Bell-dummy for training pickpockets

The Feb, 1930 issue of Modern Mechanix carried a story about Scaltiel, a stage-performer whose act revolved around picking pockets. Scaltiel claimed to have learned his trade after being inducted into a guild of pickpockets who tested him on a "bell-dummy" whose every pocket "was wired so that the slightest touch would result in the ringing of a bell, showing that the amateur thief was clumsy."

Sometimes a thief will go to great lengths to "contact" his victim. He will drop a glove under the seat of some innocent party without being seen. Then the thief will retrieve the glove and offer it to his victim who believes that some polite person has made a mistake. He will speak to the thief, unaware that while he is looking at the thief, the nimble fingers are exploring his pockets or extracting a stick pin or "lifting" a watch. The thief is holding out the glove with his right hand while his left "mit" is at work.

The public is most in danger of being robbed while in a crowd. The theater lines and groups near cloakrooms often harbor pickpockets. Although you may often suspect an innocent party if you are carrying valuables in a crowd beware of the man who holds a newspaper or magazine or has a coat slung over his arm. The pickpocket with a coat over his arm can work easily with one hand shielded by the folds of the garment.

Women who carry their valuables in handbags swung from handles are a constant source of inspiration to pickpockets for even while walking on the street or standing in a streetcar a pickpocket can open the bag, extract the valuables and close the bag without being detected and without much chance of alarming the victim.

The profession of the pickpockets is not by any means limited to men for some of the most skillful of such thieves are women and girls. Often a man will be crowded against a young woman and while he may be embarrassed the girl is not for she may be taking his watch or pocket book. Very often such girls operate with a confederate to whom she will pass her loot. The confederate will then disappear in the crowds.

Amateur PICK POCKETS Study in CRIME College


  1. This reminds me of an old Ginger Rogers movie, “Heartbeat,” made in the 1940s. She plays a young pickpocket who gets recruited into a guild of pickpockets such as the one described above. It shows similar techniques in the movie.

    1. @Anon: You might be right, I also remember a movie like Oliver Twist that had the same training too. There are also tales of a pick-pocketing school called “The School of Seven Bells”.

      1. “Mutton yesterday, mutton today, and blimey, if it don’t look like mutton again tomorrer,” is my regular exclamation for leftovers, although I’d rather starve than eat mutton. That stuff tastes like an old shoe.

  2. The pedant in me is always strangely pleased by the kind of watertight syntax that is now only found in antiquity, to wit: “The public *is* most in danger…”. That’s right: correct use of a collective noun. Please forward this to all major news agancies with haste.

  3. This is why I always place my hand on my wallet when someone gets a little too “chummy” in a public place.

    If I’m really worried, I just put it in the front pocket for a while. And yes, I can’t help but feel it there.

    1. Or stuff your’s full, like George Costanza, that explodes in a flurry of insignificant business cards, receipts and scraps of paper; Busted!

      And I agree, the back pocket is terrible, a nice small wallet in my right front pocket is perfect. And I always put in it what I only need, especially in large crowds. And who carries cash these days? I love my debit card with my photo on it; Perfect.

      Even though some say it’s a bad idea, I NEVER sign my cards. I write “Check I.D.” boldly with a permanent sharpie; works for me!

      TO ALL: Even though they are wallet sized, NEVER CARRY YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY CARD!

      1. Another tip…

        Especially in foreign countries, I’ve found most skatewear shorts or pants to be very helpful, because they have those nifty inside pockets that are big enough for cards and bills.
        Somebody would really have to dig to get to that, and if you don’t notice it happening, you’re probably unconscious.

      2. I just don’t carry a wallet. I stopped a couple years ago. All I need is one credit card and my driver’s license. I have a pouch for my phone, which goes inside a second (thin) pouch meant for a slightly larger phone, and the two cards go in the larger pouch outside the inner pouch. This goes in a front pocket, or a jacket pocket although a jacket pocket is eminently pick-pocket-able.

        I wear fitted (tight) pants these days so the phone pouch is visibly in my pocket from the outside, but somewhat difficult even for me to remove, so I feel pretty safe and don’t worry about it. I’ve spent time in large crowds all over the world like this and if I feel it’s necessary for some extra precaution, I just stick my hands in my pockets, which I often do anyway.

        I also have been carrying cash (I started when I was in Thailand for much of last year, where cash is essential, but have been using it more and more in the US since moving to a place with a lot of Asian establishments where they don’t take cards) but you don’t need to keep this in a wallet or even a money clip (which would be visible through my tight pants) – just keep loose bills in your pocket. I keep them in a back pocket. They’re flat, so invisible and don’t hinder your comfort (as wallets in the back pocket do).

        Honestly I don’t understand why people feel the need to carry all kinds of stuff in a wallet. Yeah, sometimes I forget my REI membership card or something, but anyplace with a card like that you can just use your phone number, or I can just go back out to the car (which is where I keep all that kind of stuff).

    2. You’d think the front pocket would be safe, wouldn’t you? Well, on the subway in Chicago, it’s not. Believe me.

      1. @Anon #12: It also depends upon the tightness of your pants, I believe. I tend to wear regular-fitting jeans, rather than slacks or pants that sag. If you give ’em an inch, they’ll take your wallet. Ha!
        I rode the Red Line for two years and never had a problem, even during Cubs games.

        Another movie with pickpockets in it? The lovable Richard Widmark fighting Communists in Pickup on South Street (1953)

    3. Pick pockets watch for cues like this. People nervously checking their concealed wallets or money clips work perfectly to give away their location, and that they likely have an amount they’d rather not lose.

      1. @Anon#17:

        You’re right, but there’s a difference between someone looking nervous because this is not normal routine, and someone NOT looking nervous because it’s habit.

        Even the most naive con men know the art of the con can be used by both white hats and black hats.

  4. To Anon #2 and Palomino: there’s yet another movie with this kind of “training dummy” for pickpockets, it’s an italian film called “Mani di Velluto” (Velvet Hands), starring the great Adriano Celentano. Apparently there are no connections with the movies you mention.

  5. Another movie… Harry in Your Pocket (1973) starring James Coburn and Michael Sarrazin.

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