ANTE UP: The Collection of Robert Eisenstadt

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"Josephine" --  1896 ivory poker chip set (699 chips) --
the personal poker chip set of the wealthy American industrialist P.A.B. Widener,
which he kept on his yacht Josephine, named after his wife -- new discovery --
-- not for sale --

Page from "Casino Collectible News" article that featured this poker chip set.


Another view and arrangement of the chips.

Brief overview: This ivory poker chip set was, without doubt, originally made for the fabulously wealthy industrialist and philanthropist P.A.B. Widener (1834-1915), son of a bricklayer and one of the richest men in the U.S. at his maturity, for the chips bear the image of his personal burgee (nautical flag, or pennant) --white star in red circle on blue two-tailed pennant-- registered to P.A.B. Widener and his son George D. Widener.  The burgee identifies him as much as his name or fingerprints would! The chip set, bearing the name "Josephine" on each chip, was kept aboard P.A.B. Widener's 225-foot yacht "Josephine" (launched March 4, 1896), named for his wife Josephine (who died aboard the yacht July 31, 1896, some 5 months later!).  It is no coincidence that the Wideners' personal burgee (used on the "Josephine" and the chips) and that of the White Star Line (owner of the "Titanic") each bore a single white star, for  P.A.B. Widener was part-owner of the White Star Line .  (The Titanic went down in 1912 with his son George and grandson on board, a few hours after the captain of the Titanic had dined with the Wideners.) The  yacht Josephine was given to the U.S. Navy in 1898 for service in the Spanish-American War and thereafter for other Navy service in the Caribbean and the East Coast during WW I.


orange 100


Provenance --  When I acquired this set, the only thing said about it was that "Josephine" was the name of a ship. As explained below, using the name "Josephine" and checking burgee (nautical flag) registrees,  we have proven the provenance beyond a doubt. The chips came in the oak box shown on this page.  There are three wooden pull-out tiers (or trays) for the chips;  like many other old poker chip racks there are divisions for groups of 10 chips that lie in a slanted position.  "Josephine" is inscribed on the brass plate atop the chest (shown more clearly below). The set has a working lock and key; the old key has a fob with it that is engraved, "Capt. Berth," I guess where the ship's chips were kept.

With the aid of  Richard Hanover, I see that the set belonged to Peter A. B. (PAB) Widener (1834-1915) of Philadelphia, one of the 100 wealthiest Americans at his time.  Starting with his butcher business and political connections during the Civil War, he branched out into transportation ( including railroading and ownership of part of the White Star Line), and eventually helped organize U.S. Steel and the American Tobacco Co., among others enterprises.  He was also a community organizer, art collector and philanthropist.  He named his yacht "Josephine" after that of his wife, Hannah Josephine Dunton (1836�1896).  
(See more about Widener and his family on this page here and here . )

Everything is in excellent condition
-- the rack and the chips!   The chips are 1-1/2" in diameter, with the same design on both sides each chip.  They are in surprising perfect condition, except that on some of the blue and lavender chips the rim color is slightly faded and a little mottled, but only on some, and this imperfection is not serious on any of the chips.  The chips seem to have no exposed nerve hole and no cracks at all, not even edge cracks! They are definitely ivory -- have the distinctive ivory grain, etc. (Many of the chips show the smallest dark dot in the center where the nerve would have gone, but not one of the chips has a hole or anything that would let light through.  And not one chip has a crack anywhere! In the next picture below, I show a "1" chip where the ivory grain and the nerve spot are particularly conspicuous.)

All ivory poker chips sets are desirable. What makes this one special are:

denominations other than the more common "5" and "25."  "1," "10," "50," and "100" are quite rare.  For example, in the book "Antique Gambling Chips," only about a half-dozen different ivory chip designs of 10 are known, and only about a dozen each for 1, 50 and 100.  And it is unheard of to have six different denominations in one chip set.
identifying the original ownership of the set to a particular person - and such a famous and powerful one at that!  There can be no doubt that the chips belonged to Mr. Widener, what with his wife's name on the ribbon,  his personal registered burgee on the chips, and the known fact that he owned and launched the famous yacht Josephine.  Virtually no other ivory chips have been so definitely identified as to original ownership.
being able to date an ivory poker chip set. Mr. Widener had the ship built to his specifications and then launched as the "Josephine" (named after his wife) March 4, 1896.  Josephine died, on the boat, July 31, 1896.  The yacht was transferred to the U.S. Navy as the "Vixen" in 1898 for service in the Spanish-American war, raging at that time.  The chips had to have been made (hand scrimshawed) during this two-year period, probably before his wife died.
�  having a name (Josephine) and design (flag, ribbon banner) on the chip rather than just a numeral or simple plant part.
red and blue ink/paint in scrimshaw engravings (here, the flag) instead of just black ink/paint.
� the original/named chip chest (name of the yacht Josephine and the pennants on the nameplate).
� the completeness and size of the set.  The rack has spaces for exactly 700 chips (70 ten-chip sections), and 699 ones are there. Most sets lose quite a few chips (or they break, etc.) over 100+ years.  Amazingly, only one chip (a red one) is missing from the set!  The sheer size of the set is extraordinary.
� the excellent condition -- no nerve holes to speak of, no cracks (even an edge crack), good paint in the engravings, generally good rim color, etc., No problems to speak of.
� unusual rim colors on some of the chips.  Often we see red rims on the fives and blue rims on other chips.  But burgundy, orange and lavender rim colors are rare.

Most of the chips do not show the ivory grain and nerve spot as conspicuously as this one.
Note the engraved lines in the flag which hold the blue ink/paint.

A different arrangement of the chips in this photo.

The poker chest, key and the three oak chip trays.   Here it is easy to see the 10-chip compartments (sections) in the rows and columns
of the three chip trays.  In all, there are 70 compartments (sections) in the 700 chip-capacity rack.

The three chip trays have brass ring handles, and would simply rest atop each other in the chest.

Tiger Oak Wood Chip Rack

The tiger oak poker chip chest
contains three chip trays that sit atop each other.  Each of the trays has numerous 10-chip sections, configured so the chips slant backwards some.  Each tray has retractable brass rings on the sides for lifting the trays.  Both the chest and the trays are made of oak, with brass hardware.

In the above picture:
� the upper-left tray has 25 slots for 250 chips.  There I have 100 red value "5" chips, and 150 blue value "10" chips.
� the upper-right tray has 25 slots for 250 chips.  There I have 100 lavender value "100" chips, and 150 burgundy value "25" chips.
� the bottom tray has 20 slots for 200 chips and 2 spaces for playing card decks (the decks in the picture did not come with the set -- they are props).  There I have 100 white value "1" chips, and 100 orange value "50" chips.

Key and fob that came with the set and works the rack's lock. The inscription on the fob: "CAPT. BERTH."
One of the meanings of "berth" is "the cabin of a ship's officer."  So the poker chip set was most
likely kept aboard the yacht Josephine.

Nameplate atop the oak rack.  Reads "Josephine." Note the nautical pennants (burgees) --
of the New York Yacht Club, Widener's personal burgee, and the Corinthian (Philadelphia) Yacht Club (l to r).



Yacht Burgees (Flags) Prove PAB Widener Owned the Chips

The three thumbnails above of yacht flags are the same three flags that appear on the nameplate on the oak chip box,
seen in the second picture above.  All are related to PAB Widener.  He was a member of the New York Yacht Club and the Corinthian Yacht Club in his home town of Philadelphia.  The flag in the center is the personal registered flag of PAB Widener and his son, Geo. D. Widener, who died in the Titanic disaster of 1912. That center flag is the best proof that Widener owned the ivory chip set -- it is the same flag (burgee) that appears  on the chips -- white star in red circle on blue two-tailed pennant!  The other evidence: the chips show a definite nautical connection, and Widener named his boat the "Josephine" after his wife of the same name; and only a very rich man (as was Widener) could afford such a spendid large ivory set. The chips were found in Pennsylvania where Widener lived, and he lived at a time when ivory poker chips were being made.

(The burgee {nautical flag} information comes from the Lloyds Register of American Yachts 1906 at the Mystic Seaport web site.   There you will find the above three burgees/flags on pages 1, 3 and 20 of "Yacht Clubs of the United States and Canada.")  In case those links change over time, here are my reproductions of those three pages: p. 1 , p. 3 , and p.20 .

White Star and Titanic and Widener Family

The white stars on these flags (burgees) tie much together.  PAB Widener was part owner of the famous White Star [Shipping] Line, which had, of course, a white star in its flag (burgee logo).  In 1896 he had built his 225-foot yacht Josephine, which was registered with his (and his son George D. Widener's) personal flag (seen on the chips), which also had a prominent white star in the design.  In 1912, George and his son Harry were among the honored guests for the maiden voyage of the White Star Line's doomed "Titanic;" they died in that disaster.  George had traveled to Paris, France, with original intentions to find a chef for Widener's new Philadelphia hotel, The Ritz Carlton.  Harry Elkins Widener, the son, a noted book collector, had gone to Europe, in part,  to purchase rare books; his widowed mother built the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, at Harvard,  the largest university library in the world, in his memory. (The rare books young Elkins purchased in Europe were sent home on another ship, and are now in that Harvard library named after him!)

PAB Widener's other son, Joseph E. Widener (1871 � 1943),  was a wealthy American art collector who was a founding benefactor of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  A major figure in Thoroughbred horse racing, he was head of New York's Belmont Park and builder of Miami, Florida's Hialeah Park racetrack (often called "the most beautiful racetrack in the world"), and owned numerous horse stables, championship horses and racing tracks.  The March 16, 1942 issue of TIME magazine said: "nearly every glamor horse in the U.S. was entered in Florida's Widener Handicap, richest race of the winter season."  At Belmont Park in New York, the "Widener Turf Course" is inside the main tack.

Another notable descendent of PAB Widener is Fitz Eugene Dixon, Jr. (1923 � 2006), an American educator, sportsman, and philanthropist. He served on university boards, art commissions and owned many thoroughbred racehorses including part ownership of Man o' War.  He is best known as an "owner and investor of Philadelphia professional sports franchises, including the Eagles, the Phillies, the Flyers, and the Wings, but his most notable sports investment was the Philadelphia 76ers. He served as Vice Chairman for the Flyers when they won the Stanley Cup in 1974, 1975. In 1976 Dixon purchased the Philadelphia 76ers from Irv Kosloff for $8 million and a few months later brought Julius "Dr. J." Erving to the team for $6.6 million."

The following excerpts are from this work :

Titanic disaster -- Titanic captain partied with the Wideners just before hitting the iceberg! : "Among the many myths surrounding the Titanic is that the ship's captain, Edward J. Smith, was drunk when the ship rammed the iceberg. Smith had in fact attended a dinner party a few hours before the crash -- hosted by the Widener family -- where alcohol was undoubtedly served, but there is no evidence that the captain had anything to drink. " [PAB Widener was not aboard the Titanic, but his son and grandson were, and died there.]

PAB Widener ownership in White Star Line
:  " ... ... Widener family patriarch, Peter Arrell Brown (PAB) Widener, was part-owner of the Titanic. The Titanic was the flagship of the White Star Line which was owned by International Mercantile Marine (IMM)... .....  White Star was owned [too] by Oceanic Steam Navigation Company. All Oceanic Steam Navigation shares, except six shares individually held, were owned by the International Navigation Company, which in turn was controlled by Fidelity Trust Company of Philadelphia, a holding company. All the International Navigation company's stock was actually owned by IMM, whose president was J. Bruce Ismay, and among whose officers were five "voting trustees": Ismay, Charles Steele, William J. Pirrie, J.P. Morgan, and P.A.B. Widener." (Wow, what if these guys were handling the "Josephine" poker chips!)

The yacht "Josephine" (1896-1898)

The yacht "Josephine" was launched March 4, 1896 -- length 225 feet, depth 16 feet, horsepower 1200, and speed 16 knots. She was a "a steel-hulled, schooner-rigged, steam yacht." Some 200 guests were invited to the launch including high ranking members of the military, federal, state and local governments, commerce and society.  The New York Times news story of the event noted, "the most important fact in connection with this launch is that it shows that the tide, which has set toward England for building yachts for American owners, will soon be stayed" as yachts can be more quickly and cheaply be made in the U.S. rather than abroad.   "Mr. Widener was praised for showing his Americanism by building his yacht in America," something you would hardly hear from the Times today. You can read the entire Times news story of the launch here .

"The eyebrow-raising accouterments on the Josephine were certainly indicative of PAB Widener�s wealth. The vessel included a piano, 30-by-18-feet-wide saloon featuring paneled mahogany with a fireplace and large bookcases . A �very large� deck-room apartment served as a primary sleeping quarters that included a tiled bathroom [and maybe the ivory poker chip set; remember, the set has a working lock and key; the old key has a fob with it that is engraved, "Capt. Berth."]. There were also eight double staterooms with washrooms, bathrooms and pantries, according to the Times."

Mrs. Hannah Josephine Dunton Widener (wife of PAB Widener, the original owner of the chips) died on the yacht "Josephine" Jul. 31, 1896, only some five months after the ship was launched!,  per this source.

Commissioned as the "USS Vixen" (1898-1922)

According to this source the yacht was transferred to the U.S. Navy as the "Vixen" in 1898. This source says, "Renamed Vixen, the erstwhile pleasure craft was armed and fitted out for naval service at the Philadelphia Navy Yard where she was commissioned on 11 April 1898, Lt. Alex Sharp in command. Assigned to the North Atlantic Station, Vixen sailed for Cuban waters on 7 May and arrived off the coast of Cuba nine days later. For the duration of the "splendid little war," the graceful armed yacht performed a variety of duties, blockading and patrolling, carrying mail and flags of truce, ferrying prisoners, establishing communications with Cuban insurgents ashore, and landing reconnaissance parties. Among her passengers embarked during that time was Colonel (later President) Theodore Roosevelt, of the famous "Rough Riders." Also aboard during that time period was Midshipman, later Admiral, Thomas C. Hart." She "served with distinction during the Battle of Santiago. She was commissioned again for duty during World War I when she was assigned to patrol the U.S. East Coast." "Her diligent service was often rewarded with commendations for the excellence of her surveying activities. She often carried out her duties in completely uncharted waters and under a variety of weather conditions."  She was finally decommissioned in 1922.

The first picture above is from the referenced NY Times news story about the launch of the "Josephine."  The second picture (a rare photo of outfitted "Josephine," now the "USS Vixen.")  is from this web page .  Another photo of the yacht as the USS Vixen (and the source of some of the information above) can be found here .

"Home" for P.A.B. Widener

left: In 1887 Widener built an ornate Philadelphia mansion at the northwest corner of Broad Street and Girard Avenue, although he vacated it 13 years later and donated it to the Free Library of Philadelphia as a memorial to his late wife Josephine, who had died in 1896.

right: In 1900 he completed Lynnewood Hall in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, a 110-room Georgian-style mansion designed by Horace Trumbauer. Widener was an avid art collector, with a collection that included more than a dozen paintings by Rembrandt as well as works by then-new artists Edouard Manet and Auguste Renoir.  Widener died at Lynnewood Hall at the age of 80 on November 6, 1915.


"During the second half of the nineteenth century, prominent businessmen throughout the United States amassed great fortunes through the development of new industries including railroads, steel production, and mining. Men such as Carnegie, Rockefeller, Morgan, and Vanderbilt became wildly wealthy and often spent that wealth on lavish houses, yachts, and travel as well as philanthropic endeavors such as universities, museums, and charitable organizations. The era became known as the Gilded Age, and many critics accused the wealthy of wielding unchecked power ... .

"During this time, there were few people in Philadelphia who could rival the wealth of Peter A.B. Widener. Born on November 13, 1834 to a bricklayer, Widener worked as a butcher and saved enough money to start one of the first meat store chains in the country. He also began buying stocks in street railways. Together with his friend William L. Elkins, Widener eventually controlled the streetcar system in Philadelphia. His wealth grew even more as he became involved in public transportation systems in Chicago and other cities. [He helped finance the NYC subway system.] He later expanded his power by purchasing large blocks of stock in the United States Steel Corporation, Standard Oil, and Pennsylvania Railroad." source

Continue to my antique Tientsin, China, bone poker chip set

link to J. P. Morgan ivory poker chip set.

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