Where I should have made twenty thousand dollars I made two thousand. That was what my
conservatism did for me. About the time I discovered what a small percentage of what I should have made I was getting I discovered something else, and that is that suckers differ among themselves according to the degree of experience.
The tyro knows nothing, and everybody, including himself, knows it. But the next, or second, grade thinks he knows a great deal and makes others feel that way too. He is the experienced sucker, who has studied—not the market itself but a few remarks about the market made by a still higher grade of suckers.
The second-grade sucker knows how to keep from losing his money in some of the ways that get the raw beginner. It is this semisucker rather than the 100 per cent article who is the real all-the-year-round support of the commission houses. He lasts about three and a half years on an average, as compared with a single season of from three to thirty weeks, which is the usual Wall Street life of a first offender. It is naturally the semisucker who is always quoting the famous trading aphorisms and the various rules of the game. He knows all the don'ts that ever fell from the oracular lips of the old stagers—excepting the principal one, which is: Don't be a sucker!
This semisucker is the type that thinks he has cut his wisdom teeth because he loves to buy on declines. He waits for them. He measures his bargains by the number of points it has sold off from the top. In big bull markets the plain unadulterated sucker, utterly ignorant of rules and precedents, buys blindly because he hopes blindly. He makes most of the money—until one of the healthy reactions takes it away from him at one fell swoop.
But the Careful Mike sucker does what I did when I thought I was playing the game intelligently—according to the intelligence of others. I knew I needed to change my bucket-shop methods and I thought I was solving my problem with any change, particularly one that assayed high gold values according to the experienced traders among the customers.
Most—-let us call 'em customers—-are alike. You find very few who can truthfully say that Wall Street doesn't owe them money. In Fullerton's there were the usual crowd. All grades! Well, there was one old chap who was not like the others. To begin with, he was a much older man. Another thing was that he never volunteered advice and never bragged of his winnings. He was a great hand for listening very attentively to the others. He did not seem very keen to get tips—that is, he never asked the talkers what they'd heard or what they knew. But when somebody gave him one he always thanked the tipster very politely. Sometimes he thanked the tipster again—when the tip turned out O.K. But if it went wrong he never whined, so that nobody could tell whether he followed it or let it slide by. It was a legend of the office that the old jigger was rich and could swing quite a line. But he wasn't donating much to the firm in the way of commissions; at least not that anyone could see. His name was Partridge, but they nicknamed
him Turkey behind his back, because he was so thick-chested and had a habit of strutting about the various rooms, with the point of his chin resting on his breast.
The customers, who were all eager to be shoved and forced into doing things so as to lay the blame for failure on others, used to go to old Partridge and tell him what some friend of a friend of an insider had advised them to do in a certain stock. They would tell him what they had not done with the tip so he would tell them what they ought to do. But whether the tip they had was to buy or to sell, the old chap's answer was always the same.
The customer would finish the tale of his perplexity and then ask: "What do you think I ought to do?" Old Turkey would cock his head to one side, contemplate his fellow customer with a fatherly smile, and finally he would say very impressively, "You know, it's a bull market!"
Time and again I heard him say, "Well, this is a bull market, you know!" as though he were giving to you a priceless talisman wrapped up in a million-dollar accident-insurance policy. And of course I did not get his meaning.