early as 10, or even 6, on the previous evening you will see a solitary man wend his way to the theater and silently square his back against the door. In time he is followed by another, and yet another, so that by midnight perhaps a dozen or twenty of these grim-faced men are lined against the wall. Not one of them has the slightest idea of seeing the play. It is simply their way of earning a living. For the next morning they will sell their places in line to the highest bidders.
Of the “cure” faddists there number is legion. We do not mean the makers of patent medicines, of which we have treated elsewhere, but the men who profess to believe they have some unique and original way of ridding mankind of evil. Thus we have the gold cure, the barefoot cure, the mind cure, the faith cure, the cold water cure, and the hot water cure—in fact the whole great family of ’pathies. Many of these curists no doubt are sincere, but whether so or not, they have reaped large sums of money.
Equally industrious is the “fake” news agency. There are agencies that manufacture news to order. Papers, they reason, must have news. If there is any subject concerning which the public is eager to read, and for any reason the reporters cannot give the facts, the “fake” news agency is a welcome resort. These bogus news agents are paid a certain amount a “stick” for their false news.
Museum “freaks” too, are manufactured to order, and sometimes are made beforehand in anticipation of a market.
“Treasure” enthusiasts are not quite as common now as formerly, and yet the hot Klondike fever is but a “Kid’s, Buried Treasure” under another name, and on a mammoth scale. Of the 100 who attempt to get to Dawson City, seventy-five will reach the place, fifty will earn a bare living under all manner of hardships; twenty-five will make about the same as if they had stayed at home; ten will bring back a $100 worth of dust; three will do tolerably well, and one will get rich.
The “literary bureau” is a more ingenious means to make a living. A set of bright young men advertise that for a “consideration” they will send a sermon, lecture, address, or after-dinner speech, to any person who may suddenly find himself called upon when unprepared.
Of the “watered” stock and other incorporated swindles, almost every investor has purchased his experience at a dear rate. This is a method of increasing one’s capital stock in a company without the contribution of any new funds, and it is one of the most common of frauds.
These are but a few of the many curious and ingenious ways by which people attempt to make a living. In many cases, especially the last-named, there is no doubt that the promoters of these enterprises often do get rich at the expense of the public.
Other strange ways of making a living are the catching of butterflies or canary birds at a penny apiece, and the sifting of ashes and collecting of cinders. In London sand is sold on the street for scouring and as gravel for birds. Then there is “the curiosity shop.” In Genoa, there are marriage brokers who have a list of names of marriageable girls, divided into different classes, with an account of the fortunes, personal attraction, etc., of each. They charge two to three per cent. commission on a contract. In Munich there are female bill posters, and in Paris there are women who make a living by letting out chairs on the street. Also, in the same city, men are hired to cry the rate of exchange. Then there are the men who gather old clothes, and the street sweepers. There are 6,000 rag gatherers in Paris. Then there are the refuse cleaners, and the glass-eye makers, the latter furnishing you with a crystal eyeball at rates from $10 to $20 when the physicians and oculists charge $60 or $70 for similar services. Then there are postage stamp gatherers and chair menders. In fact the ways of making a living are legion. We formulate a few of the best of this class:
- Experts.—There are many kinds—accountant, color, handwriting, etc. Any one who confines his life-work to a very small and special field can command a large price for his services. Experts often receive $10 a day.
- Detectives.—Besides the men in the employ of the United States and local authorities, there are many who work in private agencies. The pay depends upon the nature of the work and the wealth of the employers. In celebrated cases where suspected parties had to be shadowed for months, a detective has received as much as $5,000.
- Traveling Poets.—Since the days of Wesley, the traveling preacher has been a familiar figure, but who since the time of Homer has seen a traveling poet? yet one called on the author the other day. His patrons are chiefly obscure people who pay from $1 to $10 to have their history, home, achievements, or virtues lauded in verse. It is hardly necessary to say that the poems are not published, but kept as household treasures for coming grandchildren.
- Old Coins.—Some have found a profitable source of revenue in the hunting and hoarding of old coins. One numismatist recently sold a dollar coin of 1804 for $5,000.
- Purveyor of Personals.—A Russian named Romeitre started this enterprise in a small way. Now we have press-clipping bureaus so large as to employ seventy persons each. In some of these places from 5,000 to 7,000 papers are read every day, and the weekly clippings amount to more than 100,000. There are now press-clipping bureaus in nearly all of our large cities.
- Gold on Sea Bottom.—Another class of men make money out of other men’s misfortunes; that is, by, stripping wrecks of their valuables. Others secure the services of divers and search the bottom of the ocean, where vessels containing treasures are supposed to have gone down. A few years ago a company from England went with divers to a place near Bermuda, where a vessel had been sunk a long time before, and secured from the wreck the sum of $1,500,000.
- Rare Books.—The art of book collecting has been pursued with profit by some persons. It requires no capital, if one simply confines his efforts to book-stalls, though, if pursued on a large scale, money is required for advertising and correspondence. Mr. Charles B. Foote, of New York City, is a veteran bibliophile, and has made a specialty of first editions. Recently he made three auction sales of his stores, and realized more than $20,000, and his home is full of treasures.
- Old Italian Violins.—They sell at prices ranging from $500 to $5,000, when you can buy them at all, which is seldom, for they are mostly in the hands of wealthy collectors. Now we will let you into a great secret. It is not the kind of wood or the form of the instrument alone which produces the rare quality of sound, but it lies also in the kind of varnish used. By experimenting with varnish, you can produce a “Stradivarius,” which will sell for almost any amount you choose to ask.
- Magic Silk.—It seems like the trick of the magician to speak of turning cotton into silk, but it can actually be done, or at least cotton can be made to resemble silk, so that discrimination between the two fabrics is impossible. About fifty years ago, one Mercer, a French chemist, showed that cotton when subjected to the action of concentrated acid or alkalies, contracts and has a greater affinity for dyes, but it has only just been discovered that “mercerization” gives also a brilliant luster to the cotton. The cotton is stretched violently during the operation, and when an energetic rubbing is added to the tension the tissue receives a permanent luster. It thus replaces silk at a fraction of its cost, and offers a splendid chance for financial enterprise.
- The Gold Cure.—If the gold cure for which so much is claimed can really take away the appetite for liquor, there is an immense field for its exercise and room for the making of many fortunes in the cure of America’s drunkards. In the United States alone an exceedingly moderate estimate makes the number of this unfortunate class 1,600,000. At the very modest calculation that only one-tenth of these can be induced to try the cure, and if each case nets the proprietor of the institution only $25—and the estimate should probably be doubled and even trebled—there are $15,000,000 in it for the public benefactors who can thus curb the evil of dram-drinking.
- The Telephone Newspaper.—Here is an idea for newspaper men: In Budapest, Hungary, there is a telephone newspaper, the first and only one in the world. The main office is in telephone communication with the Reichstadt (corresponding to our Congress), and it often happens that important speeches are known to the public while the speaker is still addressing the house; the latest reports from stock exchanges as well as political news are heard before any paper has printed them, a short summary of all important items is given at noon and again in the evening; subscribers are entertained with music and literary articles in the evenings, the latter being often spoken into the telephone by the original authors. The cost is only two cents a day, and the company are said to be making money even at that figure.
- Race and Stock Tippers.—In addition to the regular brokers who supply tips to their customers, there is now a set of professional tippers who profess to have “inside information,” and make it a business to give tips to anybody who will pay for them. They receive in some cases a fixed sum from their patrons, and in other cases they take a liberal percentage of the profits.
- Promoters.—This, is a new vocation. The promoter “promotes” anything and everything that will pay. If you want to accomplish anything from the launching of a railroad enterprise to the selling of a penny patent, you pay the “promoter” a certain sum to do the work. He buys influence, lobbies legislators, controls newspapers and hypnotizes the public generally. Not all promoters come as high as Mr. Ernest Tooley, whose own price can be imagined when he claims to have paid $250,000 to English peers for their influence; yet we learn that the American Tin Plate Company gave the promoters of the Trust $10,000,000 in stock for their work.
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