Seven of Diamonds

On 11 August 1921, the Minister for Agriculture, Henry Maley, collected his morning mail. Among the envelopes was an ordinary grey one, postmarked Mornington Mills. He opened it. Inside was a single playing card, the seven of diamonds.

There was nothing written or drawn on the card. Assuming it was a prank, he tore it up and threw it in the bin. Later that day, he attended a meeting of the Executive Council. During the meeting, Chief Justice, Sir Robert McMillan, showed that he too had received an identical envelope, also containing the seven of diamonds. He further revealed that Justices Robert Burnside and John Northmore had received the same.

As the news of the mysterious correspondence spread around the state, other recipients came to light. They included: Police Commissioner, Robert Connell; Inspector John McKenna; Inspector Stephen Condon; Inspector Michael O’Halloran; the Manager of the W.A. Bank, Robert Herbert; and various members of Parliament. Prominent country citizens also received envelopes, and included: local gentlemen from Beverley; Bunbury Mayor, George Tipping; Bunbury Town Clerk, Harold Summers; Louise Illingworth of the Rose Hotel; and the Mayor of Kalgoorlie, Henry Davidson.

While some were sent from Mornington Mills, others were sent from Donnybrook. The handwriting on the envelopes was described as ‘feminine’ which resulted in speculation that the sender was a woman. Many questioned the meaning behind the card. To ‘throw a seven’ was slang for death. Was the card a threat? Further strengthening the theory, one had a pin stuck through it, which was thought to represent a dagger.

Despite talk of it being a warning, many of the recipients laughed it off. Minister Haley reassured the press that he was prepared; he had not long renewed his life insurance policy. Mr Davidson offered a few puns. He was not going to ‘throw a seven’ with regards to “municipal life.”

…he would be on deck to play against all the cards that it might suit his opponents to deal out in an endeavour to trump his tricks.

Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954); 13 August 1921; Page 4; Items of News

If it wasn’t a joke, it was assumed that someone was angry or that it was nothing more than an advertising gimmick. Reactions varied. One person was concerned and reputedly “employed detectives to elucidate the mystery.” The Police Commissioner was so amused that he supposedly framed the card as a memento. While an anonymous person went as far as to post a thinly veiled threat in the ‘Missing Friends’ column of The West Australian.

If the mean skulking cowardly cur that sent Seven of Diamonds, would come into the open, he would get his Waterloo.

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954); 27 August 1921; Page 16; Advertising

One reporter claimed that the stunt had hardly attracted attention, however, that was clearly incorrect. The seven of diamonds continued to arrive in the letterboxes of prominent Western Australians throughout the month of August. The story was printed in a number of metropolitan and country newspapers and even attracted national interest.

The mystery of the seven of diamonds and the meaning behind it remained unsolved until early September. Those who guessed that it was an advertising stunt were correct. On 2 September 1921, a large seven of diamonds was printed in The Australian. Advertising The Royal Hotel in Perth, it advised the reader to “watch this space” for “seven great scintillating surprises.

The seven of diamonds advertising stunt which has startled the publicity world for the past few weeks is still engaging the attention of the general public that has been tickled to death to know the signification of the card.

Call (Perth, WA : 1920 – 1927); 9 September 1921; Page 7; Unique Publicity

Over the following weeks another ad was printed with the hotel’s price list. The proprietor of The Royal Hotel, William Henry Jones, had cleverly used a marketing trick to arouse curiosity, get people talking, and then “draw the attention of the public to the viands sold in his wholesale department…” His gimmick was unique and worked. According to the Call newspaper, “he is to be congratulated in introducing such sparkling publicity to our methods of boosting.

The Royal Hotel on the corner of William Street and Wellington Street in Perth.

Sources:

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