Leonard Rapport talked to Josiah Roberts (fictitious name) several times in the winter of 1939 and believed that he was honest. "Regardless of how he may appear, he was really a gentle, thoughtful man and I doubt he ever really made much as a pitchman."
Medicine is the biggest thing that's pitched. But the doctors and druggists got down so strong on it I think you now have to have a special license to pitch it. You should go to Winston-Salem about two weeks after the market opens -- if there was ever a medicine racket it's operated there. You can learn more about rackets and pitching on Trade Street in two days than you can in two months in Durham. The people have money and are in a carnival mood, buying and spending. All a man has to do to get started is to shake a cowbell and bally-hoo. They're pulling games 25 years old. They even sell them "cat-in-the-bag" -- a box with something in it. They'll say, "go ahead, boys, open the box; if it's not worth 50 cents, here's a dollar."
Chief Running Fox, a full-blooded Indian, works there. He's got seven or eight people in his crew. I've seen him with as high as 15 entertainers, including musicians. When the show's over, the entertainers go through the crowd selling the medicine. And there's Doc Cheshire who sits around all summer getting fat on what he makes in the market season . . . .
The jam man is the best pitchman of all; he's a smoother talker and he can get and hold a crowd more than any other pitchman in the field. He always has a helper, either his wife or another man. I've seen women jamming in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois, but only once in North Carolina; they rely more on their feminine attraction than on their sales ability. If a jammer has a pretty wife helping him, lots of times it allays suspicion.
A good jammer is somebody to watch work -- and all 44 states, the four commonwealths and the District of Columbia fall for him. It used to be that every circus and carnival carried jammers, but now a first-class circus or carnival won't permit them. Lots of the states won't either. North Carolina is open, and though it cost plenty to jam here they can pay.
You can tell a jammer the minute he starts and a block away. They're usually working from the back end of an automobile. A good kind of car for them is a one-seater where the back lifts up. Sometimes they'll have a little platform back there. They all use the same system and the same sort of speech. Usually when they start they'll hold up a catalogue and say, "I'm representing a large company -- second to Sears and Roebuck." Some say, "My company wants to advertise and they've sent me here to give away several presents." Then he takes out wristwatches, fountain pens, knives, silverware sets, carving sets, rings, cameras, razor blades, and all kinds of things, and holds them up and says they're the things his company wants to advertise.
A jammer worked here 30 minutes this fall and took $160, of which $130 was net profit. He was from Oklahoma; I used to know him. I talked to him before he pitched and asked him how much he was going to take them for. "I can't afford to pitch for less than $100," he said. "Go ahead," I told him. "I hope you get a couple hundred." He drove into Deevers' warehouse before the sale quit for dinner at 12:30. It took him 30 minutes to throw his jam.
This fellow got a crowd of farmers and some of the boys working in the warehouse by throwing out cheap razor blades and key rings. He said, "Yes, my company wants to advertise -- get'em." Then he threw out two or three pocket knives -- they cost him 50 cents a dozen. By that time he had the crowd grabbing and in the mood to believe.
He started with pocketbooks -- cost 80 cents a dozen. He picked up some; and as he did, everybody jumped. Then he says, "My company wants to put these pocketbooks in reliable hands. They want them to go to reliable people who after i'm gone will visit the drugstores and shops that handle our stuff and call for our products. Now I want to get rid of the chiselers and children. I want a man to give me a dollar for this pocketbook and I promise I will make him say, "Thank you.'"
Somebody will take him up; he doesn't need a plant in the audience. There's always enough who believe in the American theory of something for nothing. When the man gives him his dollar he'll ask him, "Are you satisfied to pay a dollar for this?" The man says, "Yes." Then he gives him the pocketbook and says, "To show you the kind of company I represent, here's your dollar back." I've never seen it fail, and I reckon I've seen 25 jammers. All based on the same theory -- the crowd thinks he's trying to get rid of the sorry ones, and they pay, expecting to get their money back.
He sold 36 pocketbooks and marked each box with a number. He laid a bill on each pocketbook and made a mention like he was going to pass out the pocketbooks and the bills -- and then he stopped and held a pen-and-pencil set and asked who wanted one for $5. Somebody gave him $5. Then he said, 'I've got a few more responsible gifts for responsible people. Anybody who hasn't got $5 isn't responsible." There were nine of the sets sold.
Then he sold four or five carving sets at $5 and one or two watches at $5. Then he brought out silverware sets that could be bought downtown for $2.98 and still give the merchant a 40 percent profit and sold three or four of them for $10 a set. He got $10 for the one manicure set that could be bought anywhere for $2 or $3.
Then he started handing out the presents, the large ones first. He'd ask each one as he gave his present to him, "What do you say?" Each one would say, "Thank you." Then he'd ask, "Are you satisfied with what you paid?" And each one said yes, fully expecting, of course, to get his money back.
After all purchases were handed out, he stepped back, holding the money, making them think he was getting ready to hand it out, and said, "If anybody is not satisfied, say so now before we proceed." One man gave his pocketbook back and somebody else stepped up and bought it. Then he asked them, "Are you as satisfied as if you bought what you got from a merchant up the street?" and they all said yes.
His assistant had the car motor running. Now, at this point, some jammers throw out cheap samples to get the crowd to back away from the front and sides of the car, but he didn't have to do that. As soon as he got every man to agree he said, "Well, if you're satisfied, so am I," and got in the car and drove across the floor and on out the warehouse. It took the crowd a minute to realize what happened, and some of them chased the car. They were so mad at themselves they could have torn him to pieces.
Yet he could probably have come back and worked again the next day. I've seen people who knew what it was try to stop their friend, but people get intoxicated with the idea of somebody giving away something for nothing. Old Doc Epsom Salts, who peddles an Epsom-salts tonic around here, fell for $11 on this jam man. I asked him if he'd never seen a jam man and he said he never had but he'd know the next one he saw. He was originally from a small town and he just never seen anything like that before. He said, "I thought sure he was going to give me my money back." I asked him, "If you'd been in his place would you have given it back?" He studied a minute and them he said, "I'd a been a fool if I had, wouldn't I?"