Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Make Money at Home in the 1880s

By Suzanne Norquist

I found the following work-from-home ad in several Colorado newspapers from the 1880s. I’m sure publications from all around the country carried similar ads.

It reminded me of the scams we avoid today. “No risk.” “Many are making fortunes.” I don’t believe it for a minute. “Ladies make as much as men, and boys and girls make great pay.” Sounds sketchy to me. The ad doesn’t say anything about how one will get rich. It piqued my curiosity, so I investigated.

Similar adds boasted catchy titles like,

“BEST business you can engage in”

“WIN more money than anything else”

“HELP for working people”

“AN AWEFUL DOOM of any nature is usually avoided by those who have foresight”

“$200,000 In presents given away”

“GOLD A great chance to make money.”

Some ads mentioned “agency.” Others mentioned books. One difference between these ads and today’s is that the company making the offer can’t hide behind the anonymous internet. Most were based in Portland, Maine. Inquiries could be sent to H. Hallett & Co. or George Stinson & Co.

These were not fly-by-night operations. Both were printers of books and color lithographs.

In the November 5, 1881 edition of the Mountain Mail in Salida, Colorado, an article sings the praises of the art available through these new publishing companies, George Stinson & Co. in particular. Art that used to only be available to the rich could now grace the homes of ordinary people. The size of the company was described by the $120,000 they spent on postage.

The Hallett Book Company was recruiting salespeople—I mean agents—for books like The Lives of All the Presidents of the U.S.

With the Industrial Revolution and new printing technology, manufacturers needed a way to distribute their products. These weren’t basic commodities like dry goods and fabric. Mass-manufactured lithographs were relatively unique and many different pictures were available.

George Stinson & Co. offered to send a copy of Home and Fireside, one of the largest and best-illustrated publications, for free to those interested in making money. I assume this was a catalog of available art.

Although the companies and goods were legitimate, the claims of wealth ring false. ? I write about small mining communities and can’t imagine one of my characters trying to make a living selling artwork and high-end books to their friends.

Perhaps nothing has changed. A few people can earn a living through direct sales. Most can’t. But manufacturers, then and now, are always looking for ways to pedal their wares.


”Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection

Four historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting.

Mending Sarah’s Heart by Suzanne Norquist

Rockledge, Colorado, 1884

Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn’t need anyone, especially her dead husband’s partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband’s share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?

For a Free Preview, click here:


Suzanne Norquist is the author of two novellas, “A Song for Rose” in A Bouquet of Brides Collection and “Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection. Everything fascinates her. She has worked as a chemist, professor, financial analyst, and even earned a doctorate in economics. Research feeds her curiosity, and she shares the adventure with her readers. She lives in New Mexico with her mining engineer husband and has two grown children. When not writing, she explores the mountains, hikes, and attends kickboxing class.

She authors a blog entitled, Ponderings of a BBQ Ph.D.


  1. Very interesting! I live in Maine and I'll have to look up this Hallett Company. Thanks for posting.

    1. And a very quick search of this company just yields some of the 1800's prints that are still being sold.

    2. Yes. Some are lovely, and others are a little strange.

  2. Welcome. Oh but this book looks fascinating. On my list now. Seems like as far as man has been alive there have been scammers. Sigh. Part of human nature I suppose.
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