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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4

The Book Fiend in Australia

page 26

The Book Fiend in Australia

Not long since we gave an instance of a tradesman being driven to suicide through the frauds of a gang of Australian book-canvassers. These gentlemen have developed into a nuisance of the first magnitude in New Zealand; but in Victoria they are a hundredfold worse. The old trick of obtaining a signature for an expensive work, and astonishing the careless buyer by showing that the book (which he has never looked at) is the first of sixteen or twenty volumes, all of which he has undertaken to buy, is now well known. There is no security against the craft of some of the artists in Australia. If a signature can be obtained, it turns up on a totally different document to that on which it was written; and if refused it is forged so cleverly as to baffle the victim himself. In several cases the courts have given judgments in favor of these swindlers for large amounts when there was a moral certainty that the order put into court and backed by sworn testimony was a forgery. The Melbourne Argus has a strong article on the subject, and mentions two cases of fraud which can be well substantiated, and may be cited as typical. Recently an agent of the smartest Yankee type called upon a lady whose late husband had subscribed largely to certain ecclesiastical objects. He represented that a book containing biographies and portraits of the most prominent colonists, past and present, was about to be published, and asked that she should supply him with patriculars of her husband's career, and become a subscriber to the book. She carefully inquired what liability such an order would carry, and was informed £25. When the book was issued the promoters claimed on her for £200, and she had to pay. A civil servant gives the following experience:— « Some twelve months ago a person called at my office and informed me, or gave me to understand, that the Exhibition Commissioners were about publishing a handsome plate containing the portraits of persons officially connected with the Exhibition, and asked for my photograph for that purpose. He also stated that a proof of the plate would be submitted to me, and that if I approved of it I could have a copy on payment of five guineas; but it was distinctly understood that I gave no order for a copy. I then signed a form, embodying, as I believed (and still believe) these conditions. Judge of my surprise, then, when one day lately a man walked into my room with a roll under his arm which contained copies of a miserable lithograph, and demanded twenty-five guineas from me. On my asking an explanation he produced what purported to be my order for one copy at ten and three copies at five guineas each. I can swear I never gave such an order; yet the signature was apparently mine. I refused to recognize the order, and the man left with a view, I suppose, of taking out a summons. I soon found that I was not the only victim; scores of leading men in the city had been similarly victimised. I knew that unless I was under some occult influence I could not have been so bereft of reason as to give an order for £25 worth of pictures when I could not properly afford to spend as many shillings for such a purpose. » The scores of business men to whom he alludes have all a similar story to tell. Their photographs and autographs were obtained merely for the sake of putting them in the picture, and when it was finished they could get a copy if they approved of it. The picture for which the sum of £10 10s is demanded was passed through the Customs on its arrival from America at a sworn value of tenpence a copy, and amongst the distinguished gentlemen in the group is a light-weight boxer. Strange stories are told of what happens to orders after they leave the hands of the person who signs them. One gentleman took the precaution to write across the order « I only want one copy, » but when it was presented to him for payment the piece containing these words had been torn off and another substituted. Another wrote in red ink across the face of the order « subject to withdrawal if the work is not approved of, » but when his order was brought before him these words had by some mysterious means been removed.—We confess that we are at a loss to understand the judgments of the courts in matters like this. Where ten guineas is claimed for a rubbishing lithograph worth less than a shilling, the fraud is so gross that a judgment in favor of the claimants is simply a premium on villany.