Friday, February 29, 2008

Sweating Gold Coins


This Trick of Swindling is Easily Performed

Sweating a coin is merely robbing it of a portion of its legal weight without in any manner altering its appearance. Manifestly gold coins alone would hardly appeal to the sweater, for silver would hardly pay for the trouble. In countries where paper money in employed, sweating has taken no root. Also in countries like England, where the largest gold coin is a sovereign, the practice would hardly become epidemic.

On the Pacific slope at one time the nefarious business assumed such proportions that the government found it necessary to pass measures against coin sweating, but even then the manifest injustice of arresting a person for merely "passing" such a coin, such person being almost certainly quite innocent, appealed to legislators to such an extent that the law was made only to affect the actual manipulator of the unlawful process. The consequence of this has been that the authorities have had the greatest difficulty in securing convictions against the malefactors, who have debased no end of coins.

The process of robbing a coin of a part of its metal is simple. The goldpiece is merely immersed, or suspended, in aqua regia, a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids, which attacks the metal at once. The manipulator keeps the piece in the bottle only a short time, for a few minutes suffice for the mixture to absorb and hold in solution as much as a dollar's worth of the gold from a $20 piece. The coin is then washed in water and polished with whiting, as otherwise its surface would betray the ordeal through which it had been passed, showing "pockmarks" in great variety.

The process is continued with other coins until the acid is "saturated," when it will absorb no more of the metal. The coins are exchanged for silver or other currency, as only an expert could detect the small subtraction in weight, and the silver is then re-exchanged for more gold, upon which the operator performs his little game in due course. It is only necessary for the villain to boil down his acid to complete evaporation, when the residue in the kettle will be found in the shape of a gleaming button of pure gold, varying in size according to the amount of acid and the charge it carries in solution.

In San Francisco the government secret agents have waged a long and bitter war with sweaters. They have captured many who were guilty enough in all conscience, but against whom no conviction could be obtained for lack of evidence, and they have placed others beyond all worldly temptation for various terms of years.

One of the lone kings of this nefarious business, who finally was obliged to sojourn for a rest in the penitentiary at San Quentin, was named Goodrich. He was an exceedingly modest and retiring man. He occupied an ordinary dwelling and conducted his operations on the roof. After many long weeks of vigil on the part of government detectives he was taken into custody, not redhanded, but at least black fingered by the acid. His apparatus was found most cleverly concealed behind movable bricks in the chimney on top of his house. At the time of his capture a small bottle of greenish fluid was found, and this, upon being carefully reduced in fumes, yielded up a button worth fully $10. A few coins were discovered in the man's pockets and also in his residence. These, to all appearances, were honest coins. Under the microscope they were found to be fairly cross hatched with tiny lines, which had been produced by the process of polishing to remove the traces where the acid had eaten away the metal.

Insidious as this acid thieving may appear, it might be regarded as crude by those who are acquainted with the "tricks that are vain" exercised by the "heathen Chinee." John Chinaman is numerous in California. He gets his long hands on many a golden disk, and with great reluctance does he ever relinquish his grip, He has never learned the "art" of sweating the coins with acid, but he accomplishes his purpose in his characteristically patient manner. He simply places many coins together in a buckskin bag and then proceeds to shake and toss and otherwise agitate that receptacle by the hour or by the week until he has worn off by abrasion $10 or $20 worth of fine dust of gold. The coins wear one another. They present the appearance when at length they emerge from the sack of having been regularly abraded by pocket to pocket circulation, and therefore to all intents and purposes nothing illegal has been done. As a matter of fact, no Chinese has ever been apprehended or put on trial for this work. It is doubtful if the authorities have ever taken cognizance of the practice. Only a few people ever realized what the sly Celestials were at when witnessing the hourly agitation of the coins. It is of course unlawful to bore a hole through a gold coin or to perform any other mutilation, but Mr. Chinaman cannot be said to mutilate the money he wears out so artfully, and therefore he pursues his course serene and unmolested.

There have been clever rogues from time to time who employ a slender tool with which to "gut" a coin. Their method is to make a small incision in the edge of a coin and then patiently dig out the inside, after which they refill the hollow space with baser metal. "High art" like this has become almost obsolete, for the acid business has frequently proved safer and less difficult of performance. Laws will multiply and detectives will wax more and more like Sherlock Holmes, but the makers and administrators of penal regulations will be obliged to arise early in the morning to prevent for all time the effort of man to accumulate his "pile" for "nothing."

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