Collecting old poker chips can be an inexpensive and fun hobby. In fact, so many people collect casino memorabilia, especially chips, that there is even a hobby group called the Casino Chip and Gaming Tokens Collectors Club (CCandGTCC) that is affiliated with the American Numismatic Association!
Poker chips themselves have been around for as long as poker, but most collectors concentrate on the circular discs that have been used for the last 100 years or so. According to antique gaming chip authority Robert Eisenstadt, "Inlaid gambling chips (Crest and Seal-type) manufactured by the U.S. Playing Card Co., Cincinnati, Ohio, which were made between approximately 1910 and 1940's."Poker Chip Styles
The poker chips shown above are generic inlaid chips with a smooth feel made of clay. The clay chips have litho inlays and flat rims. They are heavy and measure about the same as today's standard casino chip - 39 mm or about an inch and a half across. While chips were made of bone, wood, celluloid, ivory, and clay, it is the clay chips that are seen in the most varieties because there were so many produced. These chips sell anywhere from $2 to $5 each.Ivory Chips
Ivory chips are a favorite of collectors for their beauty and durability. Because they were not produced in the numbers that clay chips were, the prices are considerably higher. Even generic "number" chips are likely to be $20 or more. More intricate work on the chip or rarity will influence the desirability and cost of any chip.
Real ivory chips show some of the curved grain that ivory has. The cross-hatching may not be immediately noticeable, but it should be found on the chip, perhaps along the rim of the chip. Most ivory chips are engraved, or scrimshawed, and stained to show the design. Ivory chips are almost always scrimshawed (engraved) with a design.
Ivory chip values are influenced by design and condition. Chips with concentric designs or just numbers sell for less than chips that have animals or more intricate designs. Warped chips are less desirable.
Ivory, while strong, is still likely to chip and crack. Holding the chip up to a strong light is likely to reveal any cracks.Other Chip Compositions
There are not too many collectors for chips made of bone, wood, paper and mother of pearl. Bakelite chips are readily available too, but are unlikely to be expensive. However, Catalin, an early form of Bakelite, was used on chips with varying results. The chips are colorful with a soft marbleized look and do have some added value. While collectors do exist, the great majority of collectors are interested in chips made like the photo above. These chips, made of clay, were available in hundreds of styles with different inlays, colors and designs.
The chips above may have been for back-of-the-store poker rooms or used as roulette chips, but they were plentiful and today rarely sell for more than a few dollars. Many chips of this style were made for illegal clubs and while not strictly "poker" chips, they have been collected over the years as such because most were unknown to collectors as anything but.
As the hobby of collecting poker and casino chips has expanded, more information about illegal casinos has made its way into the forefront. Chips sold at auction sites like ebay have also enlightened collectors about the origin of their chips.Dale Seymour's Antique Gambling Chips
In 1985, Dale Seymour published his book Antique Gambling Chips. Before that date there was very little literature about chips and the collecting hobby. The book assigned a three-lettered Alpha code to chips and provided some background on gaming chips and also included hundreds of illustrations. Seymour's contributions to the hobby are still valuable and his book has been updated several times. It is well worth owning! Buy Direct