|Home -> James H. Barry Press -> The Great Diamond Hoax - Chapter XXIII|
Baron Grant Demonstrates His Talent For Exploitation by Putting Over A Deal That Nets $1,500,000.
Happy Directors Decide That Occasion Calls for Generous Cash Souvenirs, But Stockholders Object.
Those who are familiar with the staid, conservative, even-paced London of to-day can hardly realize what that same London was in 1871, the period of my first visit there. It was the year of the great Franco-Prussian war. The pleasure capital of the world was transferred from the River Seine to the River Thames. Male and female adventurers of every nation thronged the British capital; speculators eager to tap the great reservoirs of English wealth, gentlemen who lived by their wits, chevaliers d'industrie in general, made London a common trysting place. And the life was to correspond. It was notable for undisguised and shameless intemperance, a primitive, savage, heathenish pursuit of women and a fevered spirit of gambling speculation that cut loose from all moorings of common sense. I could compare it only to the recklessness and abandon of a Western mining camp in the orgy of flush times.
The speculative world was ruled and controlled by a strange character, for many years one of the famous figures in London, Baron Grant, the same man I mentioned in the last chapter. He was half Hebrew, half Irish, and it has been my experience that wherever you find that combination you can look out for something different from the common run. His real name was Gottheimer, but he had it changed by act of Parliament to Alfred Grant. He came by his title in a curious way. When the nascent kingdom of Italy, years before, had attempted to raise a considerable sum and had been turned down in the money marts of Europe, Grant, then in the height of his prestige, offered his services and floated triumphantly the discarded securities, for which service the grateful Italian government honored him with the title of baron.
When I first met him Baron Grant was past his zenith. Some of his transactions had been disapproved by the great financiers, but he was still a potent factor in the domain of speculation and a promoter without a peer.
Personally, he had the magnetic temperament more highly developed than any man I ever knew. His manners were engaging, he was simply a wonder in conversation, and as he spoke his handsome face was lighted with candid smiles that no one could resist. Whoever came within the sphere of Baron Grant's influence felt the intoxication of his power to charm.
Meeting several times under favorable auspices, we talked of the mines of California and the trans-Mississippi region in general, concerning which I could speak with first-hand knowledge. He was deeply interested, said that such properties would have a ready sale on the booming London market and promised that if I could only secure an option on a high-grade mining proposition, it would prove a very profitable piece of business to both of us.
I cabled Mr. Ralston, naming three well known developed mines and asked him to secure me an option on one of them. In answer I received a cable from William M. Lent, president of the Mineral Hill Silver Mining Company, in which I owned a quarter interest myself, offering an option on that property for a million dollars. Within a month all the necessary papers arrived by mail. These included, besides a legally drawn option, a full description of the property, its productive history, maps, engineer's reports, estimates of tonnage in sight and all the details that a careful investor might require. In addition there was a private agreement, duly executed, giving me a commission of 10 per cent.
It certainly was an alluring proposition. The Mineral Hill mine was located in eastern Nevada. Traveling on the Narrow Gauge Railroad, from the Palisades, a station on the Southern Pacific, to Eureka, you can still see the ruins of its plant. It was a sulphide ore that required preliminary roasting and then became tractable and free. Besides the furnaces, the equipment consisted of only a 20-stamp mill. Yet the ore was of so high grade that the gross production had reached the enormous total of $150,000 in a single month. Much of the ground was totally unexplored, though promising.
Baron Grant laid out his promotion with his consummate skill. He possessed a complete knowledge of the investing public. At that time - and probably still - investors and speculators, as a rule, confined themselves to a single line. One dabbled in coal, another in iron mines, another in silver mines, another in gold mines and so on down the line. Informed of the specialty of each, the astute baron knew exactly where to go for customers, and never wasted time. The plans provided for an issue of £600,000 of common stock and £300,000 of debenture bonds, the latter to be used for a plant to quadruple production.
The enterprise was ably advertised and this time Samson was tractable and kind. Interest was keen, but I think even Baron Grant was rather surprised at what followed. When the books were opened there was a crush to get on board, and when we had a chance to assemble figures everything had been gobbled up and the stock twice oversubscribed. Our net profit was £300,000, or, in American money, $1,500,000.
I had several experiences in the easy-money line, but this put them all in the shade. I was confident that my mission in life was to place American mining securities on the London market. Baron Grant and myself entered into a written agreement. I was to secure options on high-class mining properties. I had in mind the Raymond & Ely, North Bloomfield, Eureka Consolidated and Zellerbach mines. Grant, on his part, agreed to handle no other mining properties but mine. With this understanding, I did not even wait for the Mineral Hill melon cutting, but set out posthaste for San Francisco to lay in a new stock of options for the foundation of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.
The news of my success in placing the Mineral Hill mine in London had made quite a stir in my home town and I was deluged with offers of mining properties, good and bad. Quite a jubilee occurred when the first half million dollars on account of the purchase price for Mineral Hill was made payable at the Bank of California. The directors of the company were so enthusiastic that they voted themselves $5000 each as a "souvenir" and added a "souvenir" of $25,000 for the president. The other $500,000 arrived in due season, but the sordid stockholders, who seemed singularly devoid of imagination, objected so strongly to "souvenirs" that this feature of the celebration was overlooked.
I had no difficulty at all in securing options on several of the most assured mining properties of California and the Pacific Slope. From these alone I figured to make millions, judging by the history of Mineral Hill. Figuring on a prolonged stay abroad, I broke up my residence in San Francisco, gave Maurice Dore a power of attorney to manage my local interests, and left with my family for London, to change paper into gold.