After almost 4 hours of a mixed casual and often spirited session of Baccarat, I managed to push myself away and make a somewhat unceremonious departure from the table. The tuxedo-clad player next to me was also taking his leave. His evening had been quite rewarding for him and I commented on how impressive his bundle of plaques were in comparison to the rather boring little round chips we use in the USA. This opened the door to almost an hour of casino history lessons and some little known facts regarding the monetary aspects of casino checks used in Monaco. He has traveled heavily and favors the casinos of Belgium, France and especially Le Grand Casino Monte Carlo.
When I realized we had been conversing for almost an hour without exchanging names I apologized and proceeded to introduce myself. In turn he responded “Bond, James Bond”.
Okay, the closest I’ve been to Monte Carlo is on the Las Vegas Strip. You must admit however that the mere mention of Monte Carlo conjures up romantic images of wealthy vacationing tycoons and dignitaries in elegant attire. A great many of the chips they used in the early 1900’s are readily available today. I can hold these same 80 to 100 year old artifacts in my hand and admire the silver plated filigrees or even earlier carved bone or ivory chips from the Sporting Club. Several examples of early chips are shown in this article. They are known as cheques, counters, jetons, plaques, tokens, and chips but the latter term will suffice for this article.
Detailed historical information is difficult to come by when researching individual Monte Carlo casino chips. The most definitive work I have found is Thomas C. Day’s book “Casino Tokens of Monte Carlo” originally published by the American Numismatic Association but no longer in print. The Casino Chip and Gaming Token Collectors Club was allowed to reprint the book in their club newsletter and offer a 40 megabyte PDF download online at montecarlocasinochips.com/montecarlo.pdf .
Monaco was a very small and impoverished country when Prince Charles III introduced gambling as a source of revenue in 1866. Within 3 years this new source of income became so rewarding that direct forms of taxation were eliminated. A new casino was opened in 1904 called the International Sporting Club. This second casino was needed to help accommodate the burgeoning tourist business to Monte Carlo’s recreational areas. A third casino owned by the Loews Corporation opened in 1975 and is more of an American style operation. The blackjack, Nevada craps, slot machines, and American roulette provide a more familiar atmosphere for visiting Americans. Gaming chips used at Loews are familiar Bud Jones metal inlays.
Many of the most beautiful early pieces were made of unstable celluloid or formaldehyde materials that resulted in specimens literally falling apart. Large quantities of chips, which were obsolete and demonetized during the early 1900’s, ended up being drilled and mounted for necklaces and bracelets. An online collection of Monte Carlo Casino chips is available here .
Storage of early chips from European casinos is a major concern. My first specimens were put into vinyl 2X2 flips used for my other chips and inspection after a couple of years revealed that there is a chemical reaction between the formaldehyde in the chips and the vinyl flip. There was moisture inside the flip and the surface of the chip had turned almost soft and sticky. With some other examples there was only a small amount of moisture that had appeared within the flip but no softening of the chip surface. These were washed in warm water with a little hand soap then dried with a soft cloth with no ill effects. Most of my early Monte Carlo chips are now stored in paper 2X2 envelopes used for coins and larger specimens are wrapped in a layer of white tissue paper.
Cleaning is another issue you may have to consider. On inlaid chips the filigree is a very delicate die-cut piece of silver plated copper that has been tacked into the chip material. Almost all of the silver filigree chips have heavy tarnish or copper oxide corrosion resulting from decades of storage. Light tarnish or gentle corrosion can be removed with application of everyday jewelry cleaner on a Q-tip. Heavy corrosion will more than likely have removed most if not all of the silver plating and only the copper is left. About 30% of the time there will be better than half the filigree sporting some silver plating. Non-abrasive silver cleaner applied with a Q-tip normally reveals whatever is remaining of the plating.Hordes of chips from the 1930’s and 40’s have been uprooted from their resting place in old European casino basements and into the hands of coin and casino chip dealers worldwide. As can be expected, Ebay is a good source for the more popular varieties and $5 to $10 each is typical for the common varieties in good to very-good condition. There is more information available on old Monte Carlo casino chips at this Monte Carlo Casino Chips site .