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ROBERT EISENSTADT'S VINTAGE GAMBLING CHIP WEB SITE -- POKER AND CASINO CHIPS AND OTHER GAMBLING-RELATED ITEMS

CHIP TIPS: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT CHIP COLLECTING (COMMENTS APPRECIATED)

1. TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  cracks hurt the value of ivory poker chips.  To search for cracks hold the chip a few inches from a light bulb and tilt the chip repeatedly to see if  you can spot light THROUGH the chip!

2. TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  warped chips have less value than normal chips.  To quickly discern this, hold up a stack of chips between your thumb and fingers, and look at the edges to spot warped (wavy) chips.

3. TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  ivory chips with concentric designs (a number of circles within circles) have less value than ivory chips with other designs (leafs, flowers, numerals, etc.).

4. TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  generally, ivory chips with numeral designs and object designs (animals, things, etc.) have more value than simple geometric designs of circles, leaves, flowers, etc.

5. TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  A nerve hole or nerve dark spot  in an ivory chip is normal  and should not decrease a chip's value very much, if not too large.

6. TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  when shipping a large quantity of rather frail or valuable chips,  roll the chips  (as though they were a stackof coins)  on/with clean paper, then tape the paper.  Be sure to cushion in a large box with crushed newspaper, etc.

7. TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  an easy, safe way to store individual chips is to use the same plastic loose leaf pages and plastic 2" x2" flips that coin collectors buy at coin shops to store silver dollars.  There are chip supply suppliers too.

8.  TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  most chips (be extra careful with engraved poker chips and hot-stamped casino chips) can be cleaned and brightened by brushing them in hot or warm water with a mild soap (I happen to use Dove hand soap) and a pared down old toothbrush.   Rinse off, dry right away, perhaps rub on some sewing machine or mineral oil, and finally dry right again with some paper.  Important: (1) don't use vegetable oil, or similar oils, as it smells and attracts insects; and (2) don't let the chips drip dry (or air dry) as it results in rings, particularly where chips lie on each other, and it dries out the chips.  Don't even let the chips soak in the oil for a long period.............Sometimes a pencil eraser helps clean a chip; sometimes it makes it worse!  Most important: don't be in a hurry.  Clean a few chips first, dry them off, then wait till overnight to decide on how to clean the rest of the chips.... . One collector says: super soft toothbrush  and Equate hand soap that is sold at Wal-Mart.

9.      TODAY'S CHIP TIP:   Protect your chips from the effects of extreme heat and direct sunlight.  Both can warp your chips, and sunlight can darken them.

10.     TODAY'S CHIP TIP:   Try to limit your collecting to the higher-priced, rare, quality chips.  By going for quality, not quantity,  you benefit because   (1) you have a smaller, more manageable collection, and (2) you have items that  you are proud to possess and display, that will rise faster in value (vis a vis the cheaper common chips), and that are easy to resell should you or your estate ever want to liquidate your collection.  Thus, if, for example,  you have a budget of $200 a month for chips, it is better to buy two $100 chips than 20 $10 chips.

11.    TODAY'S CHIP TIP: Gummed labels and “Scotch” tape can be removed from chips and other articles (including paper) easily and safely with rubber cement  thinner, obtained at art supply, stationery and other stores.

12.    TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  When mailing one or a few chips, if they are not very valuable and not too frail (a typical “engraved” clay poker chip is frail, for example), you can simply cushion the chip by wrapping it in tissue paper and then tape it between two pieces of cardboard, and put that in a regular envelope (write "don’t fold").

13.  TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  It does not reduce the value much if you have  one or a few chips short of a  complete set.  A typical set of 200 is 100 white, 50 red and 50 blue. Let's say you have 99 white, 48 red and 50 blue -- you are 3 chips short.  No big tragedy.  It is not like a deck of playing cards or a mah jongg set where you can not play the game without all 52 cards or  152 tiles.  But chips are only used to bet or count with.  You can play poker just as well with 197 chips as with 200.  (Regarding playing cards, if the joker is missing, the deck loses about half its value.   If a lesser card is missing, the deck still loses much value.)  In the above chip example, if 3 out a 200 chips are missing, the loss in value is little more than 1-1/2% (that is 3/200).
 

14.  TODAY'S CHIP TIP:   If only some of the chips in a large set are damaged (burned, soiled, etc) --say 5 out of 300--, it is no big deal and does not reduce the value of the set by much because you can still play a fine game with such a set  On the other hand, it would affect the value of a playing card deck.  If a card were so torn or soiled that the back could be "read" in a game, it would make playing with the deck useless.  Thus, it would affect the collectibility of the deck.

15. TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between ivory, bone and plastic chips, dice, tops, etc. With ivory you usually see a grain on some of the items, often at the edges.  Take a look at this page from my web site to see pictures and explanations of the differences: http://www.antiquegamblingchips.com/distinguish_iv_bon_cel.htm................  "French ivory" is a plastic/celluloid where an ivory-like grain is printed on the item (usually on 4 of the 6 sides of a die), and the "grain" is wavy, but rather parallel or even -- artificial looking.........Real ivory has a grain (often the grain is blurry and faint) that is uneven and makes a cross-hatching (intersecting) effect, and the surface is smooth and buttery looking.  Unfortunately, often the grain is not apparent on ivory items..................Bone is not ivory and is much inferior to ivory. It often fools people and is often smooth like ivory, but never shows the hallmark interlocking-cross hatching grain of ivory.   Bone often has very short blackish lines, generally going in the same direction, often described as embedded whiskers, often porous surface, very small cracks or fractures on surface, while ivory is smooth..............I just experimented with a thin nail, pliers and a gas range.  I tried to push the hot nail through the chips and got these results.  The nail easily went through the regular plastic chip.  It took about four tries in the same place to push the nail through a catalin (bakelite) chip; on the first try it left a small but sizable indentation.  However, only very small dents were made in a  thicker than usual bone chip and a thinner than usual ivory chip!  Also, the "buring nail" should make a "burned hair"-like smell when applied to bone or ivory (as opposed to plastic).

16.  TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  Often one wonders what a chip is made of or how it is made.  A good way to find out is to cut off a small nick with an exacto knife or to even break it completely apart with two pair of pliers -- one pair for each hand; then bend/break the chip.............To examine or look for an inlay, you can pry an edge of it up with an exacto-type knife.

17.  TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  This would interest  poker chip collectors  buying sets through the mail.  I'd like to make such collectors aware of something they may not think of.  I was "fooled" (fooled myself) with a Winston Cigarette poker chip set a while back.

The problem is this: many of these modern advertising sets have  (1) a nice box with the company name, (2) one or two  decks of playing cards with the company name, and finally (3) cheap light plastic poker chips with no name or the generic name "Hoyle" (brand) on them.  Dealers don't describe the chips for a number of reasons; sometimes, maybe, they just don't think of it, or don't think it is important.

The modern Camel, Marlboro (the one in the wooden box) and Schlitz beer sets have chips with the brand name on them.  On the other hand, Winston, Budweiser, Marlboro (in soft container) and the Suicide Kings (a recent movie) have poker chip sets with chips you wouldn't want to own because there is no brand name on the chips.

The moral: ask the seller if not sure.
 

18. TODAY'S CHIP TIP: Collectors often wonder whether to buy something in poor condition (after all, they can always resell it if they later buy the item in good condition).  Many would say "no." For them a damaged item detracts from their collection as a whole. Going by value and investment concerns, my advice is this: if the item is relatively common, don’t buy it in poor condition, or pay very little (say, 10-20% of good-shape value).  The rationale: (1) the poor-shape item will detract from your collection as fellow collectors will have it in good shape; (2) you will probably come across it in time in good shape; and (3) it will be difficult and uncomfortable for you to sell it in poor-shape condition.  But if the item is very rare and desirable (in a collectible category followed by a large group of collectors), buy it even in poor condition.

19. TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  Among clay composition poker chips the values range (in descending order):  Litho inlay chips, engraved-style chips, die cut inlaid chips and embossed-style chips........... The following chips, generally, have very little value, are virtually "uncollectible:" paper, wood, plastic and "interlocking" (have rays/lines along the edges) composition poker chips.

20. TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  The most valuable collectible gambling chips are in descending order: rare casino chips, ivory chips (1-1/2”-and-plus chips that have a design other than concentric circles) and mother-of-pearl chips (thick --about 3 mil thick-- European-style ones, not the dime-thin Cantonese ones with the fine scenic etchings).  One reason for this line-up is that there are over 2000 casino chip collectors, 100 at most ivory chip collectors and very few pearl collectors, certainly no books or price guides for pearl chips.

21.  TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  For investment value, stick to collectible categories and items (1) for which there are collector clubs and price guides, and (2) that are american-made, not foreign-made.  Don’t become too eclectic, buying things no one collects.  A good idea is to try to sell, on eBay, say, what you
are buying to test if there is any market for the stuff.  You may be surprised.

22. TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  What is a clay chip?
Clay refers to clay composition chips.  Most importantly, it means the chip is NOT ivory, bone, pearl, wood, paper, rubber, and especially all-
plastic, etc.  Basically, if they are not any one material (ivory, bone, etc.) and are not all plastic, they are a combination of things and are called clay composition. Originally they were made of clay and shellac.  I don't know of any test, except if you break one of then, you can see a granular material inside the chip, not a smooth, slick plastic surface...........The interlocking chips are probably part clay and part plastic; whatever they are, most  interlocking chips have a low rating and are hardly collectible (common to boot)..........."Clay" chips also have a substantial weight and size, make a dense clicking sound when allowed to fall on top of each other........they are also, generally, the ones in Seymour's book in the poker chip section.

23. TODAY'S CHIP TIP: Unwarp warped chips.
Clay chips can become warped from very excessive heat.  I have never done this, but I am told they can be unwarped by either (1) ironing them --between paper, low heat, keeping looking at -- on an ironing board; or (2) repeatedly putting them in a microwave oven for 30 seconds at high and squeezing them (papered on both sides) between two flat surfaces. Experiment with an unimportant chip first.  Watch out for the hot-stamping foil boiling!  Good luck, and tell me how you do.

24. TODAY'S CHIP TIP: What is Catalin and Bakelite?   Both are a type of plastic.  Catalin is a form of Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic.  Some say "the first thermosetting plastic."  Catalin, in general, has soft marbelized colors.  Bakelite is usually  dark brown or black.  Bakelite was developed about 1906 by a Dr. Baekeland in Yonkers NY.  It was a moldable substance set permanently by heat.  It was strong , would not dissolve, was acid proof and a poor conductor of electricity, was resistant to flame and high temperature.  It was called “the material of a thousand uses.”  During the Depression a new form of Bakelite was not molded (requires great heat and pressure), but cast (poured into molds and baked).  Much of it was made into Art Deco consumer goods (including poker chips and racks) and decorative accessories (especially jewelry) from the 1920's to 50's..............Here are some tests for bakelite/catalin, none very perfect for my tastes.  First, to test for clay, I usually I break one of the clay chips or look for a broken or cracked one, or use a knife to shave off an edge -- the insides should look granular (like a pottery plate).  Plastic looks slick, non-granular............Some people rub the chip with their fingers (or use hot water) to get that  formaldehyde smell, a sign of  catalin/bakelite........... one lady used a white cloth or paper with Dow scrubbing bubbles to wipe on the chips to get a yellow color on cloth (if no color: not bakelite)....... some stick the items with a hot pin: it will easily sink into item if not bakelite/catalin.  It can’t do this (at least not easily) to bakelite/catalin.

I can't think of many casino chips made of Bakelite.  I know of some Cuban chips made of the substance; that is all.  Lots of poker chips and racks, though.  Compared to the cheaper plastics, catalin poker chips are unbreakable, thick as a modern casino chip, usually plain (no design or interlocking ridges) and often marbelized (you see swirls).  Some catalin chips are hot-stamped.

25. TODAY'S CHIP TIP: beware of poker chips masquerading as casino chips.   There is a world of difference between a "casino chip" and a "poker chip.”  POKER CHIPS usually have on them just a picture (animal, boat, flag, design, etc.), no denomination and came in different colors.  They were made through the inspiration of any chip manufacturer (no authorization was needed), and hundreds of thousands may have been sold over the years throughout the country in retail stores and by mail order, mainly for private games.  Consequently they are generally (but not always) common  and inexpensive. CASINO CHIPS typically have on them the names of the casino, city and state; the casino logo and a dollar amount.  They were ordered in limited quantities by a commercial gambling establishment for gambling at table games at that place; that is, authorized and made for a particular casino. They are treated like money by the casinos and are often destroyed after they are retired, in which case the old ones that reach collectors today were bought or won at the tables years ago and taken home.  Consequently, casino chips are often rare and valuable, particularly the higher denomination ones.

Unfortunately, there is nothing now in the law to prevent anyone from selling casino-like poker chips (often called fantasy casino chips, but really poker chips) as casino chips.  Some poker chips are made to deceive.  Some poker chips are relatively innocent, but are hawked to deceive.............The chips offered in a recent auction of mine include both innocent poker chips and also examples of casino-like poker chips.  The Legends chips mention a "....Saloon & Gambling Hall" and say "Las Vegas, Nevada" on them.  A trusting sole might believe that there was  such a place in Las Vegas.  Yes, nice name.  There might have been such a place.  But it happens there wasn't.  They are fantasy  chips, not casino chips...........The James Bond chips say "Casino de Isthmus City."  There is no such casino or place................I know of cases where the Indian Chief chips were sold as Indian reservation casino chips............The dollar amounts have nothing to do with the value or rarity of poker chips.  (Most poker chips do not have dollar amounts on them, but some do.)

There are more egregious cases -- for example, recently made attractive poker chips (worth about $2 each) that  commemorate famous defunct casinos.  They show the casino name and logo, location, dollar amounts and the opening and closing years of the casino. They are not casino chips, were never ordered or authorized by a casino, were never inside a casino, were made by chip manufacturers many years after the casinos closed, are poker chips at best.

26. TODAY CHIP TIP:  For newbies: sometimes we leave out what is important to a newcomer because it is obvious to oldtimers and poker chip
collectors.  Inlaid chips are composed of two
components: the clay base of the chip and the inlay. The inlay is plain white plastic or laminated white paper. The
inlays are die cut so as to be round and then further die cut (punched out) so as to have a design by profile/contrast (not
printed). The important
thing the newbie should know is that the design is seen by the contrast of the colored clay base of the chip against the white
punched out inlay. The colored design you see in the center of the chip is the same colored clay you see ringed about the rim
of the chip; that is, the colored clay peers through the inaly!

27.  TODAY'S CHIP TIP:   One of the most important parts of a chip is the embossed circular rim mold  (the exclusive property of a particular distributor, often) .  It can sometimes allow you to trace the chip to manufacturer's records; if so, it can tell you the quantity of chips made, the date, and the address of the order.  If the chip can’t be traced to the records, the distintive rim mold design can tell you the distributor's name, the area of the country it was likely used and the approximate date range the chip was made.  For more on this topic, go to http://www.antiquegamblingchips.com/molddesignindex_site.htm

28.  TODAY'S CHIP TIP:  I am often asked how to restore the paint/ink that went into the incised engravings/scrimshaw of "engraved" clay poker chips and ivory chips.  I smear "oil paint in solid stick form" onto the entire chip, and then I clean it off the surface of the chip with a fine rag or whatever, leaving the paint in the engravings.  What I use cost me some $26.00 5 to 10 years ago -- a box of 12 sticks (I use the "ivory black:" and "raw umber" colors) by Shiva by Delta, called "Artists Paintstik," Delta/Shiva, Whittier California 90601.  (You will figure out your own way to do this, but I shaved off some of the end of the stick, then mushed it up with a wooden tongue depressor, then applied it to the chip in this softened form.)...... ...... .... Generally, I don’t bother to do this.  For one thing, I don’t have the time or patience.

29. TODAY'S CHIP TIP: re: Ivory poker chip care.  I received this in Feb. 2002 from Robert Weisblut's ivory IIS newsletter (2002-11):
"CARE AND HANDLING OF IVORY: Here are some more tips from the Northern States Conservation Center:
website:

Ivory is very reactive to its environment.  It bleaches when exposed to light but the most severe changes are
linked to changes in relative humidity and temperature.   Low relative humidity causes desiccation, shrinkage
and cracking, while high relative humidity can cause warping and swelling.  Heat fluctuations induce similar
expansion and contraction.  These problems are particularly acute with thin ivory objects, such as miniatures.

Some darkening or "patina" is the result of the natural aging process of ivory's organic constituents.  Because it
is porous, ivory is also susceptible to staining.  It darkens in contact with the skin or oils and can be stained by
corroding metals or other colored materials.

Many liquids, including water and cleaning solutions, are destructive to ivory and should be avoided. Handle
ivory with white cotton gloves.  If these are not available, wash your hands first with soap and water to remove
hand oils and dirt.

The best protection for an ivory object is a carefully controlled environment, both in terms of relative humidity
(RH) and temperature.  Ideal conditions are 45-55 % RH and approximately 70° F (21.11°C), with low light
levels, at approximately 5 foot-candles.   Conditions should be kept constant; at the least, extreme conditions or
rapid fluctuations should be avoided.

Keeping the object in a tightly closed display case or storage drawer provides a considerable degree of
buffering against sudden changes in temperature and relative humidity and is protection against dust and dirt.
Dark storage also eliminates damage due to light.  However, as a note of caution, avoid sunlit or spot lit display
areas, closed cases where heat can build up from interior light bulbs, proximity to ventilation or heating ducts,
the tops of appliances, exterior walls or cold windows.   Storage drawers and shelves should be lined with a
chemically stable cushioning material such as polyethylene or polypropylene sheeting.  Avoid using
rubber-based materials for storage or packing as these can produce unnatural yellowing of ivory.

For additional protection, the artifact may be wrapped in unbuffered, acid-free tissue paper, and stored in a
sealed polyethylene (Ziploc-type) bag.  Well washed unbleached muslin or diaper fabric may be substituted for
the tissue. "
 
 

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