Tag Archives: swindler

The Diamond Buckles: 1790s


George III shoe buckles in gold, paste, and enamel, c. 1780-5 http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20796/lot/67/

George III shoe buckles in gold, paste, and enamel, c. 1780-5 http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20796/lot/67/

The Diamond Buckles

There is a set of avaricious people who are easily duped : the allurements of gain blind them and lull their suspicions. M. Pasquier related the two following anecdotes:—the one occurred previously to our political troubles, the other more recently. [The second will appear in a subsequent post.]

“A rich but niggardly old banker had a pair of shoe-buckles worth a thousand louis. He frequently paid an economical visit to the pit of the opera, and, having selected a snug corner, he would seat himself with his back against the wall, to enjoy the master pieces of Gluck and Sacchini. One evening, during the performance of Œdipe à Colone , an elegantly dressed young man seated himself next to the banker, and entered into conversation with him. He suddenly stooped down, rested his foot on the seat before him, took the gold buckles from his shoes, and, having rolled them in a piece of paper, put them into his pocket. Observing that these movements excited some manifestation of surprise on the part of his neighbour, he said:

“‘You are no doubt astonished to see me take out my buckles, Sir, but you would do the same if you were forced to wear gold ones, in consequence of having been robbed as I have, of a pair of diamond buckles, worth six thousand livres.’

“‘How Sir! robbed do you say, of a pair of diamond buckles. Where?’

“‘Here, Sir, at the opera. Whilst all my senses were entranced by the strains of Gluck’s celestial music, some theives came and seated themselves near me for the purpose of concealing one of their companions, who stooped down and putting his hand under the seat, dexterously unfastened my buckles. Did you ever hear of such an artfully contrived theft?’

“‘Bless me, Sir, you alarm me, your buckles were worth six thousand livres. I would not give this pair, which I am wearing, for twenty-four thousand livres. You may therefore easily imagine that I should be very sorry to lose them. I had better take your precaution, and then I shall feel easy. “The worthy banker removed his splendid buckles from their place of safety, wrapped them in his handkerchief, and deposited them in his pocket. In ten minutes after, they again shifted their places, and the banker’s new acquaintance, whose companions were in possession of the booty, politely wished him a good evening. The rage and mortification of the unfortunate dupe may be easily conceived. He never again set eyes on his diamond buckles; and his only compensation, for the loss of them, was a dearly bought lesson of experience.”

Napoleon Memoirs, Étienne Léon Baron de Lamothe-Langon,  1837

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Shoe buckles, which held together the two closure flaps of an 18th century shoe, could be made in iron or steel, or in hallmarked silver or gold. They might be engraved, or cut in fancy designs, or set with jewels or paste. Paste was, of course, the more sensible option because shoe buckles often worked their way loose and were lost. Buckles set with real gemstones were the mark of parvenues and royalty. The imposture suggests the well-known pick-pockets’ stratagem of calling to a crowd, “Watch out for pick-pockets!” Each gentleman claps his hand over his wallet, thus alerting the thief as to its location.

The author of this item seems to have had a penchant for imposture. That historic person over at Haunted Ohio wrote a post on the “prophetic ghost” of the late King Louis XVI, which came from the pen of Étienne Léon Baron de Lamothe-Langon. One can do no better than quote her assessment of M. le Baron.

“I had better confess frankly that the problem with this story is that M. le Baron was, not to put too fine a point on it, a liar and forger of historic documents. His History of the Inquisition in France was written using (he said) previously untapped ecclesiastical archives at Toulouse–archives, which, as was discovered in the 20th century, never existed. He also created seemingly authentic books such as the memoirs of the Countess du Barry.”

Still, as the ingenious gentleman, who obviously knew a dupe when he saw one, has not asked us for any money “up front,” as the Americans say, one may still enjoy the anecdote and profit from its salutary lessons.

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 anecdotes

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.


The Woman in Black, the Conductor, and the Abandoned Infant: A Drama on Wheels 1870

train conductor

“Don’t forget your luggage–and babies!” cries the conductor.

A Woman Abandons her Infant on Board a Railway Train—the Conductor Procures her Arrest—How she Circumvented his Vigilance

Chicago Tribune 28th
On Friday last an episode of an irregular character occurred on a Michigan Southern Railroad train coming west, which furnished food of gossip and speculation among the passengers. There came aboard the train at Adrian a well-dressed, though modest little woman, bearing in her arms a cherub some three months of age. The woman, with her child took a seat in the ladies’ car. Soon the conductor came along to collect the fares. When he arrived at the seat occupied by the little woman, he appeared slightly confused, but regaining his equilibrium, asked to see her ticket. She replied that she was not possessed of the desired piece of pasteboard, neither had she the wherewith to purchase the article. Some conversation in a low tone then occurred between the conductor and is impecunious passenger, when he turned about and going to the gentlemen occupying the coach, told them that the woman was a deserving creature, who had met with misfortune through the machinations of some “double-dyed villains,” etc. and whom he desired to help. He proposed to head a subscription in her behalf with a V; would not the liberal-hearted passengers assist him? Of course they would. Who could resist such a tempting offer? In less time that it requires to write these lines, a purse of considerable magnitude was collected and handed to the little woman in black, who returned her thanks with tears, which spoke more eloquently than could words.
While what is above related is occurring the train was speeding on its westward way station after station being passed in quick succession. When “Hudson” was called, the little woman in black started to her feet, and rushed for the door of the car, forgetting in her haste to take along the “blessed baby,” which was left in the seat lately occupied by its mother. In a minute the train was again under headway and was soon beyond the suburbs of the charming village. As it sped along toward the setting sun, the jostling awoke the offspring of the “woman in black,” the late recipient of alms, and then, for the first time were the occupants of the coach made aware that the woman had abandoned her babe. The poor innocent was at once kindly cared for by some gentle ladies and the conductor notified of what had occurred.
At Pittsford, the next station, the conductor stopped the train, gave the waif into the keeping of the agent, and, calling the telegraph into requisition, sent a dispatch to Hudson, requesting the arrest of the “woman in black,” and giving his reasons for making the request.
A lapse of twenty-four hours must now occur, as they say in the play bills, before we can commence the second set of our little drama, the curtain having descended on the first at the telegraph office at Pittsford.
On Saturday our conductor was again on the road, this time journeying eastward, bound for Toledo. When he reached Pittsford he again took aboard the abandoned child, intending to deliver it to its mother at Hudson. Upon reaching the latter station he alighted with the cherubim in his arms, and immediately set about searching for the mother or someone into whose possession he could give the babe. But no one could be found to accept the charge. Not they. “Not for Joseph.” [a sarcastic refusal on the order of “not on your life.”] They knew a trick worth two of that. They had been posted. They had been present at the examination of the little woman before a Justice of the Peace and heard the testimony. “Oh, no, Mr. Conductor, keep your own child; don’t try to turn it over to us to bring up. A pretty father are you to act so shamefully.”
Such were the responses our noble conductor received from the people of Hudson, whose population he was so anxious to increase to the extent of one soul.
Of course he was mystified, not to say dumbfounded. What did all this—nonsense mean? Would they explain? Would they come out from behind their masks and inform him who he was? And all that sort of thing.”
An explanation followed. It appeared that when the woman was taken into custody, in response to the Pittsford telegram of the day before, she demanded an instant examination before a competent judicial tribunal. This was accorded her, and the telegram was offered as the chief witness for the prosecution. Though a little irregular, it was admitted to testify, and had its due weight upon the mind of “His Honor.”
Then came the defence. The little woman proceeded. She admitted that she had abandoned her child, but contended she had done nothing wrong. Only half of the infant belonged to her, and she was willing to live up even that share. To its father belonged the remainder. Into the possession of its father had she delivered the child. The conductor, the author of the dispatch which led to her arrest, was also the author if its being, and he must look to its welfare in the future. She had done for it all she was going to, “and that’s the end on’t.”
The learned magistrate took the testimony under advisement a few minutes, and then rendered “judgment in favor of defendant,” in other words, order that the woman be released from custody and be permitted to depart. And she did depart, right soon, to parts unknown.
The conductor—upon hearing this revelation, was almost distracted; he paced frantically up and down the platform, one moment cursing the crowd, which had by this time grown to considerable magnitude, and the next imploring some one to relieve him from his unpleasant predicament, and take the “accursed baby” off his hands. He said he was a married man, with wife and children of his own to support, and he did not want to add to his flock any stray lambs.
Finally he succeeded in convincing an old lady in the crowd that they had been imposed upon by the mysterious woman and she consented to take the innocent cause of all his troubles under her protecting wing.
“All aboard!” The train is under motion and our conductor is the happiest man on earth.
And so ends the drama of the “Mysterious Woman; or, the Abandoned Baby and Distracted Conductor.”
The above facts were given our reporter by a gentleman who obtained them directly from our friend, the conductor.
The Conservative [McConnelsville, OH] 15 April 1870

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Frankly Mrs Daffodil finds this “end” to the story inadequate; one really wishes to know more. Mrs Daffodil is well-acquainted with the impostures practised on railway travellers (she once obtained a lucrative position by possessing herself of a lady’s maid’s letters of recommendation when the trusting young woman left her hand luggage in care of Mrs Daffodil)  and is puzzled as to why the infant’s mother did not try to extort more money from the hapless conductor. Perhaps she merely wanted to rid herself of the fruit of her shame. The whole affair is an indictment of the American railway car.  If this had occurred on the British railway system, it would have been an easy matter to find an empty compartment from which she could launch the child out the window and into Eternity. Or, if the woman in black was apprehensive of exposure or suffered from scruples, to check the infant (placed in a capacious handbag and rendered temporarily  unconscious by an opium-laced soothing syrup) at the cloak-room at Victoria Station.  One fears instead that the child ended up as a drudge in a local household or was sent to the county orphanage.