HomeChinese Armorial Gaming Counters

Chinese Armorial Gaming Counters

In the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, gambling at cards was among the most popular pastimes of British aristocrats. It was entertaining, exciting, and, by risking large sums of money, a way to flaunt their wealth and status. Card-players often used counters to represent sums of money, and the most exclusive ones were custom-made in China and personalized with their owner’s coat of arms or initials. Counters usually came in sets of 140 and in different shapes, such as round, rectangular, fish- and dragon-shaped. Shimmering in candlelight, revealing flashes of a coat of arms as they were cast onto the table or raked up by the winner, these small objects would have added a layer of exotic luxury to the gaming table. Browse the collection to see the counters and learn about their original owners, and browse the exhibits to learn more about what sorts of card games were played, how the counters were made, and how to decipher a coat of arms.