I am sure you have heard of people like Eddie Fields who made - and sometimes lost - fortunes pitching horoscopes in department stores using a code act. About a year ago a friend and I decided to try and do the same. The reason for this was a chance discovery of some two thousand pitch books that I had stored in my mother's garage years before and had forgotten. I thought it would be fun to sell them using a code act.
As I have always worked on my own, this was a brand new experience for me. I mentioned the idea to a few people and a professional magician friend said that he was keen to give it a try. We spent thirty minutes practising an extremely simple code before hitting the streets.
We went to downtown Auckland, thinking we could sell plenty of books to lunch-time shoppers. We arrived about 11.30 and got ourselves organised. We had no sooner done this when a man approached us and asked what we were doing. After I told him in general terms what we were planning to do, he informed us he was from the city council and his main concern was the sound system we had. We agreed to keep the volume down to a reasonable level. He then asked if we had a permit to sell on the streets. We pleaded ignorance of this requirement and, to my surprise, he said not to bother about it today. His main concern was people who turned up every day and were obviously making a living on the streets, but who did not have permits. I told him that if the idea worked we would certainly get a permit. If it didn't, he would not see us again, anyway.
By this time it was about noon and the street was starting to get busy with people coming out of offices for their lunch hour. My friend stood in the middle of the sidewalk and gave the following spiel:
"Here's your chance to get a copy of Richard Webster's famous astrology book. Normally 14.95, but today only 10.00. In fact, if Richard can not tell you what sign of the zodiac you are, you will get this book absolutely free. That's right, absolutely free. Give it a try. See if he can tell you what sign of the zodiac you are. This is a rare opportunity to get a best-selling book absolutely free!"
Within thirty seconds of starting a young man decided to give it a try. He paid ten dollars to my friend, received a copy of the book, and then I looked him up and down, walked around him and finally told him what sign he was. He was incredibly impressed and tried to talk his friends into trying it. Unfortunately, they wouldn't. Anyway, we were ecstatic. We had taken ten dollars in the first minute of business.
An hour and a half later we had our second customer. By this time my friend was hoarse, and enthusiasm was flagging. Just about every magician in Auckland had walked past to see how we were doing. They all offered suggestions, not all of them repeatable.
Our second customer was a lady who was extremely interested in astrology. She had walked past several times and asked questions each time. As she had no money on her, she returned to work and borrowed ten dollars from a friend. She bought the book and then I did my looking up and down act, before telling her what sign she was. To my horror, I got it wrong! Something had gone wrong in the coding. The lady was very apologetic, as if it had been her fault. Sadly, I returned her ten dollars.
Thirty minutes later we gave up for the day, and spent our takings on lunch. It had been an interesting experience, but obviously we were not doing it correctly. We came to the decision that people do not want to buy from pitchmen in the street in their lunch hour. They have a limited amount of time for lunch, and are probably trying to fit in errands, visits to the bank and time with friends. They did not want to stop and listen to a pitch, even a short one. It is possible, too, that some people avoided us thinking we might be soliciting funds for a religious group.
Finally, we did not have any window-dressing. It was simply two guys on the street with a sound system and a box of books. We should have had signs and banners proclaining what we were about. This would have attracted attention and caused people who were interested in astrology to stop.
Anyway, we learned from the experience. We did not return to Queen Street, but tried again a week later in a flea market.
The biggest problem with flea markets, in my view, is that they start too early in the morning. For the big markets, the stall holders have to line up between four and five in the morning to buy their spaces. If you arrive later, you run the risk of not being able to get a site. Also, even if sites are still available, the best ones have been taken. The advantage of flea markets is that they are cheap. We paid between six and twenty dollars for a morning, depending on the size of the market. In fact, we quickly learned that it was much better to go to a large flea market, as they attracted many more people than the smaller ones.
Another problem was that most of the markets did not allow us to use a sound system. This did not worry me, as all I had to do was look mysterious and tell people their sign. It was not so good for my friend, though. The flea markets were always on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and usually we both had children's shows to do afterwards. Consequently, my nameless friend used to worry constantly about losing his voice. (My friend is nameless only to save him from embarrassment later on. He has his sights firmly set on stardom, and I believe he will get there. He may choose to forget the time when he was happy to pitch horoscopes in a flea market!)
We had done some thinking before trying a flea market. I bought a large double blanket that had a beautiful picture of the signs of the zodiac on it, and we used this as our backdrop. We also had several other books on sale, as in Queen Street we had encountered people who already owned the pitch book. If we had had others to offer we might have gained an extra sale or two.
For the first flea market we both dressed in suits, thinking it would make us look successful and attract attention. In fact, it made us look ridiculous. Many people thought we were peddling a religion and gave us a wide berth. Other people laughed and asked if we were on our way to a funeral. People dress very casually when they go to flea markets, and the stall holders do the same. We learned a great deal that first week. I bought a couple of sweat shirts that had an astrological design on them and we wore these and jeans from then on.
Anyway, our first try at a flea market was moderately successful. We sold thirty books at ten dollars a copy. It cost us ten dollars in rent. The books in a sense did not cost anything as they were the books I had paid for several years earlier and forgotten. However, if I had had them printed up, they would have cost about a dollar each to print. So our overheads were forty dollars, and we each made $130.00 for the morning. Not a large sum of money, but it was extra money made at a time when neither of us would have been working anyway.
The following weekend we returned to the same flea market. This time we were really busy, as the people who had bought books the week before had told their friends and they wanted to try us out.
Halfway through the morning, with a line of people waiting to buy I heard someone say, "It's no use even trying. They always get it right!" I deliberately got the next person's sign wrong, and this helped sales enormously. From then on, every now and again, I would name the wrong sign and it always stimulated sales. I would try and choose an extrovert, as he or she would often act as an unpaid spruiker and tell everyone about his or her success.
We grossed nine hundred dollars on that second visit. Our eyes turned into dollar signs and we were convinced that we would be vacationing in the Bahamas from then on. Unfortunately, on the third week we sold only forty books. We learned that many people visit the same flea market every week.
We tried other markets and found them all very similar. The first week would let us become known. We would do very well on the second week and then sales would drop on the third week.
Working the flea markets is fun. It is an easy way to make money, and, if you like getting up early in the morning, I recommend it.
I have met a number of people who are extremely good at picking people's zodiac signs. If you are one of those, I guess you could do the whole thing genuinely. I'm not game to even try that. The code we used was extremely simple and was taken from Paul R. Hadley's excellent book How to Develop Mental Magic. His book explains a complete code act and our initial intention was to learn it, so that we could do all sorts of amazing things other than sell books. However, both of us lead busy lives and are not prepared to give everything else up to perfect a code act, even though I feel we could make a great deal of money if we did.
All we learned was the first twelve code words, one for each sign of the zodiac.
WILL denotes ARIES CAN denotes TAURUS-DO YOU denotes GEMINI — TELL denotes CANCER ■— WHAT denotes LEO — ARE denotes VIRGO NOW denotes LIBRA COULD denotes SCORPIO GIVE denotes SAGITTARIUS PLEASE denotes CAPRICORN PLEASE WILL denotes AQUARIUS PLEASE CAN denotes PISCES
For the first few times we did this my friend had the code words written down on the second page of his pad in case he forgot.
We tinkered with the pitch from time to time. I thought it might be a good idea to have a mini-lecture about astrology, but this took up too much time and hindered sales. In the end, we did not talk much about astrology and emphasized the chance of getting a free book by a "famous" author.
When someone decided to give it a go he would pay ten dollars to my friend and receive a copy of the book. He would then whisper his zodiac sign to my friend who would write it down on his clip board in case later verification was needed. My friend would then say to me, "Please tell the man his sign." This would code to me that he was a Capricorn. If he had said, "Do you know this man's sign?" I would immediately know he was a Gemini. While the book sale and whispering were going on, I would stand as far away as possible looking in the other direction. Often I would be talking to onlookers.
It amazes me that at no time anyone seemed to suspect we were using a code. People sometimes thought we were using electronics. Some people thought a third person must be involved to tell me the sign. A few people even suggested that the shape of our stand allowed a whisper on one side to be heard by me on the other. But no one ever mentioned a code.
My friend and I are not planning to develop a code act but, if we were, working flea markets would be a wonderful way to practise and make money at the same time.
I have not tried selling horoscopes through a code act in any other locations. However, I am sure it could be done successfully anywhere that people gather. You could do it in department stores, fairs, carnivals, or possibly even get a permanent location if you found a site that had constantly changing people. Somewhere catering to tourists would be ideal. Think what you could do at Fisherman's Wharf, for instance!
If this idea appeals to you, read Stephen Minch's fascinating book about Eddie Fields: A Life Among Secrets (Hermetic Press, Box 20383, Seattle, WA 98102). I believe you could make millions doing this.
When using a crystal ball: "I'll just look into your future." Gazes into ball and suddenly starts laughing. "I must apologise - I've got the crystal ball upside down. I was looking at your past!"
"With this crystal ball I can see into the future. Not only can I see the future, I can mould it. And a mouldier future I've never seen!"
"I shall look into my crystal ball and see the future. ... Oh no!. ... Beer $5.00 a pint!"
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