“Two More Arrests…How the Smuggling was Accomplished”

June 24, 2010

A headline from today’s news? Another drug bust? No and no. This headline came from the July 3, 1877 New York Times and the contraband was…lace and silk. Those arrested were a steamship purser and a dock clerk. Apparently the purser obtained the silk and lace while in England, smuggled it aboard the ship on which he worked then delivered the goods to another person once the ship docked in New York. The dock clerk simply looked the other way. According to the newspaper, “smuggling of this character is said to have been going on since 1869, during which period it is estimated that nearly $1,000,000 worth of silks and laces have been thus surreptitiously brought into this port, most of which have been sold at auction at 30 percent below what they could have been imported for but giving the smugglers a handsome profit, the duty being 60 percent.”

Thirteen months later on August 29, 1878, the New York Times reported another incident of lace smuggling. A Customs officer discovered that a “well-known” person attempted to smuggle “18 pieces of costly hand-made lace” into this country. The smuggler aroused suspicion because his trunks were heavy and “appeared to be packed closely.” Once opened, officials discovered that “at the bottom of each trunk-folded very carelessly, so that some less costly material to which it was attached should take the shape of curtains-lay the valuable lace. The owner of the trunks said that it was poor stuff and not worth bothering about. It was taken to the Custom House, however, where it was said to be real lace.”

Interesting what the supply of and demand for “real” lace would make a person do.


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