Monday, May 1, 2006
On this date, May 1, 1891, John C. Ricketts signs a $2,000 promissory note in favor of his niece Katie Scothorn. He goes to the Mayer Bros. Clothing Co. in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Left: Contemporary post card image.) A witness describes what happens:
A. Well the old gentleman came in there one morning about 9 o’clock, -- probably a little before or a little after, but early in the morning, -- and he unbuttoned his vest and took out a piece of paper in the shape of a note; that is the way it looked to me; and he says to Miss Scothorn, “I have fixed out something that you have not got to work any more.” He says, “None of my grandchildren work and you don’t have to.”
Q. Where was she?
A. She took the piece of paper and kissed him; and kissed the old gentleman and commenced to cry.
Katie proceeds to quit, and when the old gentleman dies without delivering the cash, executor Andrew D. Ricketts (the old man's son) refuses to pay the note. Katie sues. The decision, Ricketts v. Scothorn -- allowing her to recover in contract for what would then have been considered a failed gift -- is one of the staples of promissory estoppel.
For those interested, a biography of Andrew is here. There is some question about how much $2,000 in 1891 would be worth today. Using the unskilled wage -- probably the best measure given that it was supposed to replace Katie's earnings as a bookkeeper -- that $2,000 would be worth about $220,000.