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This article is about the crime. For the Robert Bresson film, see Pickpocket (film).
Eighteenth-century engraving showing pickpocket George Barrington being apprehended in action.
Hieronymus Bosch: The Conjurer, 1475-1480. A pickpocket, in cahoots with the conjurer, is shown at far left.

Pickpocketing is a form of larceny that involves the stealing of money or other valuables from the person of a victim without their noticing the theft at the time. It requires considerable dexterity and a knack for misdirection. A thief who works in this manner is known as a pickpocket.

As an occupation[edit]

Pickpockets and other thieves, especially those working in teams, sometimes apply distraction, such as asking a question or bumping into the victim. These distractions sometimes require sleight of hand, speed, misdirection and other types of skills.[1][2]

Pickpocketing can be a dangerous trade, since persons aware of the presence of pickpockets in an area may conceal such items as specially designed mousetraps,[3] rat traps or empty decoy wallets on their person. Since pickpockets usually have no way to gauge the contents of a wallet, save by the style of dress of the victim, they must take what they find.

Pickpockets may be found in any crowded place around the world. However, Barcelona and Rome were recently singled out as being particularly dangerous pickpocket havens.[4][5][6] Thieves have been known to operate in high traffic areas such as mass transit stations, even boarding subway trains so they can use the distractions of crowds and sudden stop-and-go movements from the train to steal from others. As soon as the thieves have what they want, they simply get off at the next stop leaving the victim unable to figure out who robbed them and when.

As entertainment[edit]

Pickpocketing skills are employed by some magicians as a form of entertainment, either by taking an item from a spectator or by returning it without them knowing they had lost it. James Freedman, also known as "The Man of Steal", created the pickpocket sequences for the 2005 film Oliver Twist directed by Roman Polanski. Time Out magazine wrote that Freedman is "possibly the world's best pickpocket". Professional illusionist David Avadon featured pickpocketing as his trademark act for more than 30 years and promoted himself as "a daring pickpocket with dashing finesse" and "the country's premier exhibition pickpocket, one of the few masters in the world of this underground art.".[7][8] Smith Journal of Australia has described America's Thomas Blacke as one of the top pickpockets in the world.[9]

Famous pickpockets[edit]

Famous fictional pickpockets include The Artful Dodger and Fagin, characters from the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. Famous true-life historical pickpockets include the Irish prostitute Chicago May, who was profiled in books; Mary Frith, nicknamed Moll Cutpurse; the Gubbins band of highwaymen; and Cutting Ball, a notorious Elizabethan thief. George Barrington's escapades, arrests, and trials, were widely chronicled in the late 18th century London press.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Heap, Simon (1997). "Pickpocketing in Ibadan, 1930–60". Urban History 24 (3): 324–43. 
  2. ^ Heap, Simon (2010). "'Their Days are Spent in Gambling and Loafing, Pimping for Prostitutes, and Picking Pockets': Male Juvenile Delinquents on Lagos Island, Nigeria, 1920s–60s". Journal of Family History 35 (1): 48–70. 
  3. ^ "Comedy". Motion Pictures From The Library of Congress Paper Print Collection 1894-1912. University of California Press. p. 122. The Rat Trap Pickpocket Detector 
  4. ^ "Barcelona, pickpocket capital of the world ", The Daily Mail, September 25, 2009
  5. ^ "Italy - #1 for Pickpockets", WorldNomads.com, October 20, 2011
  7. ^ Nelson, Valerie J. (4 September 2009). "David Avadon dies at 60; illusionist specialized in picking pockets". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  8. ^ "The Fastest Pickpocket in the West". David Avadon. 
  9. ^ Smith Journal of Australia, Benjamin Law. V 2, p 29-31, Autumn 2012.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]