Every Chinese laundry eventually amassed packages of laundry that their owners never returned to claim. They had either forgotten where they left their laundry, moved away, or even died, but regardless of the reason, the laundryman did not get compensated for his labor in washing and ironing these clothes. I don’t know how widespread the following practice was but according to one 1900 report in New Orleans, speculators were getting rich buying up unclaimed laundry bundles for resale.
“The Chinaman is glad to let the clothes go for the washing dues against them, and the speculators strike any number of bargains, for generally linens worth a Chinaman’s work is worth a few cents asked for the charges against it. The speculators go around from laundry to laundry, and wagonloads of goods are bought up by him for almost nothing. It is pretty much of a lottery, for the wiley Chinaman does not permit the speculator to examine the contents of bundles before buying. He is like a man buying a pig in a poke, and the only guide he has is what the Chinaman tells him is in the bundle…. A bundle of laundry on which the dealer in them pays 50 cents for the washing will net him generally three times his outlay… “
“Traffic in washed clothes. Men who buy uncalled-for parcels at Chinese laundries.” New Orleans Times Democrat, July 27, 1901.