Sunday 15 September 2013

Pushing up Profits

by Marie-Louise Jensen

How do you make a quick buck selling smuggled goods? Or even selling goods to be smuggled? You have to convince your potential client that the goods you are selling are superior even when they are shoddy.

The profit margin in smuggling was already pretty high, especially in the early years of the eighteenth century. And the risks were reasonably low. But there always seem to be a few rogues who don’t scruple to cheat anyway.

There were endless popular tricks. One was for cloth or lace. You take a piece of really good quality cloth and tack it onto something inferior. Sooner or later, you’re bound to get a gullible client who doesn’t unroll the whole thing and just looks at the first bit.

Smuggling tea, which began when duty was put on it in 1724 (just after the time Smuggler’s Kiss is set), was also open to cheating. I've mentioned this in a previous post, but good quality tea was smuggled across the channel and then often adulterated with other dried leaves before being sold on.

More devious still was putting a small insert into a barrel of brandy. This was filled with good quality brandy. You could then safely offer a buyer the chance to taste (tapping this small section, of course). They would be impressed and buy a whole barrel of rough, undrinkable stuff and not discover until it was too late. 

When I hear stories of toxic substances in drugs and contraband cigarettes, I realise nothing much has changed. And as we've seen with the horsemeat scandal recently, it isn't restricted to illegal goods - though it is a particular problem with them as they bypass any regulation.


Susan Price said...

'Coffee House tricks!' I often heard this expression in my childhood. When I asked what it meant, I was told that there used to be a coffee house in Oldbury, where you could buy coffee laced with brandy. The place did a good trade because, it was said, the owner was liberal with the brandy - 'you could really taste it.' The coffee cups were kept, ready for use, upside down on a shallow tray. It was found out, after a few years, that they tray was filled with a small amount of brandy, and none was actually added to the coffee at all. You could 'really taste the brandy' because the rims of the cups had been standing in it. - Thanks for an interesting post.

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

That's very sneaky! Clever though - you can see why it would work. It makes you wonder what else we fall for....