Browse Exhibits (3 total)

Gaming Counters


“The Chinese manufacture beads of various kinds, fish-counters, &c. from the mother of pearl shells in a far superior manner to what they can do in Europe… The fish counters are cut of various shapes, round, oval, and oblong, and are put up in sets, each containing 140 pieces.”[i]

Gaming counters were used just as poker chips are used today; to represent sums of money for gambling.  All sorts of counters were, but the most expensive and exclusive would have been made in China of mother-of-pearl and decorated with their owner’s coat of arms or initials.  Popular from about 1720 into the mid-nineteenth century, personalized counters were made for British, Dutch, French, and American consumers.

[i] William Milburn, Oriental Commerce; Containing a Geographical Description of the Principle Places in the East Indies, China, and Japan. London: Black, Parry & CO., 1813, Volume II, p. 513


Coat of Arms Detail[1].jpg

Heraldry served as a special form of familial identification in Europe beginning in the twelfth century. Originally, the generally accepted theory was that heraldry began as a method of identifying armor clad knights on the battlefield. However, this seems unlikely considering the ornate variations of most arms. Complex arms would be indistinguishable in the heat of battle. The modern consensus is that coats of arms were developed to distinguish knights in tournaments. These tournaments included contests of knightly skill such as fencing, jousting, and archery. Each knight bore a different coat of arms, much like a medieval sporting uniform.

Over time this method of distinction was adopted by all of Europe’s high society.  European countries developed Colleges of Arms that regulated heraldic rights and officially recorded arms of different families. Noble and notable families were granted arms with symbols specific to their household and its position in the peerage. This served as a method of maintaining the boundary between nobility and the rest of the population. However, history is full of examples of arms being misused, unofficially adapted, and unofficially adopted.

Games Played with Counters