[The explanation of commercial fraud from the grocer’s shop to the auction gallery appears in Chapter 94, “The Buffer’s History,” from the author’s The Mysteries of London, in which the Resurrection Man’s companion tells her story. — George P. Landow]

Food falsely measured, adulterated, and contaminated

Telling his life story, the Buffer, whose real name is John Wick, begins at the point when he has stolen from his father, a crooked grocer.]

When my father discovered that I had robbed him, I threw in his teeth the use he made of false weights and measures. He was alarmed at this, because I threatened to inform the neighbours; and so he did not give me the thrashing which he had at first promised. He, however, resolved to send me away from home, and in the course of a few days got me a place at a friend's of his, who kept a sweet-stuff shop, in Friar Street, Blackfriars. There I was initiated into all the mysteries of that trade. I found that the white-sugar articles were all largely adulterated with plaster of Paris; and that immediately accounted to me for the pernicious--often fatal--effects produced by this kind of trash upon children. If parents, who really care for their children, were only commonly prudent, they would never allow them to eat any white-sugar sweet-stuff at all. Then I discovered that the articles passed off as burnt almonds, really contained the kernels of fruits; for the kitchen-maids in wealthy families and hotels collect and sell the stones of the peaches, apricots, and nectarines, eaten at the dinner-tables of their masters, as regularly as cooks dispose of their bones and grease. In fact, the most deleterious ingredients enter into the composition of sweet-stuff. The sugar-refiners sell all their scum to the sweet-stuff makers; and this scum is composed of the lime, alum, bullock's blood, charcoal, acetate of soda, and other things used for fining sugar. Oxide of lead is also mixed with the small proportions of sugar used in making sweet-stuff; and thus you may perceive what filthy and poisonous substances are given to children in the shape of sugar-plums.

Working as a shill in an auction house

After the Buffer’s father dies, he comes into money, which he promptly gambles away and has to find a way to make a living.]

One of the persons who frequented the public-house in Suffolk Street offered to recommend me to a friend of his, who kept an auction-room in the City. I gladly accepted the proposal, and was engaged as 'a bidder,' at that establishment. I will tell you what I had to do: the auction was carried on in an open warehouse in a great thoroughfare. The articles put up for sale were all of the most worthless description--razors, made (like Peter Pindar's) to sell, and not to cut; pen-knives, that would inflict no damage upon a piece of wood; decanters, that would scarcely resist the pressure of the most delicate lady's hand; candlesticks, made of a metal that would melt if held too close to the fire; urns, that sprang a leak the moment hot water was poured into them; watches, that were never known to go beyond the first four-and-twenty hours; scissors, that would not sever a thread; snuffers, that merely crushed without diminishing the wick; teapots, made of polished pewter, and warranted as silver; in a word, every species of domestic rubbish of this kind, occupied the counters and tables in the auction-room. Myself and three others were hired as bidders. Our duty was to offer a price for every article put up, and buy it in if it appeared likely to go to a stranger at too low a price--although, indeed, few prices were too low for the articles on which they were put. Then, when a greenhorn entered the mart, we were to puff off the articles amongst ourselves in his hearing--never talking to him, but talking at him. The master was perched up behind a high desk, using his hammer with exemplary alacrity, and knocking down article after article to the flats that came in and bid. Sometimes the dupes would come back the following day, and demand the return of their money, as they had ascertained that the goods for which they had parted with it were worthless: it was then our duty to hustle such obstreperous claimants, bonnet them, or, in extreme cases, knock them down, and then give them into custody for creating a disturbance.

Related material


Reynolds, George W. M. The Mysteries of London. vol 1. Project Gutenberg EBook #47312 produced by Chuck Greif and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team from images available at Google Books. Web. 2 August 2016.

Last modified 2 August 2016