Spoons

Spoons
Curiously relevant 19th-century British money slang.

In 1860, British industry was gripped by a “Leather Crisis,” when the country’s largest leather manufacturer, Streatfield, Laurence, & Mortimore, collapsed. As George Robb noted in his 2002 book “White-Collar Crime in Modern England”:

[The bankruptcy] revealed that a great deal of the English leather trade had been conducted on a system of fictitious credits. Streatfield’s failed for £980,000 bringing down 30 other leather firms with total liabilities of almost £3 million. For years these firms had employed agents to draw up and accept fictitious bills. The Leather Crisis revealed how easily credit fraud could become institutionalized.
In the entry for “Spoons” in his 1874 “Slang Dictionary,” John Camden Hotten described how this Leather Crisis bankruptcy introduced a new taxonomy of money slang:
Spoons: a method of designating large sums of money, disclosed at the Bankruptcy Court during the examination of the great leather failures of Streatfield and Laurence in 1860–61. The origin of the phrase was stated to be the reply of the bankrupt Laurence to an offer of accommodating him with £5,000, – “Oh, you are feeding me with a Tea-spoon.”
Hence, £5,000 came to be known in the firm as a Tea-spoon; £10,000, a Dessert-spoon; £15,000, a Table-spoon; and £20,000, as aGravy-spoon.
The public were amused at this Tea-spoon phraseology, but were disgusted that such levity should cover a gigantic swindle of the kind.
It came out in evidence, however, that it was not the ordinary slang of the discount world, but it may not improbably become so.


Dictionary of unconsidered lexicographical trifles. 2014.

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