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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Vintage Plastic Poker Chips History

RetroChalet offers stacks for $2 but how lovely they look...in plastic design.
If you think about how many plastic poker chips were manufactured, it may just make your head spin. Poker and card games were big (and still are in some circles) in the days before I-Pads and Internet.  I remember as a child in a camp in Maine playing poker, with lots of colorful chips.

Bakelite Bakery on Etsy offers vintage chips, and shows the beauty of a chip.

I was reading a snippet from a Tariff book circa 1921, that explained at the time most chips produced here in the states were paper or wood.  Japan was producing chips in celluloid using shellac/resin and coloring material which would be a form of early plastics. I suppose at the time this was during our Great Depression. Investing in the products (machinery, dies, etc) cost about $35000.00 USD and annual sales were estimated around $50,000.00 less other costs like production fees, supplies, labor, and more.  Thank goodness for the after-depression-plastic-boom!

SpottedHens on Etsy has a great deal, two in the box travel size poker chips for $14.95
With all good technological advancements, these celluloid chips (bakelite, catalin, and later cheaper plastics) boomed in the United States circa 1930's to 1950's. During this time novelty shops and dimestores were selling them by the boatloads. Did you ever stop to wonder how much they actually cost the dimestores? In a 1946 Billboard magazine, the Marlene Sales Company of Chicago was advertising wholesale, "Poker Chips: Beautiful, plastic, interlocking with polished edges, washable will not warp. 50 White, 25 Red, 25 Blue in boxes for $16.80 (per a dozen boxes.)  So wholesale, these cost about $1.40 each box plus shipping to the dimestore.  The dimestore would then sell to the public for about $4.50 to $4.95 per box of 100.

These, once $4.50 now $225.00 at A Wild Hare Antique Mall, information HERE.

Talk about inflation, the same box (above) that the retailer bought for $1.40 and sold for $4.50 back in the 1940's is now available to collectors for a whopping $225.00.  But so pretty, and so worth it, right?  By the 1950's there were hundreds to thousands of plastic molders cropping up and many could do injection molded chips or hard plastic chips for a fraction of the cost quoted in 1921.

Casino Style Poker Chips of Today at RetroChalet: Composition Clay Composite Plastic over a Hard Metal Core.

If you want to find the same style poker chips of yesteryear today , they can still be had in your local toy store or Walmart. Most however, will bear the "Made in China" mark.  Millions of vintage ones made right here in teh USA are floating around on Etsy, Ebay, and other sites. These are coveted by mixed media artists and plastic collectors in addition to regular old card game lovers.  Today's game play poker chips are made of a more plastic clay-composite material often over a metal core. These regulation style are used in gambling casinos such as the ones found in Las Vegas, Atlantic City,  and Dover Downs.  Some companies claim to make them in the USA, but others have them shipped in from China and only assemble the decals here.


Upcycled pendant made from a poker chip courtesy of IraMency.

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