Rag picker can refer to several different unsavory professions.
- In the middle ages it refers to a rag and bone man, or someone who works with them to sort through the trash they collect. For more information, see Rag and Bone Man.
- At the start of the Industrial Revolution, it meant a person who cleared jams caused by tangled rags in the machinery of a textile mill. Also called a Rag Gatherer. This work required reaching into narrow places, so child labor was often employed. Thankfully, that's illegal in many places now.
- In the modern day, it can also mean roughly the same thing as a dumpster diver or waste picker - someone who scavenges in trash for valuables, generally without permission.
- With the growing importance of recycling in the modern era, the rag picker has re-emerged, albiet under a variety of euphamistic names. It's still a bottom tier job - and may even be undertaken by prison labour in some jurisdictions - but it now takes place in mixed waste recycling facilities where skiploads of mixed recyclable waste is tipped onto a conveyor belt and carried past a series of workstations where the staff grap a specific type of waste (e.g. plastic, glass or metal) and stream it out.
Game and Story Use
- The waste recyclers are good contacts for 'underworld' type PCs and might well bring them something unusual they found whilst scavenging.
- Likewise they (particularly the type 1. and 3. ones) may turn up dead because of what they found in someone's rubbish.
- Terry Pratchett's character Harry King ("Piss Harry") started out as something very similar and now employs thousands of them.