Among collectors of antiques, there’s a niche that’s as exciting as it is mysterious and not many talk about it – casino memorabilia.
From vintage slot machines to ancient dice, each piece holds a story that only casinos write, echoing the flamboyant history of gambling. Who was the woman who walked into the Casino de Monte-Carlo more than one hundred years ago and held these exact playing cards? What’s her story?
This article delves into the fascinating world of casino collectables, exploring their history, value, and the timeless link between past and present gambling experiences.
Like other collectables, casino items aren’t just intrinsic value. They are pieces of history, capturing the moments from the golden age of casinos and each telling their own story.
For instance, consider a classic deck of playing cards from the early 20th century. These cards are not only about the house and its dealers, winners and losers. They’re also a relict of pre and post-war life in Europe, the soldiers and their families. It’s the story of high-stakes games played by historical figures.
Therefore, the value of casino collectables often doesn’t lie within the materials – they’re not made of gold or platinum – or rarity but the unique stories each one tells.
Finding and acquiring these treasures is a journey in itself, often involving a long breath and accepting that competition is high. Ultimately, there is only one Liberty Bell – the first-ever mechanical slot machine – up for grabs. Charles Fey’s one-arm bandit sold in 2017 at Morphy Auctions for a staggering $174,000.00.
Of course, more slot machines or mechanical table games are available at collector’s auctions, but none of them gets even close to the value of the Liberty Bell, often selling for well below $10,000 or not at all.
Casino collectors work closely with historians to help with the extensive research it takes to trace an item’s provenance and history. Like most other areas of antique dealing, the thrill of chasing and unearthing an item’s history is a significant part of the appeal.
Determining the value of casino antiques starts fairly commonly by looking at the item’s age, condition, rarity and general history. The last part, however, usually leaves room for some unique twists.
For instance, a slot machine from the infamous Sands Hotel and Casino immediately elevates the value tenfold, considering its association with the Rat Pack era of Las Vegas. The Sands became a true icon on the Strip since it was financed by, at the time, numerous leading figures of the organised crime scene, such as Meyer Lansky or Mike Shapiro.
The unique stories that only casinos write even influenced the value of the early-day online gambling websites. Gaming Club quickly became one of the most sought-after online casinos after integrating elements of gambling’s golden era into their design, thus captivating the attention of a general audience, not just collectors. (Source: Sister-Sites.co.uk)
Casino collectables offer more than a glimpse into the history of gambling; they are a bridge to a past world of glamour, risk, and entertainment. For collectors, obtaining unique items isn’t about owning single pieces of history but completing a larger puzzle.
From the oldest known dice, found at the Burnt City in Iran around 2800 BC and commonly accepted as the root of Backgammon, to the oldest 52-card deck (used for Yezi Ge, a Chinese game) currently owned by the Dutch Metropolitan Museum of Art – gambling collectables can help piece together the history of humankind.
It’s probably fair to say that the history books of gambling haven’t been closed and as we dive deeper into digitalism, it will be interesting to watch how the puzzle continues. What roles will gambling-related NFTs play in the future and (how) will artificial intelligence reinvent the antique & collectors markets worldwide?