Green’s Dictionary of Slang

peter n.3

(UK/US Und.)

1. (also peeter, petter, pitter) a trunk, a bundle, a bag or parcel of any kind.

[UK]Head Eng. Rogue I 51: Peter, A Portmantua.
[UK]Head Canting Academy (2nd edn) 178: Peeter A Portmanteau.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Peeter c. a Portmantle or Cloak-bag. Bite the Peeter, c. to whip off the Cloak-bag.
[UK]Hell Upon Earth 5: Peter, a Trunk, Box, or Portmantle.
[UK]A. Smith Lives of Most Notorious Highway-men, etc. (1926) 205: Flick, to cut. [...] Flick the Peter, i.e., cut off the cloak or portmanteau.
[UK]Defoe Street Robberies Considered 34: Peter, Portmantau.
[UK]J. Poulter Discoveries (1774) 30: Come, let us pike to glee for Pitter or Leather. [Ibid.] 38: The Petter Lays. These persons go [...] to meet the Rattlers, that is, Coaches, to see if there is not a Petter behind, that is, Portmanteau or Box.
[UK]Scoundrel’s Dict. 18: A Portmanteau – Peter.
[UK](con. 1710–25) Tyburn Chronicle II in Groom (1999) xxix: A Peter A Trunk, or Portmanteau.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Peeter, a portmanteau or cloke bag.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (3rd edn) n.p.: Peter. A portmanteau or cloke bag.
[UK](con. 18C) W. Scott Guy Mannering (1999) 150: At length one of them [...] desired one of the lads ‘to hand in the black Peter, that they might flick it open.’ The boy stepped to the door, and brought in a portmanteau.
[UK]D. Haggart Autobiog. 34: I went to the Waggoner’s inn to forward my Peter by the carrier to Coldstream.
[UK]Lytton Paul Clifford I 211: If so be as your name’s Paul, may you always rob Peter* in order to pay Paul! Note: *Peter: a portmanteau.
[US]Ladies’ Repository (N.Y.) Oct. VIII:37 316/2: Peter, a trunk.
[US] ‘Scene in a London Flash-Panny’ Matsell Vocabulum 98: You mean Jumping Jack, who was done last week, for heaving a peter from a drag.
[UK]E. de la Bédollière Londres et les Anglais 316/2: peter, un sac de voyage.
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 28 Jan. 430: I said to him,‘What is this you have here?’—he said,‘That's my peter’ meaning a portmanteau.
[UK] ‘Autobiog. of a Thief’ in Macmillan’s Mag. (London) XL 505: While I was looking about I piped a little peter (parcel).
[UK]J. Bent Criminal Life 271: Peter ... Portmanteau.
[UK]A. Morrison Tales of Mean Streets (1983) 152: People sat defiantly on piles of luggage at the railway stations, and there was never a peter to touch for.
[Aus]Worker (Brisbane) 4 Sept. 8/4: Now when the shed at last ‘cuts out’ he gets his ‘little bit,’ / And straps his ‘peter’ on his ‘croc’ and quickly does a get.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 29 Sept. 7/3: Sometime when they nick a thimble, / Sneak a peter, or such thing, / They will part it to the pusher.
[UK]E. Pugh City Of The World 271: A peter-claimer is a bag thief.
[UK]Northern Whig 12 Sept. 8/6: I couldn’t pipe no peter, and no wedge worth a hog.
[Aus]E. Pugh in Advertiser (Adelaide) 12 Apr. 24/8: ‘Peter-claimer’ means bag thief.
[UK]M. Marshall Travels of Tramp-Royal 3: With a peter full of everything on my back.
[UK]S. Jackson Indiscreet Guide to Soho 62: He picked up his ‘peter’ and walked out.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 155/2: Peter [...] an iron-chest; a trunk, suitcase.
[UK]J. Gosling Ghost Squad 25: Thieves’ argot, spoken properly, is a foreign language which needs to be learned [...] a ‘peter’ can be either a safe or a suitcase.
[UK]D. Powis Signs of Crime 196: Peter [...] a large suitcase or a trunk.

2. a safe or cash-box, a cash register, a till.

[UK] ‘A London Ken-cracking Song’ in Confessions of Thomas Mount 20: With iron chisels and crow-bars too, / To iron Peter we’ll soon break through.
[Aus]P. Cunningham New South Wales II 237: ‘Three peters cracked and frisked,’ made a frequent opening of the morning’s log.
[US]Matsell Vocabulum.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 9/1: The clerk [...] drew from a drawer and sheet-iron box and returned the change. This gave our ‘chum’ a fine opportunity of ‘grannying’ the ‘peter’.
[UK] ‘Autobiog. of a Thief’ in Macmillan’s Mag. (London) XL 506: After we left the course, we found a dead ’un and got a peter (cashbox) with ver near a century of quids in it.
[US]Trumble Sl. Dict. n.p.: Jack, who was done last week for heaving a peter from a drag [F&H].
[UK]Clarkson & Richardson Police! 321: A cash-box ... A Peter.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 5 May 5/6: We planned to collar the peter (the cashbox) from this [public] house.
[UK]W.S. Walker In the Blood 143: To ‘clear a peter’ is a treat to me.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 12 Jan. 4/7: Whenever the darlings are squirting the froth / There’s a bulge in the nickle-plate peter.
[US]Spokane Press (WA) 22 Sept. 7/3: ‘Blowing a peter’ means forcing a safe with the aid of explosives.
[Aus]Truth (Brisbane) 29 Nov. 10/3: There was a peter [slang for safe] in the room, and I got the Jewellery.
[US]P. & T. Casey Gay-cat 60: I heard you tried to yegg a peter in Toledo and was nabbed.
[US](con. 1910s) D. Mackenzie Hell’s Kitchen 117: A safe is a ‘peter’.
[Ire]Eve. Herald (Dublin) 9 Dec. 4/6: Other [underworld] terms include : — ‘Flatty’ (policeman), ‘peach’ (to give away), ‘Peter’ (safe), ‘monkey’ (padlock), ‘stick’ (jemmy), ‘van dragger’ (motor thief), ‘snow’ (cocaine), ‘madam’ (misleading conversation) ‘stir’ (prison).
[UK]‘George Orwell’ Down and Out in Complete Works I (1986) 176: These (omitting the ones that everyone knows) are some of the cant words now used in London: [...] A peter – a safe.
[UK]J. Worby Spiv’s Progress 22: There in the wall [...] I saw an oblong shape of grey-green steel. This was the peter .
[NZ]F. Sargeson ‘That Summer’ in Coll. Stories (1965) 155: He pushed me over one more double gin which he only pretended to ring up on the peter.
[UK]‘Charles Raven’ Und. Nights 103: If the ice was anywhere it must be in the peter.
[Ire]B. Behan Brendan Behan’s Island (1984) 103: This is not like screwing some gaff along the Tottenham Court Road ... a rapid creep in, blow the peter and then scarper.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 26 Apr. 46: To a professional safe-breaker a peter is a safe or tank. It derives from the fact that in the convict days bank vaults were not only built in the same shape as prison cells but constructed from the same sandstone blocks used to build the prisons.
[UK](con. 1950s–60s) in G. Tremlett Little Legs 37: Got the key, opened the peter and took the briefcase home.
[Aus]Tupper & Wortley Aus. Prison Sl. Gloss. [Internet] Peter. 1. A safe.

3. (US Und.) a receiver of stolen property.

[US]Brooklyn Eagle 20 Nov. n.p.: An old broken down gambler, formerly of Cincinnati, known as Zeolus Graves, once in the policy business, but more recently as a receiver of stolen goods, and thieve’s [sic] ‘Peter.’.

4. (US tramp) a safebreaker.

[US]J. Flynt Tramping with Tramps 396: PETER: a safe thief.

5. (Aus.) a witness box; thus mount the peter v. , to enter the witness box.

C. Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 56: Peater the witness box.
[Aus]V. Kelly Greedy Ones 14: Mounting the peter. Going into the witness box [GAW4].

6. (also pete) a cell, whether in jail, a police station or elsewhere, thus also a prison.

[US]L. Berg Prison Nurse (1964) 28: What do you know about doing time? Ever tried sleeping in a ‘pete’ with only a lousy blanket between you and the springs?
[Aus]Queenslander (Brisbane) 2 July 4/4: Come, fill your mug, and in your well swept ‘peter’ sing / And with your ‘mush’ digest this fact - you’ve had your fling!
[Aus]R. Park Poor Man’s Orange 70: I remember when I was ten, and Dad was in the peter and she was having another nipper.
[Aus]K. Tennant Joyful Condemned 170: This peter is little enough and stinking enough without you.
[UK]‘Charles Raven’ Und. Nights 22: They smack him in a peter on a charge of receiving.
[UK]F. Norman Guntz 5: Two screws who [...] would spend the day locking and unlocking peters.
[Aus]Adamson & Hanford Zimmer’s Essay 51: The peter was fourteen foot deep, seven wide, ten high.
[Aus]T. Ronan Mighty Men on Horseback 18: The Provosts grabbed me and I drew a sixer in the peter.
[UK]J. Campbell Gate Fever 16: A cell is a peter, from the lock manufacturer, Peter Chubb.
[UK]J. Cameron Vinnie Got Blown Away 11: Only if he bleeds a lot do I get a single cell on account of emotional trauma because I just cleaned up that peter?
[Ire]P. Howard The Joy (2015) [ebook] ‘I’ll go and get your tea, right? I’ll bring it up to your cell for you. But you go on up to your peter, do ye hear me?’.
[UK]J. Cameron Hell on Hoe Street 95: Twenty years in a Pakistani peter.

7. (Aus.) in a gambling game, the surface onto which dice are thrown.

[Aus]New Call (Perth, WA) 7 Apr. 3/4: He never takes his eyes off the ‘Peter’ for a moment. Deft fingers would ring in the ‘crookeis’ [sic] if he left himself open, or the dummy had his attention drawn elsewhere for a momen.

8. (N.Z.) a half-gallon jar [? fig. use of proper name Peter, based on its ety., Gk petros, a stone].

[NZ]G. Slatter Pagan Game (1969) 153: He knew Bert would be at the Club filling his peter.
[NZ]McGill Dict. of Kiwi Sl. 83/1: peter half-gallon jar.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. [as cit. 1988].

In compounds

peter-biter (n.) [bite v. (2)]

1. (UK Und.) one who steals luggage.

[US]Matsell Vocabulum 66: Peter-biter A man who steals baggage at hotels, railroad depots, and from the back of coaches.
[UK]Framlingham Wkly News 4 Jan. 2/6: .

2. (UK Und.) a safe-blower.

[UK]Indep. Rev. 9 June 4: Today’s slanguage guide illuminates the murky jexicon of convicts [...] Peter Biter: safe-blower.
peter-claimer (n.) [claim v. (1)]

(UK Und.) one who steals unguarded parcels and bags from railway stations.

[UK] ‘Autobiog. of a Thief’ in Macmillan’s Mag. (London) XL 502: The following people used to go in there [i.e. an underworld public house] — [...] peter-claimers (box-stealers).
[UK]A. Morrison Child of the Jago (1982) 161: Josh was to take his trial [...] at the Old Bailey, and not at mere County Sessions at Clerkenwell, like a simple lob-crawler or peter-claimer.
[UK]Newcastle Courant 18 Nov. 5/2: I’m tired o’ Rob Ryot the snidesman, screwsman, peter-claimer.
peter-claiming (n.) [claim v. (1)]

stealing unguarded parcels and bags from railway stations.

[UK]A. Morrison Tales of Mean Streets (1983) 150: He ventured on peter-claiming: laying hands nonchalantly on unconsidered parcels and bags at railway stations.
[UK]A. Morrison Child of the Jago (1982) 154: He did not vulgar thievery: he never screwed a chat, nor claimed a peter, nor worked the mace.
peter-cutter (n.) (also petter-cutter)

an implement used to break into safes.

[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor IV 339/2: Some cracksmen have what is called a petter-cutter, that is, a cutter for iron safes.
peter-hunting (n.)

(UK Und.) the stealing of baggage and boxes.

[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 257: peter-hunting: traversing the streets or roads for the purpose of cutting away trunks, &c., from travelling carriages; persons who follow this game, are from thence called peter-hunters, whereas the drag more properly applies to robbing carts or waggons.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue [as cit. 1812].
[UK]A. Thornton Don Juan in London II 403: Prigging, diving, dummy-hunting, peter-hunting. These are various branches of the same art.
peter lay (n.) [lay n.3 (1)]

(UK Und.) the stealing of baggage and boxes.

[UK] ‘Frisky Moll’s Song’ in J. Thurmond Harlequin Sheppard 22: From Priggs that snaffle the Prancers strong, / To you of the Peter Lay, / I pray now listen a while to my song, / How my Boman he hick’d [sic; ? kick’d] away.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. n.p.: peter lay Rogues who follow petty Thefts; such as cutting Portmanteau’s, &c . from behind Coaches, breaking Shop Glasses, &c.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: Peter or Peter-Lay, the Department of Stealing Portmeanteuus, Trunks, &c.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (2nd, 3rd edn).
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]J. Lindridge Sixteen-String Jack 206: From prigs that squabble the prancer’s strong, / To yon of the peter-lay.
peterman (n.)

1. a safecracker.

[UK]Sporting Mag. XXXIX. 209: As good a cracksman or peter-man as any in the ring.
[UK]Story of a Lancashire Thief 9: Sometimes he’d turn peterman, and he had been generally lucky at it.
[US]Wash. Times (DC) 6 Oct. 11/1: One of whom I knew to be a ‘peterman’ or safeblower.
[US]H. Hapgood Autobiog. of a Thief 69: One of the swellest ‘Peter’ men (safe-blowers) in the profession.
[US]Wash. Post 11 Nov. Misc. 3/5: The boxman has a string of monachers such as ‘peterman,’ ‘yeggman,’ ‘blaster,’ ‘heavyman’ and ‘soup man.’.
[US]O.O. McIntyre New York Day by Day 25 July [synd. col.] The Tenderloin underworld has its tony set just as the higher strata of society [...] The peterman, or safe blower, will not mingle with the porch climber.
[US]‘Goat’ Laven Rough Stuff 34: In his younger days he had worked with some of the best petermen (safe-blowers) in the country.
[US]N. Algren Walk on the Wild Side 258: I found it was [...] some San Diego peterman who’d been out of range over a year.
[UK]A. Burgess Doctor Is Sick (1972) 147: Leo Stone mentioned the word ‘peterman’ [...] Instruments clinked and probed, and the lock always promised coyly to yield.
[US]Ragen & Finston World’s Toughest Prison 812: peter man – A safe-blower.
[UK]K. Bonfiglioli After You with the Pistol (1991) 332: Every [...] professional team of thieves has a [...] ‘peterman’ who can use a thermic lance on a safe [etc].
[US]T. Dorsey Cadillac Beach 189: ‘What’s the last you heard?’ ’He was mixing with some trouble boys on the flimflam, putting screws to a Peterman after the box job.’.
[UK]Guardian CiF 8 June [Internet] A two stretch for shoplifting and you would come out a fully trained armed blagger or peterman.

2. a thief who specializes in stealing goods from the back of vans and carts.

[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 134: Peter Petermen ― those who follow coaches and waggons to cut off packages.
[UK]Morn. Advertiser (London) 2 Oct. 4/2: [T]he very men greatly prized by rival damsels are the respective callings, in the flash vocabulary known as follows; ‘Peter-men’ (coach robbers); ‘cracksmen’ (house-breakers); ‘fogle- hunters’ (pickpockets) [and] ‘buz-men,’ also a term for pickpockets in crowds.
[UK]W.A. Miles Poverty, Mendicity and Crime; Report 138: Petermen, the last, men who cut trunks, &c, from carriages.
[UK]G.W.M. Reynolds Mysteries of London III 85/1: A Stranger—looked like a peterman. Busy-sack, redge-yack, six wedge-feeders, and togs in a busy-sack .
[UK]Story of a Lancashire Thief 9: Sometimes he’d turn peterman. [Ibid.] 15: (peterman) A stealer of luggage and goods from vehicles.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
peter-puller (n.)

(Aus.) a thief of packages, parcels, suitcases, etc.

[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 5 May 5/6: Lizzie Footer, who was one of Mrs Asprey’s gang of hooks, peter-pullers and shop-lifters.
peter-screwing (n.) [screw v. (4a)]

breaking open safes.

[UK] ‘Six Years in the Prisons of England’ in Temple Bar Mag. Nov. 537: ‘Why, ‘lob’ means a till, and ‘Peter’ means a safe. Stealing the till and opening the safe is what we call ‘lob-sneaking’ and ‘Peter-screwing’.

In phrases

peter-sneaker (n.)

(Aus. und.) a till thief.

Clipper (Hobart) 5 Oct. 7/1: They call a till-thief in Melbourne a ‘peter sneaker’ or a ‘galley-shover’.
Clipper (Hobart) 7 Aug. 7/1: ‘Peter sneaking’ is what they call robbing a till in the slang of the gutter, also ‘galley shoving’.
[Aus]Aus. Star (Sydney) 6 June 5/4: Let us look at the company. Ask a detective what It Is made up of and, he will tell you, ‘Oh, spielers, wasters, bludgers, thieves, burglars, dippers, Peter sneakers, snatchers, wiffle coppers, galley shovers, and so forth’.
peter thief (n.)

(Aus. prison) one who steals from a fellow prisoner’s cell.

[Aus]Tupper & Wortley Aus. Prison Sl. Gloss. [Internet] Peter thief. Someone who steals from another prisoner’s cell. Considered a despicable act by other prisoners.
bite the peter (v.) [bite v. (2)]

to steal suitcases or portmanteaux.

[UK]Head Eng. Rogue 47: Bite the Peter or Roger Steal the Portmantle or Cloak-bag.
[UK]Head Canting Academy (2nd edn).
[UK]W. Nevison in Newgate Calendar I (1926) 291: ‘Now,’ saith he, ‘that thou art entered into our fraternity, thou must not scruple to act any villainies which thou shalt be able to perform, whether it be to nip a bung, bite the Peter Cloy.’.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Bite the Peeter, c. to whip off the Cloak-bag. Biter of Peeters, c. one that makes a Trade of whipping Boxes and Trunks from behind a Coach or out of a Waggon, or off a Horse’s Back.
[UK]A. Smith Lives of Most Noted Highway-men, etc. I 209: Bite the Peter or Roger, that is, steal the Portmantle or Cloak-bag.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]C. Johnson Hist. of Highwaymen &c. 105: [as cit. 1684].
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict.
black peter (n.)

(Aus.) a cell for solitary confinement.

[Aus]K. Tennant Joyful Condemned 208: No remissions for Buckley. He was almost always in the black peter on bread and water.
[Aus]J. Alard He who Shoots Last 151: It makes me shudder ta think of him slaued up in da Black Peter.
[Aus]Adamson & Hanford Zimmer’s Essay 80: The Justice gave Glaister 24 hours in the black peter.
[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 89/1: since ca. 1920.
[Aus]Tupper & Wortley Aus. Prison Sl. Gloss. [Internet] Black peter. A cell.
nap a peter (v.) [nap v.1 (6)]

(UK Und.) steal luggage from a carriage.

[UK]‘Cant Lang. of Thieves’ Monthly Mag. 7 Jan. n.p.: Napping a Peter Cutting a Trunk from a Carriage.
turn peter (v.) [New Testament imagery]

(Aus.) to testify against.

[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 13 July 4/2: Them as buys it [i.e. opium] don't turn peter / On the agents, for it's plain / If they did, they'd surely never / Have a chance to buy again.