HOW IT ALL BEGAN
When I was about 12 years old, my brothers and I saved up three dollars and bought a cheap set of plastic chips from Wal-Mart. They were the thin plastic chips in the toy aisle. I don’t remember the name brand, but they were these style of chips, nowadays sold as Ace brand chips.
We didn’t know anything about casino or poker chips, but we saw James Bond and all these cool guys playing cards on TV, so we just played our own games with our Wal-Mart chips. Those chips lasted countless games.
About four years later, I went to my first ever casino and bought in, expecting to get the same type of chips that my brothers and I thought that everyone used. Lo and behold, I was blown away when the dealer pushed me these fancy looking chips that seemed like nothing I had ever seen. These chips, which the dealer gave to me in exchange for my cash, were better than my Wal-Mart chips!
They were twice as thick as my Wal-Mart chips, they handled better, and they sounded different. I remember being amazed by the chips. I was like a kid who had just seen a rainbow for the first time.
My first ever casino experience netted a rather large win. I had enough chips, so I kept some of those chips from the first session. I asked the cashier if I could take home some of the chips with me, and to my surprise, she said ‘yes’. Ah, those were simpler times.
So I went to another dealer and bought as many white chips as I thought they would let me buy. I ended up going home with around 80 chips, mostly white, with some red chips. Sadly, I couldn’t find any blue chips, and I sure as heck didn’t want to take home any black chips.
So I took home the chips, compared them to my Wal-Mart chips, and found my Wal-Mart chips to be highly lacking.
For the next year or so, my brothers and I used those actual casino chips for our card games. It was just awesome and brings back memories of more innocent times.
About 10 months after taking home the chips, someone stole all our chips, along with my prized casino chips. I was unable to go back to the casino, so I couldn’t replace them. My brothers and I were close, and we bonded through countless hours of playing with those cards and chips. We were too poor to afford the newest Super Nintendo games, so cards and chips were the substitute for Street Fighter 2. With our ‘casino supplies’ gone, we just stopped playing cards together.
Those ‘lost’ chips became imprinted in my memory.
THE COLLECTION BEGINS
When I started college, I bought my first set of poker chips. They were similar to these chips, the pic below. When I opened the package, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Something was different about those chips, compared to the actual casino chips I had as a kid. They were sufficient, but something was different. I couldn’t quite tell.
So I drove to a casino and compared these chips to an actual casino chip. Yep, they were different.
That’s when I started down the rabbit hole of casino chip collecting and learned about the various casino chips. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, if we were to ever share a beer together, I could nerd you out on the topic of casino chips.
ABOUT PAUL-SON GAMING CORPORATION THE PURSUIT FOR THE PERFECT HOME CHIP SET
I went to college around the time that the internet was still relatively new. At the time, the internet wasn’t the behemoth it is today, so information wasn’t as easy to find. No one could (or would) tell me the name of those chips that the casino used. But a few years later, I found out that the casino chips I had as a kid were from a company called Paul-Son. So I read everything I could about Paul-Son.
Paul-Son (alternatively written in marketing materials as ‘Paulson’) was started in 1963 by Paul Endy as Paul-Son Dice and Card Company. The name of the company was a tribute to his father, Paul Endy, Sr. The company struggled early on, with Paul Endy living in a trailer and working to sustain the business supplying dice and cards to the local casinos.
In 1983 Paul Endy’s son Eric Endy joined the company. Paul-son started offering their signature product for which they became famous, the Paul-Son molded ‘clay’ casino chips, which would later become the famous ‘Top Hat and Cane’ brand of chips. They’re known as ‘Top Hat and Cane’ chips because of the hat and cane design around the chip.
In 1993, Paul-Son became Paul-Son Gaming Corporation (PGC) in anticipation of going public. PGC struggled after going public, generating underwhelming revenue throughout most of its existence.
In 2001, PGC attempted to merge with Bourgogne et Grasset, which in 2002 acquired the third most popular brand of casino chip in the U.S., the Bud Jones brand of casino chips. The initial PGC and Bourgogne et Grasset deal initially fell through, but in 2002, the two sides were able to work out an agreement and complete the merger. The resulting company was named Gaming Partners International Corporation (GPI). In 2014, GPI acquired the Gemaco brand of playing cards. Now, GPI controlled three major suppliers of playing cards and casino equipment, all of whom were once business rivals: Paulson, Bourgogne et Grasset (owner of Bud Jones brand of chips and supplies), and GemGroup (maker of the famous Gemaco brand of supplies).
That’s the history of Paul-Son up to this day.
Anyways, going back to my earlier post-college days, and my pursuit of the perfect home chip set…
At the time, Paul-Son did not sell chips to the home market. I couldn’t go into a casino supply store and buy a set of Paul-Son. Still wanting a set of casino quality chips, I settled on Chipco chips.
If you’re not familiar with Chipco, this is a current example of a Chipco chip. Chipco is probably the second most commonly used brand of casino chips.
Here is the link to the company that manufactures Chipco chips: https://www.chipco.com
The upside of a Chipco chip is that they’re much more durable and will stay much cleaner than a Paul-Son chip. The downside is that they’re rather slippery, which is why most casinos do not use them. It’s also the small things that add up and comprise the ‘casino experience’, and due to decades of use, people have become accustomed to the click and feel of Paul-Son chips. Chipco chips have a cheap plasticky feel to them that somewhat detract from the ‘casino experience’.
While the Chipco chips weren’t the exact ones I had as a kid, they were sufficient for the time, and I used those chips for quite a few years.
PAUL-SON STARTS SELLING CHIPS TO THE HOME MARKET!
In the mid 2000s, Paul-Son started offering a home version of their Top Hat and Cane chips with various pre-made designs. These chips were nearly the exact same chips used at real casinos, but with different inlays, and allegedly made from different molds.
I was jumping through the roof with excitement and started saving up all my money. I even sold some of my other collectibles.
If you want to see the early home Paul-Son chips, here is a link to a site that used to sell the early chips. Notice that all the inventory on the page is sold out. More on that in a bit. http://www.pokerchipmania.com/paulson-poker-chips/tophat-cane/
However, someone, at the time, mentioned that while these earlier Paul-Son chips are ‘Paul-Son’ in brand, they were made from a different mold than the molds used to make the actual casino chips. I was told by another collector to just continue using the Chipco chips I had.
I wanted the ‘actual’ chips used at a casino, and while the home version of Paul-Son chips were very close, they weren’t close enough to warrant the expense of replacing my entire set of Chipco chips.
About a year later, Paul-Son introduced their most famous home set, known as the World Top Hat and Cane Series. These were allegedly made using the same molds and specs of the Top Hat and Cane chips used in a commercial casino.
These are examples of the World Top Hat and Cane chips. These are pics of chips from my current set.
This is a comparison of the World Top Hat and Cane Chips next to actual casino chips form various Las Vegas casinos. Notice there is almost no difference in specs, other than the superficial art scheme for each casino. Also, notice the top hat and cane logo that goes around the chip.
Here is a circumference comparison of the World Top Hat and Cane chips versus the Top Hat and Cane chips used at Flamingo. Both sets of chips are exactly the same.
Here is the weight of the chips, which are very similar. Paul-Son chips from casino to casino have minor weight variations due to different inlay and security specifications, but the Top Hat and Cane Chips are usually around 10 grams.
Okay, now you can tell that I’m obsessive about the things I collect.
When the World Top and Cane chips became available, I found an incredible deal online where a seller was willing to sell his entire inventory for 60 cents per chip. I purchased all 6000 chips in his inventory to complete my home poker set. That concluded my journey to have the perfect chip set for home use.
Young RoadGambler now had the perfect set of casino chips that were stolen from him as a kid. The journey was complete.
GPI DISCONTINUES HOME SALES AND THE RESULTING COLLECTOR’S MARKET
If you’re looking to get a set of Paul-Son chips, they’re no longer available to the home market.
As of October 29, 2014, Paul-Son discontinued selling home poker chips. http://poker.marlowcasinochips.com/paulsonisthmus.htm
No official reason was given, although there was much speculation. If you want to know more about the speculation: https://www.pokerchipforum.com/threads/paulson-discontinues-all-home-poker-chips.3594/
People were naturally upset, as I knew of a few guys who were saving up money to buy a set of Top Hat and Cane chips. I was able to find about 2000 more for my collection, as other home collectors starting buying up the remaining inventory of chips.
Nowadays, if you want to buy a used set of World Top Hat and Cane chips, they’ll run about $5 each, as of today. http://www.chiptalk.net/forum/threads/when-did-paulson-home-top-hat-and-cane-hit-3-4-chip.91300/. That was written in 2015 when the chips were approximately $3-$4 each.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON PAUL-SON CHIPS
I like Paul-Son chips because they’re used in actual casinos, they’re a staple of the casino experience, and they remind me of my youth. Some guys like classic cars, some guys like motorcycles, but I like nice casino chips.
I wouldn’t say that Paul-Son chips are the ‘best’ chips. They have their upsides and downsides.
The upside is that Paul-Son chips have a feel and quality about them that differentiates Paul-Son chips from any other chips. The chips are tacky, but not overly tacky so that they are easily handled. They’re also nearly a perfect weight, as they’re not too light where they can fall over due to movement of the table; but at the same time, the chips aren’t so heavy that they become a burden to carry around.
The downside of the Paul-Son chips is that they are relatively fragile chips. Anyone who has done any amount of gambling in a casino has seen that most casino chips have rounded corners from the chip wearing down from extensive handling. That’s because Paul-Son chips use a clay mixture that allows the edges to wear down relatively quickly. Chipco and Bud Jones chips hold up to extensive commercial use much better than Paul-Son chips.
The other downside of the Paul-Son chips is that they collect and hold on to dirt and grime very well. Anyone who has been to a casino has seen and handled a chip with a black clump of ‘nastiness’ on it. That type of build-up – which is comprised of dirt, dead skin, other organic materials, and moisture, which forms an organic ‘mud’ – is usually not present on a Chipco or Bud Jones chip.
If you are thinking of purchasing a used set of Paul-Son chips, you’ll find that there is an extensive market of collectors. Make sure that you get real pictures of the entire set and not just selective pictures of a few chips. Make sure that the chips still have their square corners, and are not rounded. If the chips are rounded, then they’ve seen significant use and are worth significantly less. I’m not sure how much less, but definitely not $3- $4 a piece.
But if you’re looking to build a home set that comes close to mimicking the casino experience, then Paul-Son chips are the actual brand used by casinos. Sure, it’s not necessary to have the ‘actual’ casino chips, but little details add to the enjoyment of the moment.
If you ever meet me in person, you’ll find that I like to talk about poker chips and casino supplies. I’ve been on a quest to build the perfect home casino set up. That’s why I have this…
But that’s another story for another day.