*Ed. note: Cardplayer Lifestyle would like to thank Potter & Potter Auctions for contributing this post, written by Larry “TheBadJoker” Lubliner.
Poker magazines are filled with strategy, profiles, hand evaluations, tournament results, and news. This is as it should be. After all, they are dedicated to the game of poker, and its players. There is, however, another area that has gone unexplored in the literature of the game.
Poker is a lifestyle and, as such, there are collectibles, antiques, and decorative objects that relate to it. There are rare decks of playing cards, photographs, cheating devices, books, vintage posters, prints, and poker chips, all sought after by eager collectors. For new entrants to the hobby, collecting poker chips are a good point of entry.
History of Poker Chips
The history of poker chips is somewhat murky, to say the least. Pebbles, match sticks, diamonds, cash, and what we now know as poker chips have all been used to place bets. Modern poker chips most likely took their shape from coins, at least in the United States.
Chips can be made of many substances including cardboard, clay, mother of pearl, plastic, ivory, and bone. Today, many kinds of chips are highly collectible and there is even a collectors club devoted only to poker chips.
Because there are so many different kinds of chips there are many different categories of collecting:
Arguably the most desirable and collectible, ivory chips were primarily used from 1870–1910 and were sold by many of the gambling supply houses prevalent during that period. Ivory chips were issued in a wide range of styles, from the very plain with colored bands circling the outside to denote their denomination, to the highly decorated and intricately scrimshawed examples with detailed and elaborate designs and fancy numerals. The more intricate the scrimshaw work the higher the value.
Also adding to the value is the denomination of the chip. $100 chips have substantially more value than $5 chips. Perhaps the most desirable of all are sets of chips in their original cases, as issued. Individual chips can sell for $100 or less, while cased sets of “ivories,” as they are commonly referred to, can sell for thousands.
Casino chips are also sought after, and the market for them is vast. In this field of collecting, chips are available at all price points, from a few dollars, to many thousands.
At the top end are Las Vegas casino chips, especially from the early gambling establishments like the Dunes, Flamingo, and the Boulder Club. Of somewhat lesser value are chips from any Nevada casino (not necessarily from Las Vegas). Lower on the totem pole are private gambling club chips from anywhere in the United States. It should be noted, however, Some collectors value chips within these categories more than others.
As an example, metal inlay casino chips have exploded in value over the last few years. Moreover, some collectors only collect $1 chips while others prefer $100 chips. It is common for the higher denomination chips to be more expensive only because there are fewer of them available. Back then (as well as today) most players would not usually keep a $100 chip as a souvenir.
The chip collecting arena – and the poker collectibles market in general – is vast. Chips from the illegal casinos of Newport, Kentucky, have a devoted fan base, just as books on poker, it’s great players, and its rules, are sought after by professional players and bookworms alike.