The Big Con, by Maurer

Sunday February 14, 2021

Published in 1940, WWI was "the War" (page 28), WWII was "the present European War" (page 311), there were thousand-dollar G-notes, and there was quite a lot of sexism and racism (throughout). Instead of emails from Nigerian princes, you might see a classified ad in the paper "For an honest, reliable businessman with $20,000 to invest for a large return." (page 115) There were elaborate plots! Would you really not fall for anything like that? What are people falling for these days? Quite a lot! What a world, what a world.


"After all, a look around present-day American institutions should suffice to demonstrate that the character in question has now fully emerged from the underworld and entered the mainstream, where he may be far less colorful and imaginative, but no less on the grift." (page xv, from the introduction by Luc Sante)

"Their methods differ more in degree than in kind from those employed by more legitimate forms of business." (page 3)

"The three big-con games, the wire, the rag, and the pay-off." (page 3)

"Most marks come from the upper strata of society, which, in America, means that they have made, married, or inherited money. Because of this, they acquire status which in time they come to attribute to some inherent superiority, especially as regards matters of sound judgment in finance and investment. Friends and associates, themselves social climbers and sycophants, help to maintain this illusion of superiority. Eventually, the mark comes to regard himself as a person of vision and even of genius. Thus a Babbitt who has cleared half a million in a real-estate development easily forgets the part which luck and chicanery have played in his financial rise; he accepts his mantle of respectability without question; he naïvely attributes his success to sound business judgment. And any confidence man will testify that a real-estate man is the fattest and juiciest of suckers." (page 104)

"Religious scruples often seem to fail a mark at the crucial moment." (page 105)

""Larceny," or thieves' blood, runs not only in the veins of professional thieves; it would appear that humanity at large has just a dash of it–and sometimes more." (page 117)

"Many con men feel that marks have one characteristic in common–they are all liars." (page 118)

"Such institutions [schools for grifters] have long been the delight of fictioneers, but there is no reliable evidence to indicate that they ever functioned in the American underworld." (page 160)

The author references on page 164 "Dan the Dude's place at 28 W. 28th St." as being a hangout for con men. It has been otherwise known as well, it seems.

"When we think of cheese, it's Wisconsin; when we speak of oil, it's Pennsylvania; but with grifters, it's Indiana." (page 173)

"If fifty of them [con men] were selected and mixed indiscriminately with a group of successful business and professional men, all the correlations and statistics of a Hooton or a Lombroso would not set them apart; and, if a census of opinions upon politics, ethics, religion, or what-not were taken from the entire group, not even a Solomon could separate the sheep from the goats on the basis of their social views. If confidence men operate outside the law, it must be remembered that they are not much further outside than many of our pillars of society who go under names less sinister. They only carry to an ultimate and very logical conclusion certain trends which are often inherent in various forms of legitimate business." (pages 178-179)

"The short deck. A short-con game operated by a man who drops one card out of a deck he has offered to sell a mark very cheaply. They argue over whether or not it is a full deck, then bet. The mark thinks the deck is short one card, but the operator produces a full deck." (page 304)

"... a booming campaign of propaganda designed to rob the criminal of the sympathetic public opinion he has for so long enjoyed." (page 312, with "federal operatives" behind this campaign)

Just words