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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

The thimble riggers station themselves

The thimble-riggers who molested Mr. Rose, ship-builder, so much, also answered my Gipsy words distinctly; and, ever afterwards, took off their hats to me, as I passed them playing at their game.

[The thimble-men here alluded to took up their quarters immediately to the west of Leith Fort, where the road takes a turn, at a right angle, a little in front of Mr. Rose's house, and there takes a similar turn towards the west: the best position for carrying on the thimble game. So exasperated was this gentleman, when, by every means in his power, he failed to dislodge them, that he sent some of the men from his yard, to erect, on the spot, a pole, which he covered with sheet-iron, to prevent its being cut down; and placed on the top of it a board, having this upon it, "Beware of thimble-riggers and chain-droppers," with a hand pointing directly below. This had no effect, however, for the "knights of the thimble" pursued their game right under it. A gentleman, in passing one day, directed their attention to the board, but the only reply he got was, "Bah! that's nothing. Where can you find a shop without a sign? and where's the other person that gets a sign from the public for nothing?"

Thimble-rigging is peculiarly a Gipsy game. In Great Britain, the Gipsies nearly monopolize it; and it would be singular if some of the American thimblers were not Gipsies.--ED.]

One of the favourite, and permanent, fields of operation of these thimblers is on the Queensferry road, from where it is intersected by the street leading from the back of Leith Fort, on the east, to the new road leading from Granton pier, on the west. This part of the Queensferry road is intersected by about half-a-dozen cross-roads, all leading from the landing and shipping places at the piers of Granton, Trinity, and Newhaven. These cross-roads are cut by three roads running nearly parallel to each other, viz., the road along the sea-beach, Trinity road, and the Queensferry road. A great portion of the passengers, by the many steamboats, pass along all these different roads, to and from Edinburgh. On all of these roads, between the water of Leith and the Forth, the thimble-riggers station themselves, as single individuals, or in numbers, as it may answer their purpose. In fact, this part of the country between the sea and Edinburgh, is so much chequered by roads crossing each other, that it may be compared to the meshes of a spider's web, and the thimblers as so many spiders, watching to pounce upon their prey. The moment one of these sentinels observes a stranger appear, signals are made to his confederates, when their organized plan of operations for entrapping the unwary person is immediately put in execution. Strangers, unacquainted with the locality, are greatly bewildered among all the cross-roads mentioned, and have considerable difficulty in threading their way to the city. One of the gang will then step forward, and, pretending to be a stranger himself, will enquire of the others the road to such and such a place. Frequently the unsuspecting and bewildered individual will enquire of the thimbler for some street or place in Edinburgh. The decoy and the victim now walk in company, and converse familiarly together on various topics; the thimbler offers snuff to his friend, and makes himself as agreeable as he can; while one of the gang, at a distance in front, drops a watch, chain, or other piece of mock jewelry, or commences playing at the thimble-board. The decoy is sure to lead his dupe exactly to the spot where the trap is laid, and where he will probably be plundered. One or these entrapments terminated in the death of its subject. A working man, having risked his half-year's wages at the thimble-board, of course lost every farthing of the money; and took the loss so much to heart as, in a fit of despondency, to drown himself in the water of Leith.

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