What’s a blind pig? A blind tiger? A striped pig? Are they the same thing?
A Massachusetts law in 1838 banned the retail sale of distilled spirits. It didn’t take long for sellers to figure out how to sell spirits within the law. People could pay a fee to see a striped pig. It was a common pig painted with stripes. After seeing the pig, people were then able to drink “free” rum. That is, it wasn’t sold.
The origin of blind pig is obscure. A genuine striped pig would would be a true oddity. That would be something to see. But there’s nothing noteworthy about a pig lacking eyesight.
One theory is that the striped pig was made of clay. It could see nothing. So it was not only striped but it was also a blind pig. Another meaning of blind is something secret or hidden.
A second theory is that pig refers to police. An illegal drinking venue needs police be be either indifferent or corrupt. That is, the “pig” needs to be “blind” or turn a blind eye for the illegal operation to stay in business.
Pigs were found on farms across the country. They were very, very common. But a tiger was an unusual animal. Perhaps a blind tiger would be something of an oddity. A blind tiger was first described in writing in 1857.
I sees a kinder pigeon-hole cut in the side of a house, and over the hole, in big writin’, ‘Blind Tiger, ten cents a sight.’ That ‘blind tiger’ was an arrangement to evade the law, which won’t let ’em sell licker there, except by the gallon.1
There is a lack of agreement as to the origin of these terms in various regions of the country. There is also disagreement as to what differences, if any, may have distinguished them from each another.
With National Prohibition (1920-1933) the most popular term became speakeasy. The usual explanation for that term was that customers had to speak easy or softly in giving a password to gain entry. Others suggest that customers should speak easy when discussing the establishment, its location, or its password.
Today, most people know the meaning of speakeasy. But few know the terms blind pig, blind tiger, and striped pig.
Blind Pig, Blind Tiger & Striped Pig
1 Forsyth, M. The Horologicon.