This one's for Barry

Wed Jun 16 15:34:18 UTC 1999

        Barry Popik has mentioned in several communications that he is
working on a dictionary of Wall Street slang.  The following essay in
financier's slang, with explanatory commentary, should be of
some use to him in this project.  It is from a newspaper of

        Cant phrases.  --  In almost all trades, there are technical or cant
phrases used in describing some part of the business, which to most
readers are unintelligible -- nor is it, indeed, necessary that they
should understand them.  But, as all of us have more or less to do
with banks, it may not be amiss to publish the following, giving the
true meaning of the terms employed in banking operations and
borrowing and lending or leasing money, in Philadelphia.  A new
dictionary will be wanted very soon, embracing all the new-fangled
words of the present day, to enable gentlemen to go into the money
market with reputation.

        From the Philadelphia Aurora.   Mr. Dunne.  --  The story related by
your correspondent Schimmel, of the honorable conduct of a bank, in
getting security for a debt, by holding out blue lights, smells very
strong of the little plug top, and the great actor upon the occasion
could have been no less a personage than Betsey Dawson.  This bank
then it would seem, notwithstanding that it pretends to set its face
against taking horses at livery, now and then runs the risk of a
shin-peeler, and in running three pair of burrs, catches an
occasional lame duck.  The practice of tearing a note up by its
roots, particularly when it is of a sour character, may be considered
as fair dealing -- but robbing Peter to pay Paul, I do not think is
quite as handsome.  [signed] Smashpipes.

        Postscript. -- As some of your country readers, may not be well-bred
enough to understand the above language, with which our polished
merchants on 'change are very familiar, I take the liberty of giving
them the following
        Little plug top. -- The name given to one of the banks in the city
or liberties, in consequence, it is thought, of a facility it
possesses of spinning its capital out to three times its length.
        Betsey Dawson. -- The name of a director thereof, who, in place of a
more unseemly oath, sweareth by the name of the said lady.
        Horses at livery. -- Accomodation notes, which are supposed to be
taken in by the banks, by the year, in contradistinction to business
paper, which is like a traveller's stopping for a single night.
        Shin peeler. -- A technical term for a loss of money, whether it be
from a marine risk, or a shaved note.
        Three pair of burrs. -- By a figure of speech, the plug top in
question, is now supposed to be a mill, and the spinning is converted
into grinding.  The notes offered for discount are the grist, and the
three pair of burrs is only a beautiful metaphor to signify that the
bank discounts only three times the amount of it capital.
        Lame duck. -- The same thing as catching a Tartar -- when a man's
note will no longer go down in the market at a fair premium, or 1 1-2
or 2 per cent. a month, he is considered a lame duck.
        Tearing up by the roots. -- A mild way of expressing that no part of
the note is to be reserved, but that the whole is to be paid.
        Sour. -- Not bankable -- still keeping up the idea of the mill, as
if talking of sour flour.
        [reprinted in] New-York Evening Post, August 14, 1819, p. 2, cols.

        This article was originally published in the Philadelphia Aurora.
It is evidently a response to an earlier article which the Evening
Post had not picked up.  I don't know whether there is a file of the
Aurora in existence for 1819, but at least there does not seem to be
one available on microfilm, as I have been unable to borrow it
thorough Inerlibrary Loan.  It seems that the earlier article defined
"blue lights", which is not defined here.  It's not in RHHDAS, and I
will be damned if I know what it means.

        A week or so ago I referred this article to a friend who has just
completed a dissertation on the first Bank of the United States,
which operated in Philadelphia until just before this period, and he
has referred it to his mentor, a very distinguished scholar of
banking history.  I am hoping that they will be able to elucidate
the allusions behind "little plug top" and "Betsey Dawson", and
perhaps explain the signature "Smashpipes".  Since Barry and his work
have recently come under rather coarse denigration by one whose name
I do not associate with either interesting or informative
contributions to this list, I am posting this now, without waiting
their response, as a gesture of support.  If they have anything of
interest to contribute, I will pass it along.


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