- The practice presently known as "scalping" was earlier called "speculation." In towns and cities where a star was booked for a limited engagement of only a few performances, tickets could sell out quickly and the demand for tickets meant that they could be resold at inflated prices. Even more perniciously, bogus tickets might be sold on the street. The cost of bringing in a star of the magnitude of Edwin Booth for his April 1887 first appearance in Kansas City, for example, led Coates Opera House to increase its normal price of $1.50 for a reserved seat to $2.50, but then speculators were able to get as much as $35 for the $2.50 ticket. The theatre's advertisement stated that "the management reserves the right to refuse the sale of seats to speculators," and yet there was a frenzy of ticket speculation on that occasion. According to a report in the Kansas City Evening Star (28 April 1887), "License Inspector Caleb Huestis said: 'Every one of these Booth ticket speculators should be arrested, but unfortunately there is no ordinance to prohibit speculating and dealing in theatrical tickets.' One of the luckiest of the speculators was L. A. Jenkins, who runs the cigar stand in the Coates house. He secured forty-eight tickets and disposed of them at a sufficient advance to enable him to buy a good lot in Kenwood addition." The problem was endemic, for the Kansas City Star reported (15 April 1900) that Atlanta had actually enforced its law against theatre ticket speculators; the Atlanta man—who had four men wait in line to buy the limit of 10 tickets each for Richard Mansfield's engagement—had to pay a $100 fine (although the mayor remitted the 30-day jail sentence).
The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. James Fisher.