1. a version of the three-card trick, in which punters are asked to bet on which of three rapidly manipulated thimbles contains a pea; it is very rare that anyone other than the sharper’s accomplice manages to bet correctly.
|[||Trivia (1716) Bk II 20: Pass by the Meuse, nor try the *Thimbles Cheats. (*A Cheat, commonly practic’d in the Streets, with three Thimbles and a little Ball)].|
|[||Thief-Catcher 14: There is another of the Tribe of Gamblers, who travel from one Fair to another [...] to play at what is called, Thimbles and Buttons. [...] the Thimble-player [...] is very regardless how much he exposes the Button to the View of the Countryman, but in reality, shifts it by a Trick of Dexterity betwixt his Fingers under another Thimble].|
|Every-day Bk I 768: An unfair game known among the frequenters of races and fairs by the name of ‘the thimble rig’ .|
|Doings in London 68: This pretty little game they call ‘the thimble rig.’.|
|Cockney Adventures n.p. Bill Smith [...] would go and play at the thimble-rig, and he lost all his money, every farden, he hadn’t got a mag left.|
|Polyanthos Extra, and Fire Department Album 13 Feb. 1/2–3: Thimble rig! *** ‘Five, ten, fifteen or twenty dollars, you can’t tell under which cup the little joker is,’ exclaims one of a mob of gamblers & gaping spectators, who has his leg cocked on a stick, with three little cups about the size of acorns on his knee.|
|Handley Cross (1854) 340: Finest sportsman in the world [...] play dominoes, prick i’ the belt, or thimble-rig.|
|N.Y. Herald 8 Feb. 1/4: [A rube visits a] ‘crib’ in park row, where [...] the ‘boys’ were playing the thimble-rig, commonly called the little Joker.|
|N.Y. by Gas-Light (1990) 184: This [...] is the celebrated game of thimble-rig.|
|Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 108: THIMBLE-RIG, a noted cheating game played at fairs and places of great public thronging, consisting of two or three thimbles rapidly and dexterously placed over a pea, when the thimble-rigger, suddenly ceasing, asks you under which thimble the pea is to be found. If you are not a practised hand you will lose nine times out of ten any bet you may happen to make with him.|
|‘Parody on When This Cruel War Is Over’ in Donnybrook-Fair Comic Songster 10: Call me fond names darling – call me a ‘beat’ [...] whose fingers so nimble / To shuffle the cards or ‘rig the thimble.’.|
|White Rose (1899) 225: A merry blue-eyed boy, fresh from Eton, who could do ‘thimble-rig.’.|
|Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 15 Oct. 1: [pic. caption] thimble rig a la mode They Way They Do It on Rockaway Sands — How Beauty and Skill Conspire to Make the Rural Heart Sick and the Rural Pocket-Book Sicker .|
|Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 261: In my young days, there used to travel about in gangs, like men of business, a lot of people called ‘Nobblers,’ who used to work the ‘thimble and pea rig’ and go ‘buzzing,’ that is, picking pockets, assisted by some small boys.|
|Musa Pedestris (1896) 176: Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack? [...] Or thimble-rig? or knap a yack? / Or pitch a snide? or smash a rag?‘Villon’s Straight Tip’ in Farmer|
|Worcs. Chron. 19 May 6/1: He always plays at thimble-rig / And seems a man of pleasure.|
|Sucker’s Progress 59: Thimble-rig, which is none other than the venerable cheat the Shell-game, is one of the few games of chance which are still played exactly as when they originated.|
2. attrib. use of sense 1.
|Reading Mercury 30 Aug. 3/4: The ‘thimble-rig gentry,’ ‘smashers,’ and pick-pockets were likewise numerous.|
|Lincs. Chron. 13 July 4/5: They tried to pick a quarrel and challenged the thimble-men to fight.|
|Crim.-Con. Gaz. 22 June 203/1: I saw Tom March [...] quite drunk with two thimble-rigmen.|
|Sheffield Indep. 2 Oct. 7/3: Gambling booths and various games of chance were prohibited, and some thimble-rig ‘gents’ taken into custody.|
|Stamford Mercury 18 July 3/3: There were two or three groups of the thimble-rig and card-trick fraternity.|
|Won in a Canter III 23: [A] thimble-rig table was driving a brisk trade.|
|Gentle Grafter (1915) 42: You’re a ringer or a circus thimblerig man.‘Modern Rural Sports’ in|
3. in fig. use of sense 1, corrupt, deceptive .
|Paul Pry 30 Sept. 182/1: [T]he Jew thimble-rig solicitor, Joseph Abrahams.|
|Liverpool Mercury 7 May 6/3: It is with the presiding genius of the present ‘thimble-rig Government,’ to use a forcible expression of Lord Derby [...] and you will find you have been deluded.|
|Hansard (UK) 12 Apr. 1588/2: There is indeed the commencement of a thimble-rig Government.|
4. trickery, deception.
|Paul Pry 30 Sept. 183/2: [O]ne and all, the sporting world in particular, are subject to a little bit of legerdemain, and have the thimble rig played off on them to perfection, year after year by this precious Vates [a tipster].|
|Morn. Chron. (London) 8 Oct. 7/2: The knot of low gamblers, with the usual thimble-riggery arrangements of costumed ‘touts’ and ‘bonnets’.|