Bang the Gavel: Vintage Memorabilia Auction Caters to Poker Players, Casino Fans

March 9, 2022
Bang the Gavel: Vintage Memorabilia Auction Caters to Poker Players, Casino Fans

Fans of poker and gambling history may want to check out the upcoming Potter & Potter Gambling Memorabilia Auction. From antique gaming equipment to vintage playing cards, the event offers plenty for collectors and poker players alike.

The auction runs from March 17-18 and also provides a look into the casino industry and poker’s deep history. Poker and casino chips, coin-op games, advertising, and other antiques are all included. The auction draws bidders from around the world including plenty of card players.

“For poker players with an interest in the origin and development of America’s most popular card game, there’s plenty to collect that traces its history,” Potter and Potter director of cataloging Joe Slabaugh told USPoker. “Poker collectors come in all varieties, from those outfitting a card or poker room to those forming a gambling library to chip and card collectors with an appreciation for the many forms and designs these auctions have seen.”

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A look at some of the auction items

Potter and Potter was founded in 2007 in Chicago and specializes in paper Americana, vintage advertising, rare books, playing cards, gambling memorabilia, posters, fine prints, vintage toys, and magic collectibles.

Gambling collectibles have become an important part of the auction house’s business. This upcoming sale offers a wide variety of items and is part of an annual gambling memorabilia event.

“In some ways, this is our most eclectic sale on the calendar this year,” Slabaugh said. “And stepping around our gallery at this moment, it’s hard not to share some of the nostalgia aroused by these old-time amusement devices, signs, chips, cards, and games. We’re excited to have such a broad selection in one catalog.”

Slabaugh pointed to a few items that will be of particular interest to poker players. Lot 571 features a copy of The Game of Draw Poker by Henry Winterblossom, published in 1875. This was the first full-length book on poker strategy, including an explanation of the mathematics of the game.

Lot 200 features a unique item that may interest poker players as well. “Devil & Cards” is a porcelain work of art by German manufacturer Royal Bayreuth. In the piece, the devil is holding a deck of cards with the King of diamonds visible.

Another lot, 145, features a bit of magic mixed with poker. “Carter Beats the Devil” is a classic 1920s magic poster showing magician Charles Carter holding a winning poker hand as he plays the devil. The novel of the same name by Glen David Gold used the poster as dust-jacket art.

Plenty of poker chip collectibles

Poker collectors drawn to classic chips will find all kinds in the auction. From individual casino chips to sets, there are many compositions and styles from  the 20th Century.

Lot 145 offers a particularly brilliant set of clay eagle poker chips in a carved wooden case. The case includes an intricate design with an antique deck of cards.

A meticulously assembled collection of Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks chips (Lot 92) is another featured item, and estimated at $2,000 to $3,000. The grouping includes about 1,000 examples organized in three binders.

The chips are manufactured of clay, metal, plastic, and composition materials and include various decorations and denominations. 

The auction also includes a collection of obsolete vintage casino chips (Lot 55) principally from Nevada, including Las Vegas and other cities and towns across the state. This grouping of about 1,200 chips is estimated at $2,000 to $4,000.

Rare books, playing cards, and more

Book collectors can bid on a first edition of S.W. Erdnase’ “The Expert at the Card Table.” The author printed this work in Chicago in 1902 and it is described as “the most carefully studied book ever published on the art of manipulating cards at gaming tables.”

The book also incudes 100-plus drawings “from life” by Marshall D. Smith. Observers value the book between $6,000 and $9,000. In 2019, Potter sold a similar example for almost $17,000.

Those seeking some vintage playing cards are also in luck. Cards weren’t always easy to come by in the 19th Century and were often used over and over again.

These often became bent and marked with most not surviving to today. Potter is offering a few unique examples that did however. 

That includes a near-mint set of “Murphy Varnish” transformation cards (Lot 278), estimated at $4,000 to $6,000. This rare, comical transformation deck from around 1883 does double duty by also advertising the company. The card backs feature decorations in red with leaves and a charioteer in a Murphy Varnish chariot. 

Vegas fans may be interested in a pack of 12 of Jerry’s Nugget Casino Las Vegas playing cards (Lot 363), estimated at $3,000 to $5,000. The United States Playing Card Company printed the deck in Cincinnati in the 1970s.

The grouping includes six shrink-wrapped red backs and six shrink-wrapped blue backs. Other casino antiquities are also listed in the auction catalog including roulette and slot machine games

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Even cheating devices featured

Poker in the 19th Century wasn’t always on the up and up. Whether playing in a saloon in the Old West or on a riverboat on the Mississippi, cheating could be a major part of the game.

Those checking out the Potter auction can even bid on some vintage cheating devices. One such item is F.R. Ritter’s “Combined Treatise on Advantage Card Playing and Draw Poker.”

“Advantage play” in this case meant cheating. Pictures in the book show marked cards, hold-outs (used to conceal cards), and other hustling strategies. Auctions officials estimate this rare volume from 1905 at $6,000 to $9,000.

The gambling collector with a few extra bucks may want to check out the auction. For more information, visit potterauctions.com. Click here for a complete look at the auction catalog.

* Photos courtesy Potter & Potter

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