Talk:Spanish Prisoner

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Incorrect Citation[edit]

"The Spanish Prisoner" is in the Cosmopolitan Magazine, 1910, volume 48, pages 465--474. As of 2012-03-24, the citation lists volume 43, not volume 48. For proof, see the free Google download of the article at


There were examples of the Spanish Prisoner scam being operated during the Spanish Civil War, as mentioned in The Times at the time (do not have the reference offhand). jackiespeel 10 March 2005

Factual contradiction ... or inconsistency at least[edit]

Factual contradiction ... or inconsistency at least

From the article Advance fee fraud :

This type of scam, originally known as the "Spanish Prisoner Letter", has been carried out since at least the 16th century via ordinary postal mail.

From the article Spanish Prisoner :

The Spanish Prisoner is a confidence game dating back to at least the 17th century.

Ok so given the word "at least" the two statements are not actually contradictory. However, we may want to do a little more digging and decide which date should go in both articles.

I have posted this comment on both talk pages. Dalf | Talk 20:58, 8 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I think I have sorted this one out. The scam seems to have started in 1588. I have added extra information and a reference. I will put a note on the other talk page as well. --NHSavage 08:50, 4 September 2005 (UTC)

Sorry, but there is insufficient evidence so far that such a confidence scam actually occurred in the 16th OR the 17th century -- that this is not a historical "urban legend." Who were the individuals fooled by this scam? What archival documentation is there? I'm a historian. I want factual details regarding the actual events. 23:33, 28 January 2007 (UTC)

I was trawling through some late-1930s The Times on microfilm a while back, and there was a Spanish Civil War related entry describing a confidence trick involving the "proverbial money/prisoner trapped behind enemy lines" scam.

"Begging letter scams" and "bubble company scams" (as with the South Sea Bubble do go back further than this.

"Probably" there is a conflation of stories/ideas (whether by perpetuators or readers). Jackiespeel 16:19, 2 February 2007 (UTC)

Looking through The Times personal columns at various points in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, while pursuing other matters there are some adverts which appear to be related to the Spanish Prisoner scam ("Persons with the surnames... please apply regarding Unclaimed Properties and Estates" (Jan 1870), "Indian merchant who has had all his stock stolen requires funds to return home (Jan 1921).) Jackiespeel 19:36, 8 March 2007 (UTC)

Should point out I was going through the microfilms of The Times: a more relevant advert appers 24 July 1937. Jackiespeel 18:25, 15 October 2007 (UTC)

The scam in the movie of that name is really not a variant of the Spanish Prisoner. The Spanish Prisoner scam has to do with the premise that a small upfront payment will release a much larger amount. There are two scams presented in the movie, but neither relate to the premise above. I guess Mamet liked the title or something but it has nothing to do with the actual plot. fhapgood (talk) 14:20, 6 July 2009 (UTC)

Some Guy's Website[edit]

I have removed the reference used to confirm the date of 1588, as that reference was “some guy's website” — not acceptable. I have placed a {{fact}} tag where the unacceptable reference tag once stood. — 05:12, 21 August 2007 (UTC)

I'm quite certain the "1588" date is bogus. Here's why: the most famous version of this scam was in the early years of the twentieth century, in the US, and was about people being told they were descendants of Sir Francis Drake. 1588 -- note the odd precision of such an ancient date -- is the date the Spanish Armada was destroyed by the British Navy, with Drake as second-in-command. I'm sure that the source (the Drake legend) has been conflated with the most important date in the actual Drake history.
Note also that there was no postal system in Britain in 1588. The mails were opened to the public in 1635, and were not commonly used until the advent of stamps in 1840.
I wish I had a reference but I read a book a while back about the Drake scam. I can't even remember what the title was! That's why this is in talk and not the article. 15:59, 7 September 2007 (UTC)

It could be possible to infer that Cervantes was aware of the scam while he was prisoner himself at argel. This is 1580 or earlier. A likely scam letter is reporter in the play "Los baños de Argel", as well as later in Don Quixote. (talk) 19:44, 21 September 2012 (UTC)

The following website might be relevant: Jackiespeel 18:28, 15 October 2007 (UTC)

One might look at "Hustlers and Con Men", by Jay Robert Nash (1967). Has a bibliography, but unfortunately no footnotes for sources. (talk) 21:40, 2 February 2010 (UTC)

The Truth About Avoiding Scams by Steve Weisman, published by FT Press, mentions the 1588 English origin. --Joshua Issac (talk) 16:31, 1 May 2013 (UTC)

See my remark below Jackiespeel (talk) 16:07, 14 April 2014 (UTC)

I've found no evidence of the Drake Inheritance scam before late 19th century, or the Spanish Prisoner in general use before late 18th century (Vidocq). I'm going to revise the article accordingly. The Cervantes references are discussed here

but Cervantes' account may well be fictional; there don't seem to be other references to a similar scam for the next several centuries. --ABehrens (talk) 20:49, 17 April 2017 (UTC)


This trick has been known in France as "Jerusalem letters" already around 1800, see: -- (talk) 16:37, 10 January 2011 (UTC)

Great book[edit]

There's a fantastic book called "Swindling and Selling" it was written by a law professor who observed that there is a very fine line between swindling and selling and how both should be handled by the law. It's fascinating for anyone interested swindles. It also describes the history of various swindles including the Spanish prisoner. Unfortunately, it's very expensive and hard to find except in large libraries. Hopefully someone interested willl find this book and expand the various swindle wiki articles. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:48, 1 April 2012 (UTC)

The National Archives[edit]

There are files 'Spanish Prisoner' and 'Francis Drake Estate' at The National Archives. Jackiespeel (talk) 15:45, 5 July 2013 (UTC)