A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from August 13, 2015
“He could sell ice to an Eskimo” (a good salesman)

"He could sell ice to an Eskimo”—meaning that he can sell something to someone who has no need for it—is an old expression to show that a person is a good salesman. “There are quite a few managers who can talk in this surprisingly convincing way. They could sell ice to Eskimos” was cited in print in 1914.

“He could sell sand in the Sahara desert” is a similar saying.


Wiktionary: sell ice to Eskimos
Verb
sell ice to Eskimos

1. (idiomatic) To persuade people to go against their best interests or to accept something unnecessary or preposterous.
He’s such a smooth talker, he could sell ice to Eskimos.

26 February 1914, Kalamazoo (MI) Gazette, “Hail to the Scrapper’s Manager! He Is Quick at Figures and Eloquent at Speech, Also Dressy,” pg. 7, col. 6:
There are quite a few managers who can talk in this surprisingly convincing way. They could sell ice to Eskimos.

Google Books
10 June 1914, Motor World, “Painting Word Pictures for the Prospect” by Ray W. Sherman, pg. 25, col. 2:
“He could sell ice to an Eskimo, He could make an Eskimo see advantages in ice that he never knew existed.”

22 August 1915, Sunday World-Herald (Omaha, NE), “Some Experiences of Emma McChesney and Her Son Jock” by Edna Ferber, Magazine, pg. 6, col. 2:
“He ought to be able to sell ice to an Eskimo. His mother was Emma McChesney.”

30 May 1919, Kokomo (IN) Daily Tribune, “Round About Town” pg. 8, col. 2:
“Cass” Caestecker is a salesman par excllence who could sell ice to an Eskimo or a Hungarian dictionary to a Cork county Irishman.

25 March 1920, Boston (MA) Post, “The Means to an End” by Miss Grace E. Riley, pg. 23, col. 1:
“To spy upon my, I suppose,” thought he, bitterly, receiving with no very good grace Mr. Harding’s statement that Newcomb could sell ice to the Eskimos.

29 December 1929, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), Rotogravure Supplement, pg. ?, col. 1 photo caption:
SHE COULD SELL ICE TO THE ESKIMOS
The Duchess of San Carlos, famous Spanish beauty, who will shortly open London’s first hat “studio.”

11 December 1938, Sunday World-Herald (Omaha, NE), pg. 4-A, col. 2:
Eskimo Refirgerators
The salesman who bragged that he could sell ice to the Eskimos would be out of luck these days, for the natives are making their own refrigerators.

OCLC WorldCat record
Management, Strategies, Trends - U.S. Filter - Richard Heckmann could sell ice to Eskimos. Look how he sells water to investors.
Author: Bernard Condon
Publisher: [New York, N.Y. : Forbes Inc., 1918-
Edition/Format: Article Article : English
Publication: Forbes. 158, no. 14, (1996): 42
Database: ArticleFirst

OCLC WorldCat record
Ice to the eskimos : how to market a product nobody wants
Author: Jon Spoelstra
Publisher: [S.l.] : HarperCollins e-Books, 2014.
Edition/Format: eBook : Document : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Who says you can’t sell ice to Eskimos? : a door-to-door salesman reveals the timeless secrets of selling anyone, anything
Author: James W Murphy
Publisher: North Charleston, South Carolina : CreateSpace, [2014] ©2014
Edition/Format: Print book : English

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWork/Businesses • Thursday, August 13, 2015 • Permalink