Green’s Dictionary of Slang

sham n.1

[SE shame or shamed; thus this anecdote: ‘The word Sham is true Cant of the Newmarket Breed. It is contracted of ashamed. The native Signification is a Town Lady of Diversion, in Country Maid’s Cloaths, who to make good her Disguise, pretends to be so sham’d! Thence it became proverbial, when a maimed Lover was laid up, or looked meager, to say he had met with a Sham’ (R. North, Examen, 1740)]
(UK Und.)

1. a trick, a hoax, a fraud [subsequent use is SE].

R. L’Estrange Miscellaneous Fables (1692) CCCLXXIV 342: The Gifts of Nature are beyond all the Shams and Shuffles in the World.
[UK]J. Crowne City Politicks I i: A rank sham o’ both sides.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Sham c. a Cheat, or Trick.
[UK]Humours of a Coffee-House 10 Oct. 34: What is the meaning of all this noise about Sodomy about Town? Is there any Truth in it; or is it only a White Fryars Sham, to gull Alley Gossips.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]E. de la Bédollière Londres et les Anglais 318/1: sham, fourberie.
[US]Letters by an Odd Boy 158: I’m not going in for a cynical homily about social hypocrisies; I think ‘shams,’ and ‘wind-bags,’ and ‘snobberies,’ have been a little overdone.
[US]A. Trumble Mysteries of N.Y. 9: [A] way [...] of utilizing shams so deftly that they deceive the most expert.
[UK]‘Doss Chiderdoss’ ‘Not a Bit Like It’ Sporting Times 15 Feb. 1/3: From a child he had always been sucked in by sham.

2. a fake shirtfront.

[UK]A Society of Ladies Female Tatler (1992) (110) 199: Squire Widgeon wore shams.

3. something intended to impose upon, delude or disappoint.

[UK]R. North Examen 317: Then, by way of Sham [...] the Plot Party gave out that Parliament had a Design to cover their own Guiltiness.
[Ire] ‘A Drop of Dram’ Luke Caffrey’s Gost 6: Your pills or your bolus’s, or doctor’s but a sham.
[US] ‘Song of the Times’ Farmer of Chappaqua Songster 73: We’re sick of show and sham.
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 419: Screeving ‘shams’ and ‘delicates’ for begging-letter imposters.

4. in pl., false shirt sleeves (see cit. 1785).

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Shams; false sleeves to put on over a dirty shirt, or false sleeves with ruffles to put over a plain one.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.

5. (UK Und.) counterfeit money.

[UK]B.M. Carew Life and Adventures.

In phrases

put a sham upon (v.) (also put upon the sham)

to trick, to hoax, to defraud.

[UK]E. Hickeringill Reflections on Late Libel etc. 19: ’Tis but a Tale, and a Story of his own making, like all the rest of the Sham’s he would gladly put upon the Author of that Sermon.
[UK]Dialogue between a Yorkshire Alderman and a Salamanca Doctor 2: Was it not you and your Accomplice that put me upon the Sham to bring him into the Plot?
[UK]T. Brown Saints in Uproar in Works (1760) I 81: You must put these shams upon blockheads and not upon me.
Defoe Hist. and Reality of Apparitions 1417: He [...] seem’d to laugh that she should first put such a Sham upon him, and then to tell such a formal Story to make it good.