London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Music "Duffers."


are vended by the street-sellers. The price varies from to form no portion of the -hand business of the streets. A is occasionally, and only occasionally, sold to a showman, but the chief -hand traffic is in violins. , both new and old, used to sell readily in the streets, either from stalls or in hawking, "but," said a man who had formerly sold them, "they have been regularly 'duffed' out of the streets, so much cheap rubbish is made to sell. There's next to nothing done in them now. If 's offered to a man that's no judge of it, he'll be sure you want to cheat him, and perhaps abuse you; if he be a judge, of course it's no go, unless with a really good article."

Among the purchasers of -hand musical instruments are those of the working-classes who wish to "practise," and the great number of streetmusicians, street-showmen, and the indifferently paid members of the orchestras of minor (and not always of minor) theatres. Few of this class ever buy new instruments. There are sometimes, I am informed, as many as persons, - being women, engaged in this -hand sale. Sometimes, as at present, there are not above half the number. A broker who was engaged in the traffic estimated—and an intelligent street-seller agreed in the computation—that, take the year through, at least individuals were regularly, but few of them fully, occupied with this traffic, and that their weekly takings averaged each, or an aggregate yearly amount of The weekly profits run from to , and sometimes the well-known dealers clear or a week, while others do not take Of this amount about -thirds is expended on violins, and onetenth of the whole, or nearly a , on "duffing" instruments sold as -hand, in which department of the business the amount "turned over" used to be twice, and even thrice as much. The sellers have nearly all been musicians in some capacity, the women being the wives or connections of the men.

What I have called the "dishonest trade" is known among the street-folk as "music-duffing." Among the swag-shopkeepers, at place in more especially, are dealers in "duffing fiddles." These are German-made instruments, and are sold to the street-folk at or each, bow and all. When purchased by the music-duffers, they are discoloured so as to be made to look old. A music-duffer, assuming the way of a man half-drunk, will enter a publichouse or accost any party in the street, saying: "Here, I must have money, for I won't go home 'til morning, 'til morning, 'til morning, I won't go home 'til morning, 'til daylight does appear. And so I may as well sell my old fiddle myself as take it to a rogue of a broker. Try it anybody, it's a fine old tone, equal to any Cremonar. It cost me guineas and another fiddle, and a good'un too, in exchange, but I may as well be my own broker, for I must have money any how, and I'll sell it for "

Possibly a bargain is struck for ; for the duffing violin is perhaps purposely damaged in some slight way, so as to appear easily reparable,


and any deficiency in tone may be attributed to that defect, which was of course occasioned by the drunkenness of the possessor. Or possibly the tone of the instrument may not be bad, but it may be made of such unsound materials, and in such a slop-way, though looking well to a littlepractised eye, that it will soon fall to pieces. man told me that he had often done the musicduffing, and had sold trash violins for , , and even , "according," he said, "to the thickness of the buyer's head," but that was or years ago.

It appears that when an impetus was given to the musical taste of the country by the establishment of cheap singing schools, or of music classes, (called at time "singing for the million"), or by the prevalence of cheap concerts, where good music was heard, this duffing trade flourished, but now, I am assured, it is not more than a quarter of what it was. "There 'll always be something done in it," said the informant I have before quoted, "as long as you can find young men that's conceited about their musical talents, found of taking their medicine (drinking). If I've gone into a public-house room where I've seen a young gent that's bought a duffing fiddle of me, it don't happen once in times that he complains and blows up about it, and only then, perhaps, if he happens to be drunkish, when people don't much mind what's said, and so it does me no harm. People's too proud to confess that they're ever 'done' at any time or in anything. Why, such gents has pretended, when I've sold 'em a duffer, and seen them afterwards, that they've done "

Nor is it to violins that this duffing or sham -hand trade is confined. At the swagshops and are vended to the street-folk. of these cornopeans may be bought for ; a French horn for ; and a clarionet for ; or as a general rule at - of the price of a properly-made instrument sold as reasonably as possible. These things are also made to look old, and are disposed of in the same manner as the duffing violins. The sale, however, is and was always limited, for "if there be working man," I was told, "or a man of any sort not professional in music, that tries his wind and his fingers on a clarionet, there's a dozen trying their touch and execution on a violin."

Another way in which the duffing music trade at time was made available as a -hand business was this:—A band would play before a pawnbroker's door, and the duffing German brass instruments might be well-toned enough, the inferiority consisting chiefly in the materials, but which were so polished up as to appear of the best. Some member of the band would then offer his brass instrument in pledge, and often obtain an advance of more than he had paid for it.

man who had been himself engaged in what he called this "artful" business, told me that when pawnbrokers, whom he knew, found that they had been tricked into advancing on cornopeans, which they could buy new in for , they got him to drop the tickets of the pledge, which they drew out for the purpose, in the streets. These were picked up by some passer-by—and as there is a very common feeling that there is no harm, or indeed rather a merit, in cheating a pawnbroker or a tax-gatherer— the instruments were soon redeemed by the fortunate finder, or the person to whom he had disposed of his prize. Nor did the roguery end here. The same man told me that he had, in collusion with a pawbroker, dropped tickets of (sham) -hand musical instruments, which he had bought new at a swag-shop for the very purpose, the amount on the duplicate being double the cost, and as it is known that the pawnbrokers do not advance the value of any article, the finders were gulled into redeeming the pledge, as an advantageous bargain. "But I've left off all that dodging now, sir," said the man with a sort of a grunt, which seemed half a sigh and half a laugh; "I've left it off entirely, for I found I was getting into trouble."

The derivation of the term "duffing" I am unable to discover. The Rev. Mr. Dixon says, in his "Dovecote and Aviary," that the term "," applied to pigeons, is a corruption of ,—but In the slang dictionaries a "" is explained as "a man who hawks things;" hence it would be equivalent to , which means strictly beggar—being from the Dutch , and the German

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 Title Page
Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Articles
Of the Street-Sellers of Live Animals
Of the Street-Sellers of Mineral Productions and Natural Curiosities
Of the Street-Buyers
Of the Street-Jews
Of the Street-Finders or Collectors
Of the Streets of London
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Sweepers of Old, and the Climbing Boys
Of the Chimney-Sweepers of the Present Day
Of the General Characteristics of the Working Chimney-Sweepers
Sweeping of the Chimneys of Steam-Vessels
Of the 'Ramoneur' Company
Of the Brisk and Slack Seasons, and the Casual Trade among the Chimney- Sweepers
Of the 'Leeks' Among the Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Inferior Chimney-Sweepers -- the 'Knullers' and 'Queriers'
Of the Fires of London
Of the Sewermen and Nightmen of London
Of the Wet House-Refuse of London
Of the Means of Removing the Wet House-Refuse
Of the Quantity of Metropolitan Sewage
Of Ancient Sewers
Of the Kinds and Characteristics of Sewers
Of the Subterranean Character of the Sewers
Of the House-Drainage of the Metropolis as Connected With the Sewers
Of the London Street-Drains
Of the Length of the London Sewers and Drains
Of the Cost of Constructing the Sewers and Drains of the Metropolis
Of the Uses of Sewers as a Means of Subsoil Drainage
Of the City Sewerage
Of the Outlets, Ramifications, Etc., of the Sewers
Of the Qualities, Etc., of the Sewage
Of the New Plan of Sewerage
Of the Management of the Sewers and the Late Commissions
Of the Powers and Authority of the Present Commissions of Sewers
Of the Sewers Rate
Of the Cleansing of the Sewers -- Ventilation
Of 'Flushing' and 'Plonging,' and Other Modes of Washing the Sewers
Of the Working Flushermen
Of the Rats in the Sewers
Of the Cesspoolage and Nightmen of the Metropolis
Of the Cesspool System of London
Of the Cesspool and Sewer System of Paris
Of the Emptying of the London Cesspools by Pump and Hose
Statement of a Cesspool-Sewerman
Of the Present Disposal of the Night-Soil
Of the Working Nightmen and the Mode of Work