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 September 02, 2011
Shell Game

The"shell game” consists of three shells (or cups) with a pea placed underneath one of the shells; the shells are then moved quickly, and people wager which shell contains the pea. “Shell game” has been cited in print since at least 1872, from New Orleans, Louisiana.

The term “financial shell game” has been cited in print since at least 1898. In a financial shell game, confusing balance sheets and accounting trick people into thinking that something is more financially sound than it actually is. The accounting for federal programs such as Social Security and national healthcare have been dubbed by some as “shell games.” In 1996, Michael Kinsley wrote a magazine article titled “Social Security: From Ponzi Scheme to Shell Game.” It’s possible for something to be called both a Ponzi or pyramid scheme (where fresh investors/capital is needed) and a shell game (where accounting tricks are played).


Wikipedia: Shell game
The shell game (also known as Thimblerig, Three shells and a pea, the old army game) is portrayed as a gambling game, but in reality, when a wager for money is made, it is a confidence trick used to perpetrate fraud. In confidence trick slang, this swindle is referred to as a short-con because it is quick and easy to pull off.

Wiktionary: shell game
Noun
shell game
(plural shell games)
1.A game of skill which requires the bettor to guess under which of three small cups (or shells) a pea-sized object has been placed after the party operating the game rapidly rearranges them, providing opportunity for sleight-of-hand trickery.
2.Any confidence scheme, especially one involving the rapid movement of investment funds to a location beyond recovery

Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary
shell game noun
Definition of SHELL GAME
1: thimblerig played especially with three walnut shells
2: fraud; especially : a swindle involving the substitution of something of little or no value for a valuable item
First Known Use of SHELL GAME
1890

(Oxford English Dictionary)
shell-game n. U.S. a sleight-of-hand swindling game in which a small object is concealed under a walnut shell or the like, and bets are made as to which shell the object is under; also fig.
1890 B. Hall Turnover Club 169 Would endeavour to make a collection of Japanese coins, with their cards and a shell game.
1899 Philistine ix. 157 All the people who work the filological shell-game.
1942 Sun (Baltimore) 19 Mar. 19/6 The defendant pleaded innocent to charges of operating a shell game.

17 October 1872, New Orleans (LA) Times-Picayune, pg. 8:
That Shell Game Swindle.
Officers D. Donovan and Stonehall made the arrest on Monday afternoon of five gamblers named P. Avery, J. Peterson, J. Smith, Jos. Morgan and Henry Boucher, charged with swindling. They were taken in from the head of Ann street, opposire French Market, where they were carrying on the “shell game,” and other entertaining employments.

24 April 1889, Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL), pt. 1, pg. 7:
PLAYING THE SHELL GAME.
(...)
There is another kind of fisherman frequenting the pier—fishers of men, as it were. They are after suckers. Their bait, though simple enough, looks very tempting. It consists of the halves of three English walnut shells and a pea, and with it they play what is known among the initiated as the “shell game.” The “skin” game would be a more appropriate namefor it, for every time a sucker bited he is landed with certainty, neatness, and dispatch. To be sure, the operator may give one of his fish a taste just to see how good it is, and then catch him for double the amount. The shell man’s fish are caught in this way: Flat on a smooth board are placed the three shells, one of them covering the pea. Those who are watching the game are shown under which shell the pea reposes. Then the operator deftly shifts the positions of the shells with a series of movements which the tricky three-card monte man would recognize at once as closely resembling his own. Then the question is, which shell covers the pea. The spectator is allowed to gratify his curioisity at the cost of any surplus sum of money that he may chance to hae concealed about his clothes. If he calls the turn his money is doubled. If he fails to have the right shell his ducats remain in the capacious paw of the operator.

A reporter for THE INTER OCEAN watched the nimbleshell manipulator grow rich for a half hour or so yesterday afternoon.

15 January 1898, Arizona Republican (Phoenix, AZ), “Bryan and Mexico,” pg. 2, col. 2:
Hence the profits of 40 to 60 per cent. of which the silver advocate boasts, in apparent ignorance that they are taken out of the mill employes by a financial shell game.

13 September 1904, Gazette-Telegraph (CO), “That Saving Sense of Humor,” pg. 4:
A nominating convention which attempted in this day of grace and daily papers to bunco a nation in broad daylight with a worn-out financial shell game.

24 January 1913, Grand Rapids (MI) Press, pg. 8:
Financial Shell Game.
One disclosure of the money trust probe which ought to be understood more clearly than it yet is related to the California Petroleum company.
(...)
Those syndicate managers got by very easily by just running a kind of shell game.

OCLC WorldCat record
Hellow sucker! : the 3 shell game exposed completely for the first time
Author: Jack Chanin
Publisher: [Philadelphia] : Jack Chanin, ©1934.
Edition/Format:  Book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
The Argot of the Three-Shell Game
Author: David W Maurer
Edition/Format:  Article : English
Publication: American Speech, Oct., 1947, vol. 22, no. 3, p. 161-170
Database: JSTOR

OCLC WorldCat record
The old shell game : watch your wages vanish!
Author: United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), [1952]
Series: Publication (United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America), no. 211C. 
Edition/Format:  Book : English

OCLC WorldCat record
The pension shell game : an investigation into a “national disgrace.”
Publisher: Hollywood, CA. : Center for Cassette Studies, [©1974]
Series: Issues in sociology. 
Edition/Format:  Audiobook on Cassette : Cassette recording : English
Summary: A discussion of the irregularities which occur in private pension plans in America and means of remedying such mismanagement.

OCLC WorldCat record
The great American shell game: controlling healthcare costs.
Author: J Califano
Edition/Format:  Article : English
Publication: Hospital & health services administration, 1984 Sep-Oct; 29(5): 61-73
Database: From MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine

OCLC WorldCat record
The shell game at the Fed
Author: L Clifford Cheney
Publisher: Hobbs, NM : MEC Publications, [1994?]
Edition/Format:  Book : English

Slate Magazine
Social Security: From Ponzi Scheme to Shell Game
A prejudiced primer on privatization.

By Michael Kinsley
Posted Saturday, Dec. 14, 1996, at 3:30 AM ET

OCLC WorldCat record
Beating the Shell Game: Bank Secrecy Laws and Their Impact on Civil Recovery in International Fraud Actions
Author: George J Moscarino; Michael R Shumaker
Edition/Format:  Article : English
Publication: Journal of Money Laundering Control, v1 n1 (1997): 42-51
Database: CrossRef

OCLC WorldCat record
The billionaire shell game : how cable baron John Malone and assorted corporate titans invented a future nobody wanted
Author: Lawrence J Davis
Publisher: New York : Doubleday, 1998.
Edition/Format:  Book : English : 1st ed

OCLC WorldCat record
Obama’s Shell Game - EDITORIAL COMMENTARY: Hiding the true cost of health-care reform.
Author: Thomas G Donlan
Publisher: Chicopee, Mass. : Dow Jones & Co., 1994-
Edition/Format:  Article : English
Publication: Barron’s. (September 14, 2009): 39
Database: ArticleFirst

OCLC WorldCat record
Campaign finance reform : the political shell game
Author: Melissa M Smith; et al
Publisher: Lanham, Md. : Lexington Books, ©2010.
Series: Lexington studies in political communication. 
Edition/Format:  Book : English

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityBanking/Finance/Insurance • (0) Comments • Friday, September 02, 2011 • Permalink