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Your Toronto 2014 Issue Navigator

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culture

Vintage Toronto Ads: Take a Gamble on Charles Stoneham

Corrupt politicians, shady stocks, and professional baseball did—why not you?

Source: the Mail and Empire, April 26, 1920.

Today’s ad may be one of the least visually dazzling we’ve featured, but the man behind it didn’t lack for colour or controversy. Anyone interested in investing in northern Ontario mining stocks might have wanted a second opinion before dealing with Charles Stoneham.

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1876, Stoneham entered the financial field as a clerk for a life insurance company. He established his own brokerage firm, Charles Stoneham & Co., in 1913, which eventually operated offices across North America. Though sometimes portrayed as a Wall Street broker, Stoneham ran a “bucket shop,” which allowed gamblers to place bets on stocks without actually buying or selling them, a practice that was legal until the stock market crash in 1929. Stoneham developed close ties with notorious gamblers like Arnold Rothstein, corrupt institutions like Tammany Hall, and political figures like New York governor Al Smith.

These relationships came in handy whenever his shady business dealings landed him in legal trouble. Within a year of today’s ad being first published, Stoneham closed his firm (“without explaining his motive,” according to the New York Times) and shifted investor accounts to other brokerages that quickly failed. He was eventually acquitted of charges ranging from mail fraud to perjury, though in one case a juror claimed he was intimidated into changing his vote.

In 1919, Stoneham became majority owner of the New York Giants baseball team, which he operated until his death in 1936 from Bright’s disease (or, as the Toronto Star put it, a “lingering organic disease”). He was succeeded by his son Horace, who was once described as a “knowledgeable owner who drank into the wee hours with his favourite players and others whom he considered part of the team’s family.” Horace moved the team to San Francisco after the 1957 season and was almost responsible for transplanting the franchise to Toronto. Prior to the 1976 season, Horace agreed to sell the team to a consortium that included Labatt Breweries and CIBC, but municipal officials in San Francisco erected legal blockades until owners amenable to leaving the team in the Bay Area were found. Any disappointment over Toronto’s loss of the Giants was short-lived, as a consortium with similar backers soon landed the expansion team that became the Blue Jays.

Additional material from The Ball Clubs by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella (New York: Harper Perennial 1996), the September 1, 1923 and January 7, 1936 editions of the New York Times, and the January 7, 1936 edition of the Toronto Star.

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