Jewel Thieves in the Big Stores: 1895



Women Are as Bad as Men, Though They Don’t Put Up Such Large Jobs– The Diamond Customer Who Rode In a Private Carriage and Was an Elegant Man.

“All through December we employ detectives,” said the manager of one of the largest jewelry stores in Broadway. “One of these detectives stands by the door. There is always something about his dress and general demeanor which tells his calling, so the professional shoplifters give us a wide berth. Amateurs there are who try to get away with goods, but usually they are easily scared and replace the missing articles at once when they are made aware that their movements have been watched. When a piece of jewelry is missed under circumstances which indicate that it has been stolen, a detective saunters up to the customer suspected and pretends to search for the missing ring or chain or bracelet, whatever it may be. ‘It was here a moment ago, madam,’ he says. ‘It must have caught in your dress or in the lace on your sleeve. Please look and see.’ Then he moves away, and, as a rule, the woman produces the piece of jewelry, expressing surprise that it should have been found about her. Occasionally, however, the suspected person denies all knowledge as to the whereabouts of the lost article. In this case, if the facts warrant it, a bill for the full value of the jewel is  presented to her, and the choice of paying the bill or producing the stolon goods is offered.

“Lots of small things are stolen in the holiday season,” continued the manager. “These are hatpins and other little trinkets, worth a dollar or two, sometimes only 50 cents They are too insignificant for us to bother about. Were we to raise an alarm or say much about such petty thefts it would probably cause us to lose the sale of goods worth hundreds of dollars. ‘I had such a fright at such and such a store the other day,’ one woman would say to another. ‘They accused such a nice looking lady of stealing, and I believe she was perfectly innocent,’ and neither of those women would come into the store again. When the detective sees these hatpin and scarfpin lunatics, he intimates to them in a quiet way that the house does not want their custom, and they take the hint and depart. No attempt is ever made to recover the small articles.”

“The sharpers who play for big stakes resort to all sorts of ingenious devices to get possession of the goods.” said the manager of another large business house. One evening a gentleman of fine appearance entered the store. He had driven up in a private carriage, with a coachman in livery. He looked at diamond necklaces and earrings, examined them closely, called for a magnifying glass to look at the stones and was very particular as to his selection. Finally he picked out the particular diamonds he wanted and ordered them sent to his hotel, where he would give a check for them. He was an elegant looking man of fine address and bearing, but the fact that he gave us no references, made so few inquiries about the stones he bought and so quickly made a selection in a matter that most men would take a day or two to deliberate about made me suspicious. I determined to take those diamonds myself to the hotel. The gentleman received me in a sumptuously furnished apartment, and his manner was courtesy itself as he asked me to be seated

“’My wife is in the next room,’ he said, ‘I want to give her a little surprise Excuse me while I take the diamonds into her. I’ll only keep you waiting a few minutes.’

“‘My instructions are that the diamonds are not to go out of my hands until they are paid for,’ I replied.

“‘Oh! Very well, then,’ he said carelessly. ‘I’ll put them in that drawer there, lock the drawer and give you the key while I go into the other room for the check.’

“‘I cannot let the diamonds go out of my hands,’ I replied again. He looked somewhat disconcerted at this, and then his manner changed abruptly, and all his suavity deserted him.

“‘I’ll lock them In that drawer and give you the key, whether you like it or not,’ he said angrily. ‘I am accustomed to having my own way.’

I had a loaded pistol with me, and in a second I had it leveled at him, warning him that any more talk like that or any attempt to touch the diamonds would fix him so that he wouldn’t ever see his wife again.

“‘You’ve got a thief in room No. so and so,’ I said to the hotel clerk a few minutes later, and I related what had occurred. He was slow to believe me, because the man had given them a big draft on a Denver house, and they had let him have $600 or $700 on it. I went with him up to the room, and even in that brief time the rascal had disappeared. It turned out that he had no wife with him at all. I examined the bureau in which he was so anxious that I should deposit the diamonds and found that he had made a hole in the wall against which the bureau stood and a corresponding hole in the back of the drawer. As the bureau was placed against the wall which separated the two rooms he occupied, it would have been easy for him to get the diamonds into the other room while I held the key to the drawer in my hand. The full value of the diamonds he had selected was nearly $8,000.”

“We were unwittingly the participators in a peculiar transaction just a few weeks ago,” the manager continued. “A man selected jewelry to the amount of $150 and gave us a certificate of deposit on a certain bank in payment. The money was in reality deposited in that bank, but the man who bought the jewelry had forged some one else’s name on the certificate. His method of procedure was unique. He advertised for a young man to do his collecting. He informed the young fellow who answered the advertisement that he must deposit $150 in the bank as security, and give him the certificate of deposit. ‘You won’t lose the money,’ he told the young man. ‘It will be right there in the bank for you unless you do something crooked. I only require this of you to protect myself.’ He then forged the young fellow’s name, got the jewelry with that certificate.


“Women who have things sent C.O.D. and then try to outwit the messenger are among the swindlers we have to look out for,” the superintendent of another jewelry house told the reporter. “Women travel all about and are constantly meeting other women on cars and steamboats to whom they take a fancy and with whom they strike up an acquaintance and exchange  cards. For convenience we will say that Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Jones met in this way. Mrs. Jones has a handsome home. Mrs. Jones arranges to call on Mrs. Brown at a stated hour on a certain day. Mrs. Jones selects some particularly choice piece of jewelry at our store, something with rubies or diamonds in it (rubies, you know are worth just what you choose to ask for them now, they are so scarce.) She tells us to send the package C.O.D. to Mrs. Brown’s address, on such and such a street. She orders it sent within an hour or so; and she will have a check made out.

“Mrs. Brown being well known, it seems likely that her guests would buy such things. Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Jones sit chatting in the parlor. Mrs. Jones is notified that a boy wishes to see her, and the boy is invited into another apartment where the business may be transacted. Mrs. Jones takes the package, asks the boy to wait a moment while she goes into the next room for the money, check, or whatever it is, closes the door of the parlor where the boy sits, and quietly walks out of the street door. The boy, becoming impatient, asks for the lady. Mrs. Brown discovers that her new friend is nowhere to be found. She tells the boy that Mrs. Jones does not live there, but was only calling. The boy in consternation goes back to the store, and Mrs. Jones goes on her way rejoicing and looking out for the next richly dressed, amiable woman she may meet who seems likely to possess a handsome home in a high-priced neighborhood, and who will invite her to call.”

Not long ago, a well-dressed, rather distinguished looking woman of middle age selected some diamonds at a store on Broadway. She had about three pieces of jewelry laid aside, worth in all about $1,500.

“I wish you to send these C.O.D. when I notify you,” she said. “My husband is a very peculiar man. If he happens to be in the right frame of mind he’ll give me anything I ask for, but if he isn’t in a good humor I can do nothing with him. I will notify you just when to send these things and you must send them immediately.”

She said she was the wife of a physician in New York, a man noted for his skillful treatment of insanity and kindred maladies. The firm was tolerably well acquainted with this physician, and when the lady gave notice a clerk was sent up


“Have each parcel settled for first before you hand out the next,” the clerk was instructed; and it was well that this warning was given. When the young man reached the house the lady greeted him kindly, and without asking to look at the diamonds herself went into the next room for her husband. The clerk recognized the doctor at once, having often seen him in the store.

“How do you feel?” asked the doctor.

“Oh, pretty well. I’ve brought up the diamonds,” said the young man, and he handed out the smallest package for the doctor’s inspection.

Instead of opening it, the doctor placed it on the table and invited the young man to come into the next room. The wife had not again appeared, and, thinking the doctor was about to make out the check the clerk followed him into an adjoining apartment. Instead of proceeding to business, the doctor asked the young man again how he was, saying that he didn’t look very well.

“I’m much obliged, doctor, for your interest,” said the clerk, “but I’m in a great hurry to get back to the store, and I wish you would make out the check and see if these other diamonds suit you.

“Take your time, take things easy,” said the doctor. “I’ll fix that all right presently. Don’t you ever have any pains in your head about here?” and the physician began to feel about the young man’s temples and seemed to have forgotten altogether about the errand that brought him there.

“I never felt better in my life, doctor,” declared the clerk, “and you really ought not to fool away my time this way. I’ve got to get back to the store. Are you going to take the diamonds or not?”
“Never mind about the diamonds,” said the doctor, soothingly; “they’ll be all right. Do you have any pain or dullness in the back of your head?”

“No,” said the young man impatiently, thinking that the doctor must be a little unbalanced in his mind. “I never have any pain anywhere. Are you going to buy the diamonds or not? I can’t stay here any longer,” and he rose to leave the room.

“Tell me,” said the physician, “what store you are talking about? Have you any credentials to prove whom you are working for?”


Completely bewildered, took letters out of his pockets to prove his identity, and then remembered the package of jewelry on the table in the other room.
“The diamonds you wife ordered!” he gasped.

“My wife!” exclaimed the physician in amazement. “I am not a married man. Where is your mother?” the doctor continued, as they returned to the parlor.

“My mother is in Philadelphia,” replied the clerk. “Do you know my mother?”

“My God!” exclaimed the older man, “we’ve both been fooled. I thought that woman was your mother. She came here yesterday and told me she had a son who was fast getting insane; that one of his hallucinations was that he was selling diamonds. She seemed greatly distressed and begged that I should do all that I could for you. She said that no one would take you to be demented at first glance.

The woman had made off with the package on the table, and but for the clerk’s precautions would have got the whole $1,500 worth of jewelry.

One evening when the detective, who stood near the door of a store, had gone to dinner, a young man, not more than 23 or 24 years old, entered a jewelry store and asked for diamond rings. He seemed to admire them greatly, and as he picked them up one by one he slipped them on his finger. He had seven valuable rings on when, like a flash, he bolted for the door. He nearly knocked down a customer who was just coming in and jolted against several people who ere all too much astonished to stop him. Two of the clerks ran after him. It was holiday time, the streets were crowded, and he did not get very far before he was captured. There was not a single ring on his finger, but after searching in his pockets the policeman thought to turn his umbrella upside down and out rolled the rings.

“Ain’t they beauties?” the thief remarked as they fell on the pavement. A plea of insanity was urged for this wholesale robber and so many warm friends came to plead for him that the firm did not prosecute him. Another night a young man selected a handsome ring in the same store. Just as he had picked it out the door was suddenly thrown open, and someone screamed as if the building was on fire. The ruse was successful. In the moment that the clerk who was waiting on the young man locked away toward the door the customer bolted and was never seen again, the crowd that had collected favoring his escape with his valuable prize.

The Enquirer [Cincinnati OH] 26 January 1895: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is always intrigued by the ruses adopted by thieves and confidence-tricksters.

She will add one more trick to the choice selection above.

Paris jewelers have been duped by thieves who kept watch on the windows of the chief stores and made paste gems to imitate those displayed. Then on a given day members of the gang visited the different stores, made small purchases, looked at the jewelry displayed in the windows, but declined to buy on account of the high price. The jewelry they looked at, however, went with them and the jeweler calmly restored the substituted bogus gems to his window, all unconscious of the deception.

The Macon [MS] Beacon 16 August 1890: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s