On this day 125 years ago – 9 November 1891

The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo Charles Deville wells gambler fraudster extraordinaire Robin Quinnobin Quinn
A view of the famous Monte Carlo Casino from the south-western side, overlooking the harbour.

This was the day when The Times and The Daily Telegraph published their respective accounts of the interview they had conducted with Charles Wells two days earlier.  The report from the Telegraph is reproduced in full in my previous blog post of 7 November.  The Times published a similar version, but went into rather more detail on his gambling ‘system’, which Wells claimed to be ‘as nearly infallible as human ingenuity can make it’.

Thirty thousand pounds
During September and October 1891, Wells placed classified advertisements in The Times; The Standard; The Morning Post; St. James’s Gazette; and the Pall Mall Gazette.

In an effort to find wealthy investors to finance his gambling activities, Wells had embarked on an intensive advertising campaign.  He already had a reputation as “king of the classifieds”, having placed hundreds of small-ads over the last few years in connection with a scam involving inventions and patents.  In the first half of September 1891, he placed ads – similar to the one shown here – in almost every edition of the Morning Post, Pall Mall Gazette, St. James’s Gazette, and some other papers, including The Times itself.  With its headline of ‘Thirty Thousand Pounds Monthly’ the advertisement strongly resembled an earlier one that Wells had used for his patents fraud (‘Thirty Thousand Pounds in Three Months, and probably more yearly, is the certain product of a share in a patent …’).  For some reason he stopped advertising, but started again a month later, on 12 October.  Perhaps he needed this respite to evaluate the replies he had received.

This attempt to interest financiers to back his gambling at Monte Carlo had no chance of succeeding unless Wells could convince his prospects that he had developed an infallible system.  The Times correspondent was clearly not convinced that this was the case.  Describing his own interpretation of Wells’ approach, the journalist gives us a rare insight into Wells’ character:

‘It does not seem to me that he has made any very novel discovery in the science of playing roulette and trente-et-quarante …  The secret of his success rather seems to be in the courageous way in which he attacks the tables and his cool-headed manner of treating either great success or any rebuff which might be encountered.  Most men get excited in either event and lose control over their play, and then the table has its turn.  But Mr. Wells keeps on steadily with his double stakes, which in total range from 6,000f. to 24,000f., … following up the table assiduously with the maximum when a series is running, and dropping the stakes to smaller amounts when the cards are persistently intermittent.  All this has been done thousands of times before, but few have had the courage to risk repeatedly for 11 hours a day close upon a thousand pounds [£100,000 in today’s values] at almost every coup.  In the long series for which all old hands are ever on the alert he would make five or six thousand pounds [£500,000 – £600,000] in a few minutes, and accomplish the feat of breaking the table several times a day’.

(Updated 10 November)


The Times Digital Archive: http://www.gale.com/the-times-digital-archive/  (Available on subscription only.  However, access is available through membership of many local libraries).

British Newspaper Archive: http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/  (This is a fantastic research tool which is being expanded all the time.  A free trial is available)


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