BBC History Revealed

RATIONING LED TO THEFTS

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Some of the most significan­t and lucrative black-market activities centred on the long list of staple products subject to rationing. Food, petrol and clothing rationing was administer­ed through ration books and coupons, which provided forgers and thieves with great opportunit­ies. In 1944, some 14,000 newly issued ration books were stolen in a raid: they were sold for an estimated profit of £70,000, roughly equivalent to £3 million today. Forgery took place on a small and a large scale but was hard to pin down. A rare major prosecutio­n took place in Manchester in 1943, when 19 men were accused of involvemen­t in a wide-ranging racket of selling forged clothing coupons. A printing press in Salford supplied a host of wholesaler­s in the north and south of England with high quality forgeries. The going rate for a sheet of forged coupons on Oxford Street was £10 – around £400 in today’s money. Rationing naturally gave rise to a great deal of corruption among shopkeeper­s, farmers and officials, and many culprits ended up in court.

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