Financial Schemes of the Early 20th Century

While I was working on Annie’s Stories, and considering what kind of trouble my characters could get in, I thought about Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. If you haven’t read it, and you’re at all interested in the Gilded Age, put it on your must-read list.

I love reading books by authors who are writing about a society they actually lived in. You can’t get better historical detail than that. Take Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for example.

The idea that investing could bring quick money was alluring to both the rich, the rich wannbes like Wharton’s protagonist Lily Bart, and to those who could ill afford to lose a dollar.

(Photo above: Wall Street, 1898.)

And so my character Stephen Adams falls prey to what is called a Bucket Shop. This financial scheme is described as “an operation in which the customer is sold what is supposed to be a derivative interest in a security or commodity future, but there is no transaction made on any exchange. The transaction goes ‘in the bucket’ and is never executed.” (

Lily Bart is deceived by a friend for personal reasons, rather than by a bucket shop operation, but the idea is the same. My character had noble ambitions, but was lured just the same by the appeal of making quick money.

Sometimes when you study the past, it feels as though you are still in the present. Some things never change.

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. ~1 Timothy 6:10 NLT

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