by Dr. Lori Verderame
Since 1985, there has been a revival in collecting poker chips. For the last 300 years, the major categories of antique chips range from bone, wood, ivory, mother of pearl, clay, and various types of plastics. Ivory poker chips, made from the middle of the 19th Century, may be found in as many as two thousand different designs and styles. Many ivory poker chips are hand-engraved, carved, or otherwise designed. With collectors, ivory chips are viewed as individual works of art. The unique designs are an effort to stop chip counterfeiting.
In the 1800s, riverboat gamblers prized their personal sets of poker chips, carrying cases, chip carousels, and playing cards which were transported from place to place and game to game. Certain chips had identifying imagery like a trademark of a particular maker or a monogram of a player. For instance, William Suydam (successor to Suydam Brothers) of 22 Union Square, New York, NY made a characteristic poker chip featuring a beehive decoration in ivory in 1880. Antique poker chips were made of ivory with sculpted details like the Suydam beehive are worth $30 each, chips of colored mother of pearl with values ranging from $15 to $20, and examples made of various colored plastic from the early to mid 1900s have values from $3 to $8 each. Full poker chip sets—even sets without much age–are worth significant cash.
Valuable poker chip types
If you are looking for poker chips at flea markets and yard sales, there are some tell tale signs. Feel the material of the poker chips and select wisely. For instance, ivory chips are typically worth more than plastic ones and full sets are worth more than individual chips. Avoid cancelled chips. Genuine chips are usually cancelled in one of three ways with a drilled hole, a notch or by a stamp. These chips can no longer be used in game play. Examples of drill cancelled chips with a filled hole are tell tale signs of counterfeiting. These repairs are normally only detectable by X-ray.
In the 1880s, composition chips were introduced into a marketplace where supplying ivory chips grew impractical. Composition chips were made from clay and shellac and many of these chips referred to or even copied earlier designs found on ivory chips. Chips were then made of a wide range of materials including various plastics, polymers, etc. Collecting poker chips can be nearly as fun as playing poker.
Get an online appraisal of your poker chips from Dr. Lori.