Poker Chips History: Tell the Tale

The poker chip might not be quite as old and venerable as the game of poker itself, which could be about a century older, but this form of monetary token still goes back a fair distance in time. As far as anyone can ascertain, these chips had their origins in the United States, somewhere around the end of the 19th century. Before then, players used items like coins or gold nuggets to gamble with, until gradually those items were replaced with uniform poker chips.

However, it wasn’t simply a matter of every player or gambling establishment changing to a uniform type of poker chips right away. Even though chips eventually became the recognized medium of exchange in poker games, they came in literally hundreds of designs and very different materials. Some might have been made of bone or ivory, for example. A player’s custom poker chips could have been as diverse and unique as the player they belonged to. Yet with nothing being uniform, players could sneak their own chips into a game and end up wealthier at the end than their play might have warranted.

Casinos soon took the new chips of clay to another level, custom designing them so that any specific set of chips could only belong to one casino. Before long, each establishment developed its own particular mix of clay and ceramic materials for the chips, and began adding other identifying patterns on the finished product. Casino poker chips became as individualized and specialized as the separate casinos themselves. For about fifty years, straddling the 19th and 20th centuries, the casino-specific poker chip made from these patented formulas held sway.

Since then, some of the materials have gotten less expensive, especially as the poker chips set was introduced into homes for more casual, friendly games with lower stakes. Those chips tended to be made of plastic, and remain so, made with a very uniform design. However, the chips used in casinos are generally made mostly of clay and ceramics, or at least a sturdy injection-molded plastic. From miscellaneous coins and gold nuggets to the quality chips in casinos, the poker chip has come a long way in the last 150 years.

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