Selling Price for a Switchblade in 1952

I recently come across some information about Bedford-Stuyvesant gangs prior to 1955, in this case information from 1952.  Although gangs from the early and late 1950s were the same, information from the early 1950s isn’t something I have studied too much.

Beford-Stuyvesant was perhaps one of the most notorious and gang-ridden neighborhoods in the 1950s; two of the most infamous gangs from this area were the Chaplains and Bishops.  But – like gangs in the late 1950s – for every well-known gang such as the Chaplains and Bishops, there were many more little-known gangs, small groups of boys who had a turf of only a few blocks.

There was a gang in the south part of Beford-Stuyvesant called the El Savons.  They identified themselves as a social club, but that was more likely out of self-preservation (admitting to being in a fighting gang wasn’t good for them if they were caught in a crime).  The El Savons had a club house at 798 Bergen Street in Bed-Stuy, not far from the infamous Bishops’ gang who hung out on Fulton and Franklin Streets.  The Bishops wanted the El Savons to join them, and when they refused, the Bishops’ interrupted their meetings and beat up three members of the El Savons on Halloween night in 1952.

James Smith who was one of the members of the El Savons, decided he needed to protect himself, so he made himself a zip gun (.22 caliber) with ten cartridges and bought a switchblade with a 2.5″ blade.  The price?  98 cents.  Taking inflation into account, that would be $8.55 in 2014 dollars.

He was caught by the police skulking around 740 Classon Avenue, not too far from the club house of the El Savons.  Described as a pathological liar, no doubt he tried to paint himself in the most positive light as possible and told the police that he got the weapons to protect himself from the Bishops.  In 1953, the El Savons appeared to change their name to the “El Ticos,” and engaged in some vicious war not with the Bishops, but this time with a gang called the Playboys.

740 Classon Avenue

740 Classon Avenue in 2014.  This new building probably replaced a brownstone building that Bed-Stuy was peppered with in the 1950s.  This is where James Smith of the El Savons gang was arrested with his switchblade and zip gun.