Green’s Dictionary of Slang

small potatoes n.

also mean potatoes, small potato, small taters
(orig. US)

1. something, or someone, seen as insignificant, of little worth, irrelevant; ext. as small potatoes and few in a/the hill/…few to the hill/…few in the pot.

[[UK]Coleridge Letters I 224: The London literati appear to me to be very much like little potatoes, that is no great things].
[US]Boston Transcript 1 Apr. 2/1: When a person is guilty of a mean action, or takes much pains to make himself ridiculous, it is often said in relation to the circumstance, ‘small potatoes,—rather small potatoes and few in a hill’ [DA].
[US]T. Haliburton Clockmaker II 199: He is nearly used up; he is small potatoes now, and few in a hill.
[US]T. Haliburton Sam Slick in England I 93: Yes, that is a Blue-nose; is it any wonder, Stranger, he is small potatoes and few in a hill?
[US]W.T. Thompson Major Jones’s Courtship (1872) 70: If she is big enough fool to be tuck in by sich small taters as he is, I’ll jest drap the whole bisness.
[US]‘Ned Buntline’ G’hals of N.Y. 31: Never strike at small potatoes, my boy: they demand great risks, and make but very small returns.
[US]‘Artemus Ward’ Artemus Ward, His Book 32: But your religion is small pertaters, I must say.
[US]‘Johnny Cross’ ‘The Collar Butcher’ in Orig. Pontoon Songster 24: He was a fancy waiter, but a very small potato.
[UK]Sl. Dict. 297: Small potatoes a term of contempt. ‘He’s very small potatoes,’ he’s a nobody. Yet no one thinks of calling an important personage ‘large potatoes’.
[US]Northern Trib. (Cheboygan, MI) 5 Nov. 3/1: That’s ‘small potatoes’ and if I was his landlord I’d ‘sit down on him’.
[US]R.C. Hartranft Journal of Solomon Sidesplitter 66: ‘We may be “small potatoes”,’ cried one of them, ‘but we are sweet ones!’.
[UK]Music Hall & Theatre Rev. 16 Mar. 70/1: Let some of the Thespian commentators (happy thought, are common ’taters anything like ‘small potatoes,’ for assuredly some of the critics come under the latter class) try their hands at comic song writing.
[UK]Mirror of Life 5 Jan. 11/1: A racehorse owner [...] was very small potatoes, and would have been less than nobody had it not been for Billy’s friendly aid .
[Aus]E. Dyson ‘Battered Bob’ in Rhymes from Mines 150: A very small potato was the owner of the station.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘The Sex Problem Again’ in Roderick (1972) 308: Some men want to be considered god in their own homes; you’ll generally find that sort of men very small potatoes outside.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 14 Apr. 14/1: Your Australian figures look small potatoes alongside of these, and I have sometimes been considered an amiable liar for telling such things to N.S.W. farmers, who reckoned 20 bushels of wheat a perfect miracle.
[US]J.W. Carr ‘Word-List from Hampstead, N.H.’ in DN III iii 200: small potatoes and few in the hill, n. phr. Lacking generosity and breadth of mind. ‘He’s small potatoes and few in the hill.’.
[US]D.G. Phillips Susan Lenox II 123: Jim’s a small potato beside me.
[US]J. London Valley of the Moon (1914) 294: It’s all big business now, an’ we’re the small potatoes.
[US]F. Hurst ‘Boob Spelled Backward’ in Humoresque 242: I’m not a small potato, Sam. I could never live like a small potato.
[US]Courier Jrnl (Louisville, KY) 4 Apr. 60/3: ‘Some punkins’ [...] the antonym of this is ‘small potatoes — and a few in the hill’.
[US]M. Fiaschetti You Gotta Be Rough 45: Not that he was the leader of the gang, a master mind, or anything like that. He was, in fact, small potatoes, a minor figure.
[US]L. Hughes Little Ham Act II: Mattie, you small potatoes and few in the pot to me now.
[US]W. Winchell On Broadway 3 Sept. [synd. col.] If the armies march [...] Old Rutgers will seem mighty small potatoes to die for.
[SA]H.C. Bosman Willemsdorp (1981) I 611: Next to murder, this is just small potatoes. What I’m doing is, I’m smoking dagga.
[US]N. Algren Man with the Golden Arm 186: Small potatoes ‘n few in the hill, that’s me.
[US]Jess Stearn Sisters of the Night 55: Even Polly Adler, in her heyday, was small potatoes.
[US] in T.I. Rubin Sweet Daddy 66: Maybe he figured I was too small potatoes for him.
[US]T. O’Brien Going After Cacciato (1980) 132: Cacciato? Hell, he’s small potatoes. There’s bigger fish behind this thing.
[UK]S. Armitage ‘Remembering the East Coast’ in Zoom 76: Like organic farming: / it was small potatoes.
[Aus]R.G. Barrett White Shoes 184: This’ll probabaly be small potatoes after that other shindig.
[UK]N. Cohn Yes We Have No 344: All this, of course, was small potatoes.
[UK]M. Collins Keepers of Truth 265: Karl was small potatoes in all this, just a guy in a cornfield with his head blown open.
[US]N. Tosches Where Dead Voices Gather (ms.) 43: This may not be the equivalent, perhaps, of a precise dating of the Magdalen Papyrus; but hey, pallie, after twenty years’ searching, it is no matter of mean potatoes, either.
[Aus]R.G. Barrett Rosa Marie’s Baby (2013) [ebook] They were small potatoes and hardly rated a second glance.
B. Burton Inside Spin 243: The next most serious punishment is a maximum fine of $10 000, which in the world of PR is small potatoes.
[US]Simon & Pelecanos ‘Late Editions’ Wire ser. 5 ep. 9 [TV script] Me, I’m just small potatoes. Just a working politician [...] trying to make his way.
[Aus]D. Whish-Wilson Old Scores [ebook] ‘So they pad out the salary bill with a few sleepers. Small potatoes for the bikies, for crims like Leo Ajello’.

2. in fig. use, a hanger-on, one who acts as a parasite on the powerful or influential.

[US]Wood & Goddard Dict. Amer. Sl. 41: potato. A person; as in a big potato, small potatoes.
[US]W.N. Burns One-Way Ride 216: Diamond Joe Esposito was the apotheosis of a small potato [...] The most influential men in public life were his friends.
[US]D. Dressler Parole Chief 90: A punk is a small potato. Don’t be one.
[US]B. Schulberg On the Waterfront (1964) 50: Small potatoes were all right with him.