This is a charming reminiscence of Peter Schwed's ten-year tenure during the Depression era with the Provident Loan Society of New York, where he began at the bottom cleaning out the inkwells but in true Horatio Alger style, progressed to the Appraisal Department for fine gems and finally, before Pearl Harbor came between him and his jeweler's loupe, to a position directing the auctions of unredeemed items. Schwed is emphatic about the benevolent aspects of the Society and his favorite anecdotes concern nice people down on their luck who discover to their surprise that their white elephant is worth a small fortune. Like the classic story about the little old lady who bequeathed a vault filled with antique silver to her grocery boy. Schwed also remembers the time Evalyn Walsh McLean of the Washington Star pawned the Hope diamond to cover the ransom for the Lindbergh child--only the note happened to be a fraud. And he recalls Theodore Dreiser's gratitude for a generous sum received on his watch with which he proceeded to buy a pair of shoes and a hat before getting back to An American Tragedy. Actor Frank Fay borrowed enough for a drying-out cure so he could accept the lead in Harvey. Then there's a funny one about a 22-carat staple-shaped object that was finally identified as a Mideastern contraceptive device. Human interest stuff about those bygone good old days.