History of the 'Bill in Cash Register Scam'

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Joe Mckay » 11/05/05 06:31 PM

Evening all...

I guess most people who have an interest in magic, also have an interest in gambling and cons. Well, at least I do. So, I'd like to briefly mention my favourite which I am sure is familiar to most of you...

A magician is in a bar (preferably large and busy) doing some tricks. Eventually he borrows a $20 bill from one of the bar staff and has it signed. He secretly switches the bill for some paper and sets fire to it. Whilst the fire is ablaze, the magician surrepticiously passes the bill to his secret accomplice who is passing by...

The accomplice goes to the other end of the bar and asks the barman to break the $20 bill for the pool table. So the $20 bill winds up back in the cash register, whilst our accomplice pockets the $20 in change and thanks the barman...

Meanwhile, at the other end of the bar Mr. Magician tells the barman he is going to make the signed $20 bill re-appear somewhere impossible.
"Abracadabra".
Check the cash register.
"ta da!".
Mr. Magician and his accomplice go away $20 richer...

And so...A few things...I have never done this and never will (I blame that on my Catholic upbringing)...It has been exposed on T.V. at least once before, here in the UK...So, I guess that would make it a riskier proposition. Anyway, I would love to know if anyone could tell us about the history of this scam. Because, whoever invented it must be a genius. It is so elegant. On the surface it is a stunning magic trick. A signed bill disappears and re-appears in a cash register. Not bad. And beneath the surface it is, as far as scams/crimes go, a very pretty one. Since, the victim is unaware a crime has taken place. Anyway, I will list a few questions that I would love to know the answer to. Any info would be fascinating to hear...

1) Does anyone know who invented this scam? or who perhaps popularised it? and how long ago?

2) Among people who know about the history and repertoire of scams is this particular scam regarded as the most ingenious?

3) How come it leaked out? Why didn't the inventor of this scam keep it under wraps. I could easily imagine an enterprising grifter retiring on a scam like this...

Oh well, hope other people are as interested as I am in this sort of thing...

Joe Mckay
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Postby Mark Collier » 11/05/05 07:24 PM

I don't know the history of this scam but it 'leaked out' because bartenders figure it out.

The 'victim' might not realize it at first but it becomes apparent:

Bartender A opens Bartender B's register and finds the signed bill. Bartender A will certainly ask Bartender B about it and Bartender B will remember that someone just bought a drink or got change or whatever with it (bartenders notice things like signed bills being spent).

If they don't figure it out immediately, they will later when Bartender B's register is $20 short. The scam will be obvious.

It's a great trick but a small time short con that you do once and have to leave right away.

Nobody is going to retire by stealing $20 from one bar at a time.
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Postby Bill Palmer » 11/06/05 12:06 AM

I first heard about this around 30 years ago from Ed Campagna, who saw a fellow pull the stunt in a bar. He tipped the bartender to the method. In this case, the bartender did not figure it out for himself, nor was he likely to do so.

I'm sure it has been around longer than that.
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Postby Curtis Kam » 11/06/05 01:15 AM

The scam, not as a trick, but as a short con appeared decades ago in the movie "Paper Moon". The signature was replaced by the words "Happy Birthday Annie". (or whatever name) An adult enters a shop and breaks the twenty, chatting up the cashier so that the message isn't noticed.

Not too much later, Tatum O'Neil enters and spends a fiver or so. When handed her change, she complains that she had paid with the Twenty her Uncle gave her for her birthday. The embarrased cashier looks in the register and concludes that he must have made a mistake.

Anyone who actually recalls the movie (or the television series?) is welcome to step in and provide more reliable details, but that was the scam's entrance into the awareness of the general public in the U.S., as far as I know.
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Postby Terry Screen » 11/06/05 09:44 AM

The late British singer/actor Adam Faith appeared in a TV series called 'Budgie' about an ex con which aired from 1970 - 1972. I remember in one episode his character pulled a similar stunt where he had 20 pound notes with consecutive serial numbers. He would walk into a small newsagents and pass a fiver then claiming it to have been 20. Of course his accomplice had been in just earlier and passed one of the 20 pound notes with a consecutive number so when the till was checked the shop assistant believed him.
Hope that made sense. It did in my head.

FWIW . .

Terry.
Keep passing the open windows.
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