Finger-tip Custom

Thu Sep 5 22:21:05 UTC 2002

        What is the "finger-tip custom," as used in this 1904 case from the Alaska gold rush?  A saloon-keeper had lost $1800 to a customer in a dice game run by the saloon-keeper.  The saloon-keeper signed over a 1/4 interest in the saloon in satisfaction of the debt, then sought (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to have the conveyance set aside.

        >>The deed signed by McGinley purports to convey "an un-divided one-fourth (1/4) interest in the Fairbanks Hotel, situate on lot No. One (1) Front Street, in the town of Fairbanks." The consideration mentioned is one dollar, but, in accordance with the finger-tip custom, it was not paid; the real consideration was the $1,800 so miraculously won by the defendant the previous night by shaking the box. Plaintiff soon after brought this suit to set aside the conveyance upon the ground of fraud (1) because he was so drunk at the time he signed the deed as to be unable to comprehend the nature of the contract, and (2) for want of consideration.<<

McGinley v. Cleary, 2 Alaska 269 (D. Alaska 1904).  The case is fascinating in its own right, not least for the humorous contempt that the judge clearly felt toward the litigants, and may be found on the web at  These other uses of "finger" and "finger-tip" in the case may or may not be relevant:

        >>The usual custom of $500 millionaires grown from wild cat bonanzas was followed, and as aces and sixes alternated or blurringly trooped athwart their vision, the silent upthrust of the index finger served to mark the balance of trade. . . . After the dice-shaking had ceased, and the finger-tip book-keeping had been reduced to round numbers, the defendant testifies that the plaintiff was found to be indebted to him in the sum of $1,800.<<

John Baker

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