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We continued on towards the copper country, working the iron mining towns on our way, arriving at Houghton the middle of July.
The next day after making my first sale there, I was walking down street, and when pa.s.sing a store room a gentleman came to the door and said:
"You're just the man that ought to buy me out and sell the goods at auction."
"What have you got?"
"I have everything--boots, shoes, suits of clothes, overcoats, dishes, notions and I don't know what I haven't got."
I asked his reason for selling. He replied that it was a stock that had gone through a fire, and he had bought it for a few hundred dollars and was then six hundred dollars ahead, and would sell the balance cheap. I stepped inside and after glancing over the stock asked his price.
"Six hundred dollars."
"I'll give you just twenty-five per cent. of that, and no more," and started to walk out.
"I'll take two hundred fifty."
"No sir," taking a roll of money from my pocket and showing it to him, "one hundred and fifty, and your cash in your fingers."
"All right, count it out."
"But step to the Recorder's office and a.s.sure me that there is no mortgage on your stock and that it belongs to you, and after giving me a bill of sale your money is ready."
He did so, and I made the purchase.
In this stock was a quant.i.ty of paper cambric of all colors, and when the firemen were trying to put out the fire they had deluged it, and the result was that the water had soaked through it and had carried with it all the colors, leaving each piece variegated.
I was at a loss to know what to do with it, and finally concluded to cut it up into dress patterns of sixteen and two-thirds yards and then give one pattern away with each dollar sale that evening when I sold at auction.
That night, before opening my sale, I picked up one of the pieces, and handing one end of it to a boy, requested him to run down the street with it till he got it all straightened out. While the boy was holding to one end and I to the other, I went on and explained that I had that day bought out Mr. ----, and as I had no knowledge of the dry-goods business and couldn't tell a piece of calico from an Irish tarpaulin, that they must not blame me if I sold them silk for Canton flannel.
Besides the paper cambric I had a lot of other pieces of dress goods, which were in good shape and which I intended to sell to the highest bidder.
Just as I was about to inaugurate my gift enterprise scheme, some gentleman of German descent cried out in broken English:
I at once yelled:
"Sold for two dollars, and who will have the next sixteen and two-thirds yards for two dollars?"
"I'll take 'em," "I'll take 'em," "Here," "Here," "Give me one," "Give me one," they all shouted at once, and the two-dollars were as thick as hailstones in less than a second. I stood there and tossed out the dress patterns and caught their two-dollar bills and silver pieces like a Chinese juggler. After I had cleaned out every dollar's worth of the cambric I said:
"Gentlemen, I am going to be frank with you now, and advise you not to represent to your wives that you have any great bargain in these dress patterns, for they may be better posted than any of us are. But I'll tell you what I'll do, boys. If you are dissatisfied now I'll give you two dollars' worth of any other goods I have, and take the dress patterns back; or if your wives are not satisfied they can come to the store to-morrow at ten o'clock and I'll give them two dollars' worth of any goods I have in exchange for the patterns."
They agreed that that was fair, and all stayed and I made a splendid sale of notions.
The next day, at two o'clock, I went down to the store and found a crowd of women large enough to fill a small circus tent. Each one had a dress pattern, and as I pa.s.sed by to unlock the door each had something to say. The crowd was composed of all cla.s.ses--Polish, Norwegian, Irish, German, Cornish, etc. The Irish, with their sharp tongues and quick wit, were predominant, and all together they had considerable sport in relating what their husbands had to say when they brought home the dress patterns and learned that those same goods had been offered for one-fourth of a cent a yard ever since the fire. I took every piece back and allowed them to trade it out. I employed two young men to help me that afternoon and took down each lady's name and then jumped up and made an auction sale to them. We kept each lady's purchase by itself, and after the sale had a final settlement with them, many of whom had bought enough to bring them considerably in my debt.
This was one of the very best advertis.e.m.e.nts for me, as it convinced the people that I would do by them as I agreed; and they all considered it a good joke, and the afternoon sale having made me acquainted with many women, I had no trouble in getting a large crowd every night who bought freely.
After making several sales at Houghton I packed up and went over to Hanc.o.c.k and Red Jacket, where I met with flattering success. As nearly as I could estimate it, I cleared about twelve hundred dollars on my investment of one hundred and fifty.
I sold nearly everything at an advance on the regular first cost, but when I came to look through the boxes and drawers and sort all the goods contained in my new stock, I was much surprised and greatly pleased.
I remained at Red Jacket six weeks, making sales every night.
On the first of September, as it had begun to get cold up there, and in fact had twice snowed a very little the last of August, we returned to Chicago, when I immediately called on my friend Doctor Ingraham. He didn't recognize me until I took a large roll of bills, containing over three thousand dollars, from my pocket and said:
"Doctor, I would be pleased to loan you a hundred dollars and I'll bet you will pay it back in less than three months."
"O-ho, Johnston, you have got to the front, haven't you? How are you?--how are you?" shaking me warmly by the hand.
BUYING OUT A LARGE STOCK OF MERCHANDISE--ON THE ROAD AGAIN--SIX WEEKS IN EACH TOWN--MUDDY ROADS AND POOR TRADE--CLOSING OUT AT AUCTION--SAVED MY CREDIT BUT COLLAPSED--PEDDLING POLISH AND JEWELRY--WHOLESALING JEWELRY--FIFTY DOLLARS AND LOTS OF EXPERIENCE MY STOCK IN TRADE--TALL "HUS'LING" AND GREAT SUCCESS--AN OFFER FROM A WHOLESALE JEWELRY FIRM--DECLINED WITH THANKS--HUS'LING AGAIN--GREAT SUCCESS.
Now that I had made considerable money and had it in cash I determined on doing two things.
The first, was to arrange with some wholesale jewelry house to furnish me with what stock I needed, at a small advance above the manufacturers'
price, to travel on the road and supply the retail trade--as I had never given up the idea of some day becoming a wholesale jeweler.
The second, was to return immediately to Bronson, Michigan, and Clyde, Ohio, and pay all of my debts, which had been running a long time. With the first object in view I set out to find headquarters for purchasing my jewelry, and succeeded in finding a dealer who offered me satisfactory prices. After looking his goods over and coming to an understanding with him, I informed him that I was going east for a few days, and on my return would select a stock of goods and start out.
My wife and I then packed our trunks, and had bought our tickets ready for a start, when I happened to pick up a paper and read an advertis.e.m.e.nt offering four thousand dollars' worth of goods for two thousand dollars. I thought it a good idea to make a couple of thousand more before starting east, if I could just as well as not, and called on the advertiser.
I first demanded to know if the stock was clear of inc.u.mbrance; and when convinced that it was, I looked it over, and although it looked to me like ten thousand dollars' worth, I laughed at the fellow for having cheek enough to ask two thousand dollars for it.
He asked how much I thought it was worth.
I offered five hundred dollars.
He offered to take eighteen hundred.
"Well, sir, we are only thirteen hundred dollars apart, and I'll split the difference with you and pay the cash."
So saying, I "flashed" my roll of money, when he agreed to my proposition.
After I had made the purchase I asked the gentleman (who was a German) why he had sold so cheap. He informed me that his uncle had recently died in Germany, and left him a large fortune; and he was anxious to go there and spend the balance of his life.
His explanation satisfied me, and I began packing up the goods ready for shipment.