[Ads-l] When everybody is digging for gold, it=?UTF-8?Q?=E2=80=99s_?=good to be in the pick and shovel business

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 27 07:23:01 UTC 2021

Two requests were sent  to me to examine a saying attributed to Mark
Twain which is presented in the subject line. Here is a link to the
Quote Investigator article.


The earliest attribution to Twain I found was dated 1982. So that
linkage appears to be spurious.

I found many stories about individuals who supposedly became rich
selling supplies to miners. For example, in 1876 the acumen of
Australian businessman Walter Powell was highlighted in a piece
published in “The General Baptist Magazine” of London.

[ref] 1876 May, The General Baptist Magazine, Studies in Present-Day
Biography: Walter Powell, Start Page 169, Quote Page 172, Published by
E. Marlborough & Co., London. (Google Books Full View) [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
. . . he returned to Melbourne a little before the Australian gold
fields were discovered. Everybody that could rushed off to the
diggings. The city was deserted; and then people commenced to pour
through Melbourne from all parts, delirious with the idea that they
would soon all be wealthy. Walter Powell had the good sense to stop at
his store and sell shovels and pickaxes at a premium, and so he
suddenly grew rich.
[End excerpt]

But I did not find statements in adage form or catchphrase form until
relatively late. Here is a catchphrase in 1977:

[ref] 1977 August 1, St. Petersburg Times, For marital malcontents, a
do-it-yourself way to undo it by Neil Skene (St. Petersburg Times
Staff Writer), Quote Page B1, Column 2, St. Petersburg, Florida.
(Newspapers_com) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Jim Winder thinks selling do-it-yourself divorce kits is "like selling
picks and shovels at a gold rush."
[End excerpt]

Gavin Dobson of investment form Kemper-Murray Johnstone International
used an adage-like form in 1981:

[ref] 1981 April 26, The Courier-Journal, Taking stock in the world:
It's getting much easier by Jim Thompson (Courier-Journal Business
Writer), Quote Page E4, Column 2, Louisville, Kentucky.
(Newspapers_com) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
"When everyone is digging gold or other minerals, we like to be
(invested) in the pick-and-shovel business."
[End excerpt]

Feedback welcome

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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