The Con Artist pretends he has the ownership rights to a particular public building (the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House are good ones) and sells the building to the mark, who will then show up with bulldozers or whatever. In America, the Brooklyn Bridge is a common target.
So well-known that it's also common for people to express incredulity with some variation of "And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you..." Or And I'm the Queen of Sheba.
It's also common to recommend buying what will become "ocean-front property in Nevada," as soon as the earthquake that causes California to break off and fall in the ocean happens.
- Walt Disney provides at least three examples:
- In one José Carioca story, José gets out of an American jail by paying his bail with Sugarloaf Mountain in Brazil. Later he gets himself a disguise by trading a random key, which he claims is for the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car, for a random person's clothes. And in another story aliens come to Earth to sell the moon to humans, when they try selling it to José, he ends selling the Sugarloaf Mountain to them.
- In a Mickey Mouse story, Goofy gets conned into "buying" the Eiffel Tower during a vacation with Mickey in France, prompting Mickey to look for the con man and bring him to justice. At the end of the story when everything is resolved, Goofy announces to Mickey that he bought Notre Dame, causing Mickey to faint... but then Goofy takes out a scale model of the cathedral from his bag.
- And Scrooge McDuck once buys the actual deed for the Castle Sforzesco in Milan from a thief who happened to pick it up. The purchase isn't remotely legitimate, of course, but because the story needs an Idiot Plot to lead to a faux-medieval battle over the castle, the offended officials of the city basically recognise his claim because he shoots at them with a cannon when they try to disagree.
- Another Uncle Scrooge story has Scrooge and his nephews trying to buy famous landmarks from all over the world. Everybody just angrily tells him no, until he gets to "buy" the Cheops pyramid from a local huckster in Cairo.
- In a Le Petit Spirou book, Spirou and his friend sells the local church to a Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense Eaglelander.
- Goes awry in at least one Superman comic — an alien buys (the Metropolis equivalent of) the Brooklyn Bridge, then miniaturizes it and carries it off.
- In Calvin and Hobbes Calvin tries to sell Earth to some aliens.
- In Alan Moore's Tharg's Future Shocks strip "Grawks Bearing Gifts" in 2000 AD, the Grawks are alien (and stereotypically Australian) tourists, who have people lining up to play this con on them, until they reveal that under Galactic Law all these sales are valid, and they now own the planet.
- The Mystery of Mamo does this in the Streamline dub when Jigen expresses his incredulity at what Lupin's studying after the Philosopher's Stone job.
Jigen: If you buy that, I've got some Siberian beachfront property on sale.
- At the end of The Dam Busters, a high-ranking official shakes the hand of the scientist that pitched the plan for Stuff Blowing Up: "I didn't believe you, but now you could sell me the Brooklyn Bridge!"
- Going Postal, from the book by the same name, upon recounting Von Lipwig's cons, shows a newspaper frontpage with the headline reading: "Conman sells city bridge — Three times!"
- Referenced in Way Out West:
Stan: That's the first mistake we've made since that fellow sold us the Brooklyn Bridge.
Ollie: Buying that bridge was no mistake. That's going to be worth a lot of money to us someday!
- Italian actor Totò sold nothing less than the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) to a gullible american tourist in "Totòtruffa '62" ("Totòscam '62").
- The Discworld Companion notes that Ankh-Morporkians provide essential services for the rural people of the Sto Plains "such as selling them the Brass Bridge at a cut-down price".
- In the Star Trek novel Spock's World, Dr. McCoy offers to sell Spock a bridge "with a great view of Brooklyn" after working out he'd been deceived by the person who engineered the Vulcan secession crisis. Specifically, that said person was lying about how they'd financed the grand-scale bribery that made it possible.
- Amusingly subverted in the first book of the Star Trek: Millennium series, when Vic, in his lounge-singer milieu, tries to use the expression... except only the local Fan of the Past knows what the Brooklyn Bridge was, and they end up distracted by the fact that in the future, it was sold to a theme park on the moon as a tourist attraction.
- In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe New Series Adventures novel Big Bang Generation, the Doctor, posing as a master con-artist, claims to have sold the Sydney Opera House to five different people. The actual con-artist he's talking to doesn't believe a word of it.
- David Macaulay's lavishly illustrated series of young adult books on the construction of various types of buildings (Castle, Cathedral, City, and so forth) has a book entitled Unbuilding that plays with this trope. The plot revolves around an elaborate scheme by a Middle Eastern prince to buy the Empire State Building, dismantle it piece by piece, and ship it overseas to be rebuilt as a landmark in his home country. Most of the book consists of detailed descriptions and intricate illustrations of the many steps that this enormous disassembly process would require. This trope is ultimately subverted in that the buyer turns out to be the real con artist. At the end of the book, the ship carrying the pieces of the Empire State Building mysteriously sinks in the Atlantic. The prince then collects on an insurance policy that he had taken out on it - a policy worth far more than what he had paid for the building.
- The A-Team: In the episode "The Road to Hope", Hannibal, discussing how suspicious their latest client is, says she should be selling the Brooklyn bridge. Face responds that the Brooklyn bridge goes for more than she's offering, which he knows thanks to pulling that particular con himself.
- The Beverly Hillbillies:
- The final season features a storyline where the Clampetts go to Washington and Jed is conned into buying the White House, the Capitol Building and other landmarks. The previous season that same con man sold them Statue of Liberty and Central Park.
- In another (earlier) episode, a con man attempts to sell Hong Kong to Jeb. Jethro believes that it is a giant ape (most likely he's thinking of King Kong), but the con man explains that Hong Kong is on the coast of China. Jeb turns him down, explaining that he has no need for a Chinese ape. He does convince him to buy Canada however
- In Chuck, Sarah's father tries to pull off this con.
- Mentioned as part of the back story for intergalactic con man Garron in the Doctor Who serial "The Ribos Operation". Originally from Earth, one of his early cons involved selling Sydney Harbour.
- Mickey Bricks sold someone the Sydney Opera House during his time in Australia before Season 5 of Hustle. In fact, it was mentioned as the reason for his absence from Season 4, during which the rest of the crew sold someone the Hollywood sign.
- The London Eye was also up for sale at the end of Series 1. Inspector Japp fell for it.
- They also pull an interesting variation in which they sell various London landmarks under the story that the crown is selling those artifacts due to the budget difficulties.
- In the Leverage episode "The Three Strikes Job", Nate poses as a real estate developer planning to build a baseball stadium to con a corrupt mayor. This requires him to make it look like an actual team was planning to move to the stadium.
- In "The (Very) Big Bird" episode, the team sells the original Spruce Goose to a corrupt airline owner and Howard Hughes enthusiast.
- In the Fourth Doctor story "The Ribos Operation", the scripted backstory for the conman Garron was that he had fled Earth after successfully selling an alien warlord the Sydney Opera House. The accent that the Doctor remarks on—changed to Somerset in the filmed version—was originally supposed to be Australian. When Iain Cuthbertson was cast the Australian backstory went, but the titular operation still involves selling not just a landmark but an entire planet to an ambitious but obtuse noble.
- Inverted in George Strait's "Ocean Front Property," where he claims a number of negative feelings for his lover, then adds
...and if you'll buy that
I've got some ocean front property in Arizona
From my front porch you can see the sea
I've got some ocean front property in Arizona
And if you'll buy that
I'll throw the Golden Gate in free.
- In "Things to Remember" from The Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd, Sir advises the Kid:
Never buy London Bridge from a stranger,
Unless you can make a few bob on the sale.
- Baldur's Gate II:
- When a giant interdimensional starship appears in the slums district, one of the citizens will try and sell it to you. He also has one sales pitch to every NPC you can bring with you, all of whom know better than to accept. If you have Valygar with you he'll chase the conman off, seeing how it's technically "his" sphere since his ancestor built the thing. Strangely if you're a mage, you actually can get control of the thing yourself as your wizard's tower.
- Edwin also references the trope at one point by claiming that if you really believe the Cowled Wizards are good for their word, he has a bridge in Thesk to sell you.
- Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow has this gem from Yoko.
Soma Cruz: No way! He* did not look like a bad guy.Yoko Belnades: Right, and I've got a bridge to sell you! Don't be fooled by his appearance! He's not who you think he is.
- Moraff's Revenge, an old CGA-DOS game, lets you purchase the city for 1 million gold. If you accept, the store owner mentions wanting to sell a bridge as well.
- World of Warcraft:
- Referenced when one goblin says something along the lines of, "If you're stupid enough to believe stuff like that, I've got a statue in Stranglethorn Vale to sell you!"
- There's also the rare drop item [Deed to Thandol Span]. Thandol Span is a massive bridge, making the item basically a WoW equivalent of a deed to the Golden Gate Bridge. The deed itself is classified as junk and as such has absolutely no use, but it fetches a high price from the vendors, and occasionally even from players who will buy it for its novelty value.
- In The Rant of this El Goonish Shive, Dan makes a completely believable statement, then informs anyone that believed him that he has a bridge to sell.
It's a bridge and real and everything, and it goes somewhere people might want to go.
- The Order of the Stick:
- Looney Tunes loves this gag.
- In Bowery Bugs Bugs Bunny successfully sells the Brooklyn Bridge after telling the story of how a man made a dive from it (after being hounded and tricked by Bugs endlessly).
- In The Ducksters, Porky Pig is a game show contestant who is offered such prizes as the Rocky Mountains, the La Brea Tar Pits, and the Rock of Gibraltar.
- Used as a Brick Joke in an episode of Top Cat: T.C. goes to the doctor after a nasty fall. When Choo-Choo mentions this to Dibble, the latter snidely remarks that T.C. will try to sell him the Brooklyn Bridge ("I didn't even know it was for sale!" replies Choo-Choo). Later at the doctor's office, the doctor says there's nothing wrong with T.C. and begins discussing his fee. T.C. then tries to pay the doctor with a "business opportunity": "I can't mention any names but it's about a certain bridge..."
- In the Filmation version of Mighty Mouse, a con man tries to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to Heckle and Jeckle. They politely decline saying that they own the Brooklyn Bridge. When the con man scoffs, he is utterly stunned when an armored car immediately stops by the magpies with the latest proceeds from the toll for the Brooklyn Bridge.
- Played in a very strange way in the Finnish animation Pasila, during the second season. The head of the police force, Repomies, has been, in his own words, tricked in a pyramid scheme and now claims to own a pyramid in Giza, Egypt. However, he had practically "sold" the landmark to himself. He had only been visiting a perfectly legitimate museum's Egypt exhibition, that advertised itself "See the pyramids!". Obviously, they just had scale models of the pyramids. Later, during his vacation to Egypt, Repomies wasn't allowed to enter his "very own pyramid" and became furious. Now, technically he didn't really lose any money since nobody was scamming him in the first place. However, all this leads him to order Pöysti to arrest Ramses II who inhabits "his pyramid". Before that, he actually tries to sell "his pyramid" to his colleagues. It should be noted that Repomies is a prime example of Cloudcuckoolander and a very senile one at that.
- Cosmo of The Fairly OddParents! apparently fell for this.
Cosmo: So that's what con means. I've been wondering ever since that guy sold me the Brooklyn Bridge.
- The Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "Mudd's Passion" mentions that Harry Mudd swindled the natives of one planet by selling them Starfleet Academy.
- In An American Tail, near the Castle Garden immigration center in New York, a salesman is literally selling the Brooklyn Bridge.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has Steven Magnet, a sea serpent, indirectly refer to it in conversation with a donkey.
- In Family Guy's parody of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Duke and the King are introduced trying to scam Huck and Jim with this tactic. They don't make a convincing argument, though...
The Duke: Hi, we're fake-selling the Brooklyn Bridge!
The King: Don't call it "fake-selling!"
The Duke: We're REAL-selling the Brooklyn Bridge!
The King: Stop qualifying the selling!
- Victor Lustig and George C. Parker are the most well known perpetrators of this scheme in real life. Arthur Furguson is another famous example though his existence might or might not be a hoax.
- And, in a subversion, a gentleman from Arizona bought London Bridge and the city of London duly dismantled it and shipped it out to Arizona. (They built another one in its place). Rumor has it that the purchaser was dismayed because he thought he was buying the much more iconic Tower Bridge, though the Other Wiki insists that this has been Jossed. He also made a profit on the sale (the value of the bridge as a tourist attraction raising the value of the land where it was placed, which he owned), so it doesn't really matter whether or not it was the bridge he meant to buy since he still came out ahead.
- When the Dutch bought the Manhattan peninsula from local natives, the people they negotiated with and who got the money were not actual owners of the land. But when the Dutch made an offer to buy the land, they gladly took the money.
- Those "name your own star" things you see on late-night TV (or in magazine adverts), as our friends at The Straight Dope elaborate here.
- The actual Eiffel Tower has been sold... piecewise. Or more exactly, it has been completely replaced part by part over time and the old parts were auctioned off.