Would you buy a used pianoforte from this man?

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Most (if not all) nineteenth-century newspapers carried adverts. Often these took up much of the front and back pages and there were far more prominent than today. In 1868 William Cox, a successful newspaper entrepreneur realized that there was a market for a weekly paper that only carried adverts. In 1868 he launched the Exchange & Mart (which is still going today, albeit mainly online) and it was an immediate success. Buyers could find all sorts of useful everyday (and not so everyday) items and sellers could reach an ever-expanding domestic audience.

But as we all know one has to exercise a little caution when buying at a distance; caveat emptor (as those wise old Romans would say). This case illustrates the risks involved in making a purchase from someone advertising in the small ads.

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In 1886 Thomas Percy Graham (of Bedford) saw a pianoforte advertised in Exchange & Mart as ‘nearly new’ for £28. He contacted the seller, the delightfully named Urban Arthur Godts, and asked for some more details and proof of sale etc. Godtz supplied him with receipts that showed he had recently bought the instrument new from Edward Bishop, a pianoforte maker from Chalk Farm. The receipt stated the piano had cost £77 and 10s in 1886, so £28 was decent price.

Satisfied that all was above board, Graham went ahead with his purchase.

But all was far from ‘above board’ as it turned out. Godtz had recently been released from prison where he had been serving time for fraud. In fact exactly the same fraud that he was now committing!

Godtz’ MO (modus operandi) was to advertise old pianofortes for sale as ‘new’ or ‘nearly new’ so he could sell them at a higher price. Bishop acted as his accomplice by supplying the legitimizing documentation and presumably he took a cut of the profit. Poor Graham was merely the latest dupe to think he was getting a bargain when in fact the piano was much older and (most likely) much more worn out and less valuable.

The magistrate was content that a crime had been committed but adjourned the case for two weeks while the police investigated further. The case did reach the Old Bailey where the judge decided that on this occasion there was insufficient proof  that Godtz and Bishop had communicated with each other and,  since Godsz could not ‘conspire’ on his own, the charge failed on a point of law and both men were released.

[NB: It interested me that Godsz lived in Tufnell Park at Huddleston Road, a stone’s throw from where I grew up.]

[from The Illustrated Police News etc , Saturday, June 4, 1887]

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