Confidential: Have I Got a Deal for You

February 24, 2009 | no comments
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The original Keepapitchinin printed this “editorial” in 1870:

Confidential.

We have received the following letter:

”Dear Sir: – a confidential friend having notified us that you can be relied on we send you the enclosed circular.”

The “enclosed circular” informs us that they will send us “$50.00 worth of counterfeit greenbacks, which cannot be distinguished by the best judges, from the genuine currency for the sum of $10.

Stubbs & Co.”

What a generous disinterested old soul you must be, Stubbs. You impoverish the nation and risk your life for the sake of presenting us with $40, and ask no compensation? For that’s what it amounts to, if you speak the truth. Now we don’t wish to quarrel with you, not in the least; but we always look at things in this sort of a light, which is most probable that Stubbs & Co. are so daring, generous and self sacrificing, or that somebody is lying? Stubbs, you would be surprised to learn how often we come to the latter conclusion. We have, somehow, got an impression when anyone offers us two or three dollars for one, that he don’t mean it. that, in short, he presumes we are a fool, and that he can swindle us at his leisure.

No, we don’t think we’ll invest, at present. Stubbs (this is confidential), we’d see you hanged by the neck higher than Haman, the son of Hannedatha the Agagite, and then we wouldn’t.

The original Keepapitchinin was very much a humor newspaper, about evenly divided between slapstick and satire. This editorial seems a little out of place, though, despite the silliness of responding “confidentially” in the columns of a public newspaper – other items on the page are far more typical: The account of an editor’s “miraculous” escape from arrest (his “narrow escape” consisted in his not having been anywhere near the place where others were arrested); the report of a correspondent Di-agonies; the account of “Doctor Ring” (the “Ring” was the label Mormons applied to the federally appointed officers who were doing their best to disrupt Utah society) who promised to cure “Mr. Utah” of his sickbed symptoms of eating well, sleeping well, preserving good order in his family, and paying his debts punctually.

I don’t know – I’ll probably never know, for certain – but I wonder if “Confidential” might not have been a genuine response to an actual letter received by someone in the editorial circle. I wonder, because two years after “Confidential” was published, Brigham Young received a letter from a man in New York City very much like Stubbs’s offer:

“You have been recommended to me as reliable and trustworthy by a man upon whose judgement for shrewdness and fidelity I rely. I have concluded to take you into my confidence,” wrote Mr. H. “I guarantee we can make a fortune easily rapidly and in perfect safety.

H. claimed to have been trained as an engraver and formerly employed by the U.S. Government in the making of Treasury bill. “But I was removed on account of my politics and I then vowed I would get square with the Government before I died.”

He had worked long, he said, and had finally produced “absolutely perfect” counterfeit bills in denominations ranging from50¢ to $2.00, and had a large stock of the bogus then on hand. “I use nothing but the very best paper and the dies signatures and everything are so perfect as to defy detection. … If you are wise you will even sell your property and valuables and raise a pile of money to secure a good stock while you have the chance.”

His sales rates were even better than those of Stubbs – $10 genuine per $100 bogus, as long as Brigham would buy at least $1000 of the bogus.

H. told Brigham how to proceed: “Come on here and see me yourself Do not mention your business to any living person or tell any one where you are going or who you want to see. … Do not call at my office under any circumstances but stop at some uptown Hotel and drop me a line and I will call on you bringing the money with me.”

If for some reason Brigham couldn’t get away to make the trip himself, or had trouble raising the cash, Mr. H. – knowing Brigham could be trusted – was willing, as a “favor,” to send him $250 bogus for a $10 down payment. “You can see how well it passes and then order a large stock.” Once Brigham had successfully passed the counterfeit, he could pay Mr. H. the remaining $15. If Brigham would take as much as $5000 bogus, Mr. H. made the same offer – $120 down, and $300 later.

Mr. H. was an honest man himself, he was, but he didn’t trust others as well as he trusted Brigham: “You can send me the money folded in a thick envelope well sealed and plainly addressed to me by mail or Express, but do not register your letters under any circumstances. All registered letters are supposed to contain money and mail clerks are apt to open them take out the money and send them through.”

It was, however, imperative, regardless of Mr. H.’s fond trust, for Brigham to send a down payment. And why? Because “money must pass between us so that you may be as deep in the mud as I am in the mire.” Not that Mr. H. would ever stoop to blackmail, mind you. He swore that “while you are faithful to me I solemnly swear to be true to you.”

Gee whiz. I have searched and searched and searched, and fail to find any letters in Brigham Young’s outgoing letterbooks addressed to Mr. H. of New York City, nor any evidence that Brigham Young traveled east in 1870. I’m stumped, I am.

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Cross-posted from Keepapitchinin — click here for comments.
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