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tailors or women dependent on the needle for their living. Hence the machine men, like all instalment dealers, make much of their philanthropic interest in their customers, and claim to be the poor man's best friends. Criticism of their work and methods should not be too severe. They are doing a legitimate business, and quite possibly they are not more harsh in their methods of conducting it than is necessary in dealing with the class of customers to whom they cater. Yet it should be frankly recognized that their prices are high; that their agents in many cases force sales by the exercise of altogether too great persuasive power; that they do not display by any means the same leniency toward delinquents as do the great house furnishers; that they invoke the law far more frequently; and that their operations are conducted, on the whole, with far more friction and result much more often in injustice and serious loss to their customers.
Of the trade in books and pianos little need be said. In books, the instalment business began with the larger reference works, and has gradually extended its field until now almost any book may be bought on this plan. The methods of the ordinary book agent are too well known to need any description. The book-buying public is likewise known as being of relatively high grade, both intellectually and financially. The instalment idea has been responsible for a very considerable addition to that public, though its effects have been rather to cause people to buy larger and more expensive works than simply to extend the book trade among a new class of purchasers. The latter effect, however, has been by no means inconsiderable. To return to technical matters, the details of contract and credit are like those previously discussed. The ordinary credit period is eighteen months. The high average intelligence of customers prevents any serious abuses from creeping into the book trade. The unlimited persistence of agents, resulting in sales unsatisfactory to the purchaser, conjoined with the fact that intellectual ability is no guarantee of financial responsibility, serves to explain the occasional difficulties, legal and otherwise, that arise. The interesting fact that a well known publishing house was some time since obliged to suspend because of inability to make collections on its instalment business, will serve to illustrate the extent to which the method has crept into the book trade.
The piano business began about a quarter of a century ago. To-day some dealers do almost entirely an instalment business, and there is no piano made which cannot be bought on instalments. On the high-grade instruments a relatively large deposit is required and a monthly payment of five to ten dollars and upward, varying with the amount of the deposit. A prominent department store, on the other hand, advertises a piano for $150, five dollars down and the balance at the rate of a dollar a week,-a bid for a lower class of trade which the better grade of manufacturers contemptuously characterize as a system of "nothing down and nothing a week thereafter." Whether on cheap or high-grade instruments, the period of credit is long, three years being the limit. The contract takes the lease form. The piano business, being carried on with a class of people well up in the financial and social scale, is peculiarly free from dishonesty and unfair dealing on both sides. Hence it is probably more free from legal process than any other line of instalment trade. Excepting a rare replevin suit, a piano case in a court is almost unheard of. The operations of the piano dealers, so far as I have been able to learn, are almost beyond criticism.
GOODS DEALT IN BY LOW-GRADE INSTALMENT DEALERS,
The first and greatest division of goods in which the lowgrade business is done, is furniture and house-furnishings of all kinds. Next comes machines. In books and pianos little is done, of course. The actual range of goods sold, however, covers practically everything, excepting groceries. The following advertisement may prove suggestive :
Dealer in Cloaks, Clothing, Rugs, Extension Springs, Wringers, Albums, Lace and Chenille Curtains, Table Covers, Furniture, Jewelry, Pictures, etc. Weekly or monthly payments taken. Please send postal card and I will call.
Another firm makes a specialty of “Dry and Dress Goods, Cloaks, Clothing, Furniture, Carpets, Lace Curtains, etc." Nearly every dealer has some line of goods in which he does his main business, but sells almost anything wanted. A firm of Broadway tailors makes clothes to order for a dollar a week. An enormously large business is done in steamship tickets, persons sending them to friends in Europe and paying for them at the rate of a few dollars a week. Young women buy hats for fifty cents a week. Men buy shirts and collars on similar terms. So one might go on in extending the list indefinitely.
As might be expected in so large and miscellaneous a traffic, the quality of the goods sold varies widely, from the very cheapest and poorest-goods that have proved unsalable in other markets and have been disposed of in job lots to these dealersup to those of medium grade. It would be far wide of the mark to assume that no honest goods are sold at honest prices. Prices of course, must be high, and often are exorbitant. Three and four times the actual value of goods is by no means an uncommon figure, but it is not the rule. A profit of 35% to 60% from dealer to consumer is much more usual on the better grade of business. Prices, like qualities, vary so widely that it is all but impossible to speak generally concerning them.
THE PEDDLER DEALERS.
A third class, whom I have called the peddler dealers, take out goods on memorandum" as it is called. This memorandum reads as follows:
“The under-mentioned goods are to be returned, or specified prices paid to Consignor on demand. The title to the goods, or to proceeds if sold, to the amount of specified prices, is in the Consignor until
they render a bill of sale."
Thousands of dollars' worth of goods go out every day under this arrangement. Now it would seem natural for the dealers to demand payment practically on a cash basis from so irresponsible a class of men as the peddlers, but the peddlers can pay nothing except as they collect instalments, and accordingly an extraordinary credit system prevails. Practically any man who can get a peddler already known to the dealer to vouch for him as “all right” may take out goods to the value of $100 without paying one cent. When his sales reach $100 he must pay $10, and can then take out further goods to the value of $10. Thus he has a standing credit of $100, based on nothing but a friend's assurance of his honesty. Of course not all dealers extend credit so freely, but many do. As the man becomes better known to the dealer, he may press him for an extension of credit until it may reach the thousand dollar mark, and all the time, be it noted, absolutely unsecured. At the same time, without the knowledge of the first creditor, he
may be incurring a like debt to two or three other dealers, so that his total debts may amount to two or three thousand dollars. The only returns the dealer gets are as the peddler collects little driblets of twenty-five or fifty cents a week and pays a few dollars now and then. The dealer, or small jobber, as I prefer to call him, may demand payment at pleasure, but he can get it only at the pleasure of the peddler. A member of one jewelry firm says that they have $50,000 out in this kind of trade, and that another firm has an even larger amount. Evidently enough, it is a most difficult matter to contract this kind of credits, though the gentleman just quoted states that his firm is going out of the peddler business as rapidly as possible.
This extensive and remarkable system of credit has not sprung into being in a day, and its inherent weakness is causing much trouble at the present time. The only hold of the dealer upon the peddler is through the possibility of a sui version, and consequent arrest and imprisonment. Such arrests have been of growing frequency during the present year, and the relations between peddlers and dealers have become so strained that the peddlers have formed a protective organization known as the “Greater New York Business Men's Association," while the dealers have organized an association among themselves to prevent bad debts by establishing a clearinghouse of information regarding their debtors, thus making it impossible for any peddler to extend his credit without the knowledge of all his creditors.
PROPOSED REMEDIAL LEGISLATION.
The following bill, directed against the evils described in the preceding pages, was introduced into the Senate by Senator Elsberg :
To amend chapter five hundred and eighty of the laws of nine
teen hundred and two, entitled “An act in relation to the municipal court of the city of New York, its officers and marshals.”
The people of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:
Section 1. Section fifty-six of chapter five hundred and eighty of the laws of nineteen hundred and two, entitled “An act in relation to the municipal court of the city of New York, its officers and marshals,” is hereby amended so as to read as follows:
$ 56. In what cases order of arrest to be granted.-An order to arrest the defendant must or may be granted, directed to any marshal of said city, in the following cases, but no female can be arrested except for a wilful injury to person or property :
1. In an action for the recovery of damages, in a cause of action not arising on contract, when the defendant is not a resident of the city of New York, or is about to remove therefrom, or when the action is for a wilful injury to person or property.
2. În an action for a fine or penalty, or for money or propperty embezzled or wrongfully misapplied or converted to his own use by a public officer, or an officer of a corporation, or an attorney, factor, broker, agent or clerk, in the course of his employment as such, or by any other person acting in a fiduciary capacity.
3. Where the defendant has been guilty of a fraud in contracting the debt, or incurring the obligation for which the action is brought, or in concealing or disposing of the property, for the taking, detention, or conversion of which the action is brought, except that no order of arrest shall be granted in an
EXPLANATION.-Matter in italics is new.