Chequers Book Reviews
The Professor, Michael Knapp

Antique Gambling Chips, Dale Seymour (Revised Edition, 1997)

442 pages, hardbound, $34.95 (perfect bound, $24.95) plus $3 postage, 11170 Mora Drive, Los Altos, CA 94024 (also carried by dealers)

Dale Seymour's original Antique Gambling Chips, published in 1985, was one of the first books devoted to the hobby of chip collecting. Until the second edition of the book was published earlier this year, the book was the virtual bible for collectors of poker chips and other non-casino issues. Seymour's revision of his book insures that it will remain the authoritative work for antique chips of non-casino origin.

The second edition of Antique Gambling Chips was clearly a major undertaking. Every section of the book has been revised and expanded. Half again as large as the first edition (the original contained 285 pages), the Seymour book is an absolute requirement for collectors of non-casino gaming chips, and an important and interesting work for those casino chip collectors who are interested in the history of the chips they collect.

One of the significant accomplishments of Seymour's first edition was his identification and cataloguing system for antique chips, especially clay poker chips. With the tremendous increase in the popularity of chip collecting over the past decade, as well as the discovery of many previously-unknown chips, the original numbering/identification system has been completely revised for the second edition. As the Preface points out, "in 1985, I was aware of about 260 different ivory chip designs. You will find more than 1300 ivory designs in this new edition." The antique chips covered by Seymour's book date back almost 300 years, to the late 1600's to early 1700's. Compared with the bone, ivory, and mother of pearl chips discussed and pictured in Seymour's book, the modern flashy casino chip is but an infant in the history of gambling.

Antique Gambling Chips examines each of the major types of gaming pieces over the past 300 years: bone, wood, ivory, mother of pearl, clay, and various plastic compositions. There are extensive illustrations and explanations, including methods of manufacture, material and design variations, distribution and valuation of each type of chip. A section on chip holders, boxes and cases adds to the value of the book, because in some cases the value of the holders which may be found at flea markets and antique shows may well exceed the value of the chips they contain.

The section of the book on mother of pearl chips was contributed by Englishman Derek Cowan, who is the outstanding authority on mother of pearl chips, and who has a vast personal collection as well. The intricate engraving on mother of pearl chips is a sharp contrast to the mass-produced character of clay and modern casino chips. Ken Chopping, a serious collector of ivory chips, has contributed a section on the manufacture of ivories as well.

Similarly, one of the main appeals of ivory gaming chips is the individual nature of each chip. Hand-engraved and specifically designed to be unique to prevent "counterfeiting," ivory chips are small individual works of art, and along with chips made of bone and early clay composition, dominated the American gambling scene of the 1800's. Riverboat and frontier gamblers prized their personal sets of chips and cards, which they carried from place to place to use wherever they could arrange a game.

Seymour's book belongs in every serious collector's library. For those who have a serious interest in ivory or clay poker chips, Seymour has published two separate books, reviewed here as well, Ivory Gambling Chips and Old Poker Chips.