The history of poker chips is an interesting one and goes further back than some people might realize. The first-known casino was opened in Venice in 1626, while gambling goes back as far as ancient China and Mesopotamia. However, poker chips were not introduced into the gaming industry until the 19th century.
The birth of poker chips
Before the 19th century, people used small, valuable objects to wager instead of using chips, like in modern gambling. Early gamers used gold coins, gold nuggets, small pieces of gold or silver, or paper money. These early games had no standardization. However, gambling houses and saloons, in an attempt to standardize gambling, began to develop what we know of as today’s modern casino poker chip.
Upscale saloons might have chips made with ivory or whalebone, while other gambling houses made special chips out of shellac or paper. These were so easily replicated that saloons and gaming houses started putting brands or marks on the chips so they couldn’t be forged.
The evolution of poker chips
In the 1880s, the face of poker chips changed forever with mass-produced chips made of clay. They were uniform size made with a compression mold. The standardized clay chips are the direct ancestor of today’s modern casino poker chips. These clay chips were very fragile, however, which caused issues until the 1950s, when companies began adding more durable ingredients to the clay to help them last longer. They used fillers such as sand, clay, or chalk, which gave rise to the modern poker chip.
The early development of poker chips
These modern poker chips were made using trade secrets known only to the companies that made them. However, basic techniques across the board included printed-graphic inlays, edge spots that were not painted on, and covered in plastic, which increased durability. Chips were baked in a special compression mold to form the chips into the correct size and weight. The molds also help permanently seal the graphics into the chips.
Modern poker chips
In the mid-1980s the ceramic casino poker chips were introduced that replaced the traditional clay chips. These chips became very popular because they allow for graphics and text on the whole surface of the chip instead of just the inlay, not to mention they were more durable.
Today poker chips have become even more advanced, with security features like RFID (radio frequency identification) and UV markings that only show up under black light.
With today’s ever-evolving technology, no one knows what the future holds for the progression of the poker chip.