Green’s Dictionary of Slang

reader n.

1. (UK Und.) a wallet or pocket-book.

[UK]C. Hitchin Regulator 20: A Reader, alias Pocket-Book.
[UK](con. 1710–25) Tyburn Chronicle II in Groom (1999) xxix: A Reader A Pocket-book.
[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 136: I was wipe-priging, we made a regular stall for a tick and reader, but the cull was up to us, and we couldn’t do him.
[UK]Sporting Mag. July VI 205/1: These gentlemen pickpockets [...] are very frequently attended by their girls, who are equally expert at the nabbing of a Tatler or a Reader.
[UK]G. Hangar Life, Adventures and Opinions II 60: Various impositions, practised daily on the unwary [...] such as making a stall for a reader .
[UK]Vaux Memoirs in McLachlan (1964) 80: He added that he had that day turned out three readers, but without finding a shilling in either of them.
[UK]Vidocq Memoirs (trans. W. McGinn) III 23: Skilful old pickpockets, who knew all the rigs of prigging a reader or fogle.
[UK] ‘The Mill’ Museum of Mirth 45/2: The prigs have been dipping their mauleys into that swell’s gropus nimmed [...] his gold ticker, three one-pound screens, two neds and his reader.
[UK]Swell’s Night Guide 58: If I can’t pinch a skin or reader, I can fam a cly for a chance.
[UK]Kendal Mercury 17 Apr. 6/1: Tom Wood was a cracksman [...] Good at grabbing a reader.
[UK]‘Ducange Anglicus’ Vulgar Tongue 38: I buzzed a bloak and a shakester of a reader and a skin.
[UK]E. de la Bédollière Londres et les Anglais 317/2: reader, portefeuille.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. 10/1: Jack buzzed a bloak and a shickster of a reader and a skin. A cross-cove, who had his regulars for stalling, cried ‘Cop bung,’ as a pig was marking. Jack speeled to the crib. Jack picked the pockets of a gentleman and a lady of a pocket-book and a purse. A fellow-thief, who had his share of the plunder for watching, cried ‘Hand over the property,’ as someone was observing. Jack ran away home.
[US]A.H. Lewis ‘The Humming Bird’ in Sandburrs 25: If he’s nippin’ leathers, nine out of ten of ’em’s bound to be readers – no long green in ’em at all.
[UK]D. Stewart Vultures of the City in Illus. Police News 29 Dec. 14/3: ‘A reader (pocket-book) full of flimsies’.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).

2. (UK Und.) a book.

[UK]J. Poulter Discoveries (1774) A Reader a Book.
[UK]Whole Art of Thieving [as cit. 1753].

3. (also luminous reader) a marked card; thus (gambling) readers, a crooked deck of cards that a cheat can read from the backs.

[US]Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl.
[Aus]Mirror (Sydney) 31 Aug. 8/3: Poker players have their ‘strippers,’ where the sides of the cards are faked in such a way that the dealer knows what cards he is dealing to other players. ‘Mockers’ or ‘readers’ are another variation of the game which brings grist to the sharper’s mill.
[US]N.Y. Tribune 9 May 7/1: One of the players [...] alleges that Krohnberg ‘rang in’ marked cards, known as ‘readers’.
[US](con. 1820s+) H. Asbury Sucker’s Progress 13: [There were] a flood of prepared cards. [...] readers [were] marked on the backs.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Baseball Hattie’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 647: They catch him with a deck of readers in a poker game.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 175/2: Readers. Cleverly marked playing cards, often requiring the use of a colored eye-shade or tinted eyeglasses to be read.
[US](con. 1920s) ‘Harry Grey’ Hoods (1953) 192: Max described the luminous reader deck we wanted.
[US]J. Scarne Complete Guide to Gambling 684: Luminous readers – marked cards that can be read only through tinted glasses.
[US]A.S. Fleischman Venetian Blonde (2006) 154: I have played against sleeve holdouts and readers and daub and shiners.

4. (US Und.) a permit, e.g. to beg, to street-sell.

[US]Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl.
[US]R. Mulvey ‘Pitchman’s Cant’ in AS XVII:1 Pt 2 Apr. 92/2: reader. License. ‘I am back in Chicago with the strongest reader covering the Loop.’.

5. a newspaper.

[UK]J. Curtis They Drive by Night 120: He noticed that she had a morning paper under her arm. ‘Good gel,’ he said. ‘Thinking of getting a reader’.
[Ire](con. 1930s) K.C. Kearns Dublin Tenement Life 203: In them years they called the paper a ‘reader’. So you’d say you were going out to sell your readers. They were only a penny each at the time.

6. (US Und.) a small-time thief who follows postmen or delivery men to their destination, having sneaked a look at the label, then claims to be the official recipient.

[US]C.W. Willemse Cop Remembers 289: Readers (persons who read the addresses on a package to be delivered and await the delivery boy, sign for the package and accept it at the address given).

7. (US Und.) a warrant for arrest.

[US]F. Hutchison Philosophy of Johnny the Gent 85: ‘[T]here’s a business bloke wit an office next door that's got out a reader fer the kid, an every Central office Hawkshaw in town is on his trail’.
Jackson Dly News (MS) 1 Apr. 7/1: Crook Chatter [...] ‘There are a bunch of “readers” out for you [...] aren’t there?’.
[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 156: Reader. –A warrant of arrest.
[US]R. Chandler Farewell, My Lovely (1949) 105: The guy’s lammed. We got him on the teletype and they got readers out.
[US]R.L. Bellem ‘Death Ends the Scene’ Hollywood Detective May [Internet] It would take him practically no time at all to put out a short-wave reader on me.
see sense 7.
[US]C. Himes Run Man Run (1969) 184: Better put a reader out for Walker . . . No, for the automat murder.

8. (UK Und.) a ‘wanted’ poster.

[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 156: Reader. – [...] A sign, advertisement, poster or announcement.
[US]S. Longstreet Decade 317: The readers are up with his pan in every crossroad post office.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 175/2: Reader. 1. A printed ‘wanted’ circular, bearing the picture, fingerprints and record of the fugitive. 2. A warrant for one’s arrest.

9. (drugs) a drug prescription; thus reader with a tail, an illegally issued prescription which had been traced by narcotics agents.

[US]D. Maurer ‘Argot of the Und. Narcotic Addict’ Pt 1 in AS XI:2 125/2: reader. A physician’s prescription for narcotics.
[US]D. Maurer ‘Argot of the Und. Narcotic Addict’ Pt 2 in AS XIII:3 108/1: reader with a tail. Var. of reader. A prescription for narcotics, probably illegally issued, which is being traced by narcotic agents.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]J.E. Schmidt Narcotics Lingo and Lore 157: Reader – A legitimate prescription for medicinal narcotics. Reader with a tail – A legitimate prescription for a preparation containing a narcotic.
[US]R.R. Lingeman Drugs from A to Z (1970) 219: reader [...] Prescription for narcotics, usually obtained from a doctor illicitly by an addict.
[US]J. Homer Jargon.

10. (UK prison) any form of reading matter, books, magazines, comics etc.

[UK] in P. Tempest Lag’s Lex.

11. a pornographic novel, without pictures.

[UK](con. 1960s) A. Frewin London Blues 70: ‘Readers’ are books. As magazines are invariably called ‘books’ by the semi-illiterates who manage and frequent the shops another term had to be conjured up for actual books.

In compounds

reader merchant (n.) [merchant n.]

a pickpocket specializing in the theft of wallets and pocket-books.

[UK]G. Parker View of Society II 142: Reader-Merchants. Reader is Cant for a Pocket-book. This business is practised by young Jews who ply only at the Bank and the Royal Exchange.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: Reader. a Pocket Book. Cant. Reader Merchant. Pickpockets chiefly young Jews who ply about the Bank to steal the pocket books of persons who have just receiv’d their Dividends there.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (2nd, 3rd edn).
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[US]Matsell Vocabulum 73: reader merchants Pickpockets who operate in and about the banks.
[UK]E. de la Bédollière Londres et les Anglais 317/2: reader merchants, filous qui rôder autour de la Banque et de la Bourse pour tâcher d’y voler des portefeuilles.

In phrases

draw a reader (v.) (also nail a reader, nap a reader)

(UK Und.) to steal a pocketbook.

[UK]‘Cant Lang. of Thieves’ Monthly Mag. 7 Jan. n.p.: Drawing a Reader with Bank Screens Stealing a Pocket-book with Bank-notes.
[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 237: draw: to draw a person, is to pick his pocket, and the act of so stealing a pocket-book, or handkerchief; is called drawing a reader, or clout. [Ibid.] 253: nail: to nail a person, is to [...] rob, or steal; as, I nail’d him for (or of) his reader, I robbed him of his pocket-book; I nail’d the swell’s montra in the push, I picked the gentleman’s pocket of his watch in the crowd, &c.
[UK](con. 1737–9) W.H. Ainsworth Rookwood (1857) 178: None knap a reader like me in the lay.
[US]T. Haliburton Letter-bag of the Great Western (1873) 106: I ope to nap many a reader yet.