Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Buyer Beware" the Best Advice About Investing in Pioneer Mining Stocks

On August 24, 1863, the Editor of the Evening Bulletin in San Francisco published a column entitled “More Disgust from a Youthful Dabbler in Mining Stocks.”

He began, “A short time ago I wrote you an account of my personal experience in mining stock. I now propose to relate the experience of some of my friends.”

The Bulletin Editor went on, “I met a friend who for more than a year has been dabbling in mining stocks. … At first, as is usual among brokers, he attempted to sell me different kinds of stocks, averring that there was a fortune in each of them; but I had already been burned and could not be induced to touch the stuff.”

No less a personage than Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, would offer similar hard-won, and valuable advice about the perils of investing in mining stock. He spent 1861 through 1863 among miners and speculators in Nevada, including hard labor at the Comstock Lode. That gave young Sam a first-hand look at the scams and dodges pulled by conniving wildcatters.
Sam Clemens aka Mark Twain.
Library of Congress

He slammed the perpetrators of one swindle, calling them “leather-headed thieves.” Their venture was not actually a going concern. With his characteristic humor, Clemens noted that they had promised to organize the company “at some indefinite period in the future – probably in time for the resurrection.”

The Bulletin Editor’s comparable skepticism changed the tune of his broker friend: “Seeing that it was hopeless to saddle me with any of his prettily printed certificates, he became quite gracious and confidential. It appeared that in his whole year’s work he had come out just even. He had run a good many risks and occasionally missed making a ‘handsome thing’.”

After reciting two more examples, the Editor said, “There is only one class of people, in my opinion, who can make money at this hocus-pocus business, and they are the brokers.”

Clemens, in a small way, learned to make money in carefully selected investments. Some were based on tips revealed in hard drinking bouts with the wildcatters. Thus, he usually had a “foot or two” of various claims. Somewhat tongue in cheek, in 1863 he told the folks back home, “I shall sell out one of these days, when I catch a susceptible emigrant.”

References: Peter Krass, ‪Ignorance, Confidence, and Filthy Rich Friends‬: ‪The Business Adventures of Mark Twain‬, John Wiley & Sons, New York (2007).
“More Disgust from a Youthful Dabbler in Mining Stocks,” Evening Bulletin, San Francisco, California (August 24, 1864).

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