An 1891 Shoplifting Primer

shoplifters master july 16 1891

This article (quoted for legibility) was reprinted from the New York Sun in the July 16, 1891 edition of The Chatham Record, but some of the descriptions are so admiring they sound like they might have been lifted from Shoplifter’s Fancy.

“Tricks of Shoplifters

An old trick, which is now too well known to be practiced safely, consists in carry around a ladies’ hat box half of the cover of which is hinged so that it can be lifted up and stolen articles thrust in. A common trick today is to pick up an empty paper bag, such as is used in the store, and distend it by blowing into it, so that it has the appearance of being full. The air is replaced with spoils at leisure.

The shoplifter’s pocket is a well-known device. It is made of muslin and was originally so big that, when fastened under the dress at the waist, it reached below her knees. There is a long opening through the dress just below the waistband, sometimes big enough to thrust a baby in. This opening is covered from view by a flap of the waist, which, however, can be lifted up. Sometimes these pockets are found with almost enough merchandise inside to start a small shop. Large pockets are seldom used nowadays, because most stores are so carefully watched that professional shoplifters are perforce contented with smaller daily hauls than formerly. Besides, modern fashions do not permit of the safe gathering of much bulk about the person if the shoplifter.

What do shoplifters do with their spoils when they are so loaded up that walking is uncomfortable? Detective Cutts, who has had a large experience in one of New York’s biggest stores, one day followed two women who, he was sure, had been shoplifting for several hours, yet so cleverly that he could not gather evidence enough to warrant their arrest. When they left he followed. They went up a side street and entered one of those side entrances to a saloon leading into a small room partitioned off for women. Quick as a thought Detective Cutts ran in the front door and said to the bartender:

‘See here, you know me. Lend me your apron. I want to wait on those women.’

Tying the apron on the detective answered the call of the women and served them with beer. He waited a few minutes, and then went in to find them pulling out all sorts of merchandise and making them into bundles.

‘Oh,’ said he, ‘want any more beer?’

‘No,’ said the women.

‘Been shopping I see.’

‘Yes.’

‘Got all those things at the store, eh?’

‘Yes, but what’s that to you?’

‘It’s this much to me,’ said the mock bartender. ‘I’m the store detective, and I want you to go back with me and pay for them.’

Shoplifters who steal for business and take as much as they can get dispose of their stealings about their persons only temporarily while in the store. Once outside, they find some quiet place in which to disgorge, and arrange their stealings, and the private rooms in saloons are very convenient for the purpose. [New York Sun.]”

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