“Gypping” the Public (May, 1938)

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“Gypping” the Public

Millions of dollars are annually lost to the “short weight” merchants and to those dispensing foodstuffs in “phony” boxes and packages.

WHEN Mr. and Mrs. Buying Public purchase tickets to a show to observe the magician pull rabbits out of a hat, they fully expect to be fooled; they enjoy the trickery even if they are made parties to it; but when this same couple goes to the market to purchase meat at so much a pound, they object strenuously if the man behind the counter slips an 8-ounce sinker into the fowl before he weighs it. Their feeling becomes doubly bitter when they realize that they did not even get the lead sinker for which they paid. It may seem that this statement is stretching the truth a bit, but such is not the case. Poultry is often loaded with lead sinkers to make it heavier—strawberry boxes are soaked in water and then indented to hold fewer berries — live ducks
and geese are soaked with water just before the sale— vegetables are soaked in water in grocery stores both to keep them fresh and to increase their weight—metal measuring cans frequently have false bottoms— and candy and fruit are packed solidly in the upper layer of a box with but a few pieces in a lower partition, much divided by cross-strips. All these and many other tricks are being used to cheat the buying public out of millions every day in various cities.

Very active in a campaign against this type of gyp is Alex Pisciotti, Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau of Weights and Measures in New York City, who has been conducting an intensive campaign against misrepresenta-tive advertising and short weight merchants.

But do not think that this situation is purely New Yorkese; the city sealers of Chicago report that there are 68 ways to gyp a customer and that merchants of Chicago have used all of them.

Every day operatives of the New York Department of Markets discover new tricks; thousands of scales are confiscated and destroyed. In one case a store keeper stuffed dirt and dust into various parts of his store scale to destroy its accuracy; in another, a handful of chopped meat was pressed against the bottom of the scale when the food was being weighed and removed again under cover of lifting the meat. Frequently the dishonest butcher will weigh an extra chop or a piece of fat with a loin of pork. He will doctor a chicken with a lead weight, slipped under the wing or into the mouth of the fowl.

Fortunately for the short weight merchants, the average citizen does not complain. A sign reading, “new crop walnuts, 12c a pound,” with a small blurred fraction representing that it is not a full pound but three-quarters of a pound that the purchaser will get, is rarely observed. If the purchaser complains, the dealer points out that he is not attempting to defraud anyone; the fractional 3/4 sign is painted on the advertisement. But, in New York the dealer cannot get away with this sort of advertising, as is shown by one of the photographs accompanying this article.

Of course, Mr. and Mrs. Public would like to know what they can do to prevent being defrauded out of their hard-earned cash.

One of the most important things is to watch the dealer, particularly when he weighs a product. Make sure that the scale is at zero when he starts. If there is any question as to the weight of the article, have him put it on the scale again after it is wrapped up. Be sure that he does not weigh the knife, his hand or an extra piece of meat with the product for which you pay. Make sure that the vegetables you purchase are not dripping with water; or the berry boxes dented, and if you suspect anything in the store appears to be a misrepresentation, be on the alert for similar treatment with other articles.

Without resentment from the public, some merchants will continue to gyp the consumer without fear of arrest. This is notably true in ice-cream parlors. Some of the biggest chains set before the consumer a 12- or 16-ounce glass of ice-cream soda. The consumer thinks he is getting a lot for his money, but if he allows that glass to stand a few minutes, he discovers that at least 50% of the drink is air. These luncheonettes do not advertise a 12- or 16-ounce drink; they merely put a small drink in a large glass. Frequent complaints on the part of the public to the manager might remedy such a situation.

For further security and assurance that you will get full value for your money, familiarize yourself with the stunts illustrated here; then the merchant will find it much harder to fool you.

  1. Rick Auricchio says: September 19, 20079:44 am

    Not to look a gift-horse in the mouth, but haven’t we seen this one before?

    I recall seeing the beef-under-the-tray and the paper-pull techniques.

    And wasn’t there a comment or two about the word “gyp,” which is now considered politically incorrect?

  2. Charlie says: September 19, 200710:09 am

    Close, actually that one was from another magazine, however it’s pretty much the same article, even down to the pictures:

  3. Stannous says: September 19, 200711:55 am

    That’s where I learned to only buy dry ducks.

  4. jayessell says: September 20, 20079:48 am

    James Cagney stars in “Great Guy”: 1937
    This article: 1938.
    Payola? (or whatever the print equivalent of payola is)


    My DVD of “Destination Moon: shows clips from the science mags of the era.
    Can you print any of those?


    Also…. found this:


  5. nlpnt says: September 24, 20077:38 pm

    I’m not sure what’s scarier- lead in the chickens or the state agents’ gas tank held in the car by just two bolts.

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