London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Weapons.
THE sale of -hand pistols, for to that weapon the street-sellers' or hawkers' trade in arms seems confined, is larger than might be cursorily imagined.
There must be something seductive about the possession of a pistol, for I am assured by persons familiar with the trade, that they have sold them to men who were ignorant, when invited to purchase, how the weapon was loaded or discharged, and seemed half afraid to handle it. Perhaps the possession imparts a sense of security.
The pistols which are sometimes seen on the street-stalls are almost always old, rusted, or battered, and are useless to any except to those who can repair and clean them for sale.
There are men now selling new or secondhand pistols, I am told, who have been gunmakers.
This trade is carried on almost entirely by hawking to public-houses. I heard of no who depended solely upon it, "but this is the way," intelligent man stated to me, "if I am buying -hand things at a broker's, or in , or anywhere, and there's a pistol that seems cheap, I'll buy it as readily as anything I know, and I'll soon sell it at a publichouse, or I'll get it raffled for. -hand pistols sell better than new by such as me. If I was to offer a new I should be told it was some Brummagem slop rubbish. If there's a little silver-plate let into the wood of the pistol, and a crest or initials engraved on it—I've got it done sometimes—there's a better chance of sale, for
|people think it's been made for somebody of consequence that wouldn't be fobbed off with an inferior thing. I don't think I've often sold pistols to working-men, but I've known them join in raffles for them, and the winner has often wanted to sell it back to me, and has sold it to somebody. It's tradesmen that buy, or gentlefolks, if you can get at them. A pistol's a sort of a plaything with them."
On my talking with a street-dealer concerning the street-trade in -hand pistols, he produced a handsome pistol from his pocket. I inquired if it was customary for men in his way of life to carry pistols, and he expressed his conviction that it was, but only when travelling in the country, and in possession of money or valuable stock. "I gave only for this pistol," he said, "and have refused for it, for I shall get a better price, as it's an excellent article, on some of my rounds in town. I bought it to take to Ascot races with me, and have it with me now, but it's not loaded, for I'm going to Moulsey Hurst, where Hampton races are held. You're not safe if you travel after a great muster at a race by yourself without a pistol. Many a poor fellow like me has been robbed, and the public hear nothing about it, or say it's all gammon. At Ascot, sir, I trusted my money to a booth-keeper I knew, as a few men slept in his booth, and he put my bit of tin with his own under his head where he slept, for safe keeping. There's a little doing in -hand pistols to such as me, but we generally sell them again."
Of , or other offensive weapons, there is no street sale. A few "," some of gutta percha, are hawked, but they are generally new. Bullets and powder are not sold by the pistol-hawkers, but a for the casting of bullets is frequently sold along with the weapon.
Of these -hand pistol-sellers there are now, I am told, more than there were last year. "I really believe," said man, laughing, but I heard a similar account from others, "people were afraid the foreigners coming to the Great Exhibition had some mischief in their noddles, and so a pistol was wanted for protection. In my opinion, a pistol's just of the things that people don't think of buying, 'til it's shown to them, and then they're tempted to have it."
The principal street-sale, independently of the hawking to public-houses, is in such places as Ratcliffe-highway, where the mates and petty officers of ships are accosted and invited to buy a good -hand pistol. The wares thus vended are generally of a well-made sort.
In this traffic, which is known as a "straggling" trade, pursued by men who are at the same time pursuing other street-callings, it may be estimated, I am assured, that there are men engaged, each taking as an average a week. In some weeks a man may take ; in the next month he may sell no weapons at all. From to per cent. is the usual rate of profit, and the yearly street outlay on these -hand offensive or defensive weapons is
man who "did a little in pistols" told me, "that or years ago, when he was a boy, his father sometimes cleared a week in the streetsale and hawking of -hand , and that he himself had sometimes carried the 'gloves' in his hand, and pistols in his pocket for sale, but that now boxing-gloves were in no demand whatever among street-buyers, and were 'a complete drug.' He used to sell them at the set, which is gloves."