A number of local pawnbrokers' newspaper adverts have recently come to light containing the intriguing statement ‘no tea will be pressed upon customers unless requested’.
On the face of it the offer appears to be a side-line of the pawnbroking business, suggesting a polite invitation to sit and enjoy a beverage during negotiations.
In researching the ‘custom’ the tea statement in these adverts suggests that it was far more than an innocent invitation, but something more covert and sinister. It was in fact a scam unfortunately practised by some unscrupulous dealers.
The truth of the matter comes to light in a case heard by the Stipendiary Magistrate of Merthyr and Aberdare, Henry Austin Bruce, later the first Lord Aberdare, at Merthyr in May 1850.
A pawnbroker Solomon Bloom was charged with taking [charging] an illegal amount of interest. His wife appeared in answer to the charge.
The facts were as follows; in August 1849 a man named James Williams pledged his watch with Bloom and was compelled to take ¼ lb of tea as part of the deal. He also had to pay 1d (one penny) for the pawn ticket (the transaction receipt) and received in exchange for the watch 3/11 (three shillings and eleven pence) in money. However 7/6 (seven shillings and sixpence) was entered on the pawn ticket as cash advanced.
Almost a week later fearing the pledge would expire permitting Bloom to legally sell the watch, James Williams sent his wife to renew the pledge. Renewal was refused unless she took another ½ lb of tea which she reluctantly did. A further ticket was issued by Mrs Bloom showing 12/8 (twelve shillings and eight pence), as ‘cash lent’ but no extra money was given to Mrs Williams.
Mrs Williams on leaving the shop complained to the police, handing over the tea to them. Upon hearing of the complaint Mrs Bloom offered to return the watch without further payment by Mrs Williams.
The police examined the tea and found that it weighed but 3¼ ounces each ‘quarter’.
The case came to court and in her defence Mrs Bloom stated she had given Mrs Williams 1/- (one shilling) along with a ½ pound of tea. This was denied by Mrs Williams.
Other witnesses gave evidence, each having been out of court, during the hearing of the evidence of Williams and Bloom. There was a great discrepancy in the evidence given.
The court found Bloom guilty and in giving judgement Magistrate Bruce deemed the police case was clearly made out. He found that too much had been put on the pawn ticket, that the tea was not only of short measure but of inferior quality. This was a scandal and he questioned who would pay 6s (six shillings) a pound for such tea when it could be purchased cheaper elsewhere. He called the Blooms cheats and fined them £2 with a warning that if they offended again the fine would be £10. He pointed out that the Act (Pawnbrokers Act) specified that only money was to be loaned.
It seems this practice was widespread, although some Jewish pawnbrokers distanced themselves from it, as can be seen in the two adverts below.
There were still letters of complaint in the newspapers as late as 1875 when the ‘custom’ had extended to tobacco and soap. This in despite of the passing of a new Pawnbrokers Act of 1872.
David Hart (see above) removed from Merthyr to Aberdare where he put his home at the disposal of the Aberdare community for use as a Synagogue.
Source: The National Library of Wales: Welsh newspapers: Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 18 May 1850, p.3.
Image sources: Advertisement for Samuel Freedman & Son from The Aberdare Times, 17 May 1862, p.4. Image credit National Library of Wales.
Advertisement from Merthyr Telegraph, 13 June 1863, p.2. Image credit National Library of Wales.
Written by Geoffrey Evans, JHASW volunteer.