Old Interview with Jim Blanchard: Seeking a Copy (1 Viewer)


Full House
Apr 25, 2013
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Iowa, near Des Moines
I'm hoping that one of my fellow chipper veterans has saved a copy of the notes from an interview with Jim Blanchard sometime between 2007 and around 2012. It was conducted by a chipper and posted on another site. Can anyone here help me out? TIA
Yes, but since the site is not currently working, it doesn't get you there:


But ...I found a cashe in google, here it is ( If it disappears from the other site, I hope it can be pinned/added as a resource somewhere here)
It needed to be cut into Two posts, as it exceeds the 2k Char limit for 1 post::

Is SugarV a member here?

"Interview with Jim Blanchard of Atlantic Standard Molding
by SugarV
Jim Blanchard is the owner of Atlantic Standard Molding (ASM), which makes poker chips for casinos and the home market. I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Jim, over the phone, and discuss some basic information about his company. For those who have ordered from ASM they are familiar with the quality, custom chips.
The original idea behind this article was to write an, "ASM story." One that will allow members, new and old, a better understanding of the inner-workings of a poker chip company. After I had the chance to talk with Jim, I gathered much more information than I had expected. As I started my original article, I didn't feel I was capturing as much detailed information as Jim was supplying.
Instead, I transcribed most of our conversation for the members of ChipTalk.net to read. I hope they find the interview entertaining, and they get some great insight into the chip-making process.
I would like to thank Jim for sharing an hour out of his busy day for this interview."
SugarV: On the website it has the company's history up until the mid50's and it shows a lot about the casinos. When did you take over ownership?
Jim Blanchard: I took over, initially; I was part of the ownership team in 1985. I wasn't the sole owner at that time, but I was part owner.

SV: Were you in the gaming industry before?
JB: No.

SV: What was your background?
JB: I was mostly from the automobile business.

SV: Being in the Auto business, have you brought any of the "Auto business" into poker chips?
JB: Not really, I don't see much of a connection. What attracted me to this business was this uniqueness. When we had an opportunity to buy this business, most people never knew it existed here in Maine. I grew up in Portland, and I didn't know it was here and it was a mile from my house (laughs). It was a fairly unique business, and fairly secretive.

SV: With it being this lost secret, how many people are in the actual factory?
JB: Well, we have two locations. In the principle manufacturing location, there are probably ten people.

SV: So it's really more like a mom and pop business.
JB: Yeah, it's a small operation. We also have some people working in Canada at our place up there. Then we have a retail store at a different location, and we've got some people working there. Actually manufacturing, maybe ten people.

SV: Has the company always been this secluded?
JB: It's always been in Maine, in Portland Maine since 1913.



Burt Co. "California Club" chips most likely from the original opening in 1946.
SV: Coming from ChipTalk.net, we see and represent the home market. How does the home market compare to the licensed casinos, percentage-wise?
JB: Most of our business, now, is in the home market. We still do occasional casinos, but we're not really targeting that market. That's a more difficult market to deal with, for a small company. When you deal with these giant casinos, they want quick delivery and they also want to hold up your money for a long time before they pay. So the combination of the two makes it a little more difficult to do business. They want great service, they want the whole work force working on their order, and then they want to take 120 days to pay you. It's ok for multi million-dollar corporations but it's not good for a small company.

SV: I've owned chips from the company since the late 90's when you first started selling to the home market. Not knowing anything about the company... I looked up poker chips online, and up came your website. The original chips were the three, half-inch edgespots, and people started telling me about seeing chips in the movies. When I looked into the movies a bit, I found that ASM made the chips. The chips in the movies had a lot of different edgespots that weren't available to the home market. Fast forward almost 10 years, since that time, was it the influence from ChipTalk.net to have the ability to have flexible aspects of colors and designs, in regard to edgespots?
JB: It was really a trade off. On one hand, if we limited the edgespot combinations, from a manufacturing standpoint it made more financial sense, because we could use specific equipment without making a lot of changes. At the same time, we had a lot of requests from ChipTalk.net to introduce more color combinations and more spot combinations. So we did, in fact, allow and expand what we would do. And that's, basically, how we got from 3 half-inch to where we are today. It's basically continuing requests and, "Ahhh...what the hell. We can do this, and we can do that." The reality is, it's all about the quantities, and money. Some of the more difficult spot combinations; we really don't make any money on because they're very difficult to do. They all require special equipment to be set up and generally speaking, we don't get enough orders. The quantities of orders don't justify that set up. The casino gives us an order of 40,000 chips; we can afford to do 5000 very complicated chips for him. Because we know at the low end of the value scale, they are going to give us 3 half-inch or 2 quarter-inch and something else...so it all works. So when you're talking that someone wants to order 300 chips, it's very hard to give him a complicated and very difficult spot combination that we know we're not going to make any money on.

SV: With the edgespots, comparing it to brand x companies, the spot design seems to be square. In the actually making of the chip... is the squared shape something the machine makes, or can you set up say a triangle shape?
JB: It requires special equipments, and some of it it's a case of special equipment where some combinations will not go together easily and we have not designed the special equipment specifically to make them because there are real reasons why they won't go together and stay together.

SV: Is it easier or harder to make the spots smaller or larger?
JB: Not really, when you get smaller you do start to run into more difficulty. When we do a V spot, which is now called a U spot by other people, it's kind of a difficult combination to put together, because you're dealing with a little teeny spot that has to be inserted and that's a more difficult combination. Generally, quarter inch and above, I don't think there's much difference.

SV: Has the actual recipe of the chips changed over the years?
JB: No, there have only been minor changes to the formula. The basic formula has been unchanged, since...well, as far has I can document, it's been unchanged since the 1940's, right after the war. I'm not sure what they did before that, since I have no documentation of formulation. Certainly, it hasn't changed since the 1940's...early 1950's.

SV: In terms of colors, are the colors the company offers something that you have chosen?
JB: The colors are made from formulas that were handed down and they are basically unchanged, probably since the 1960's or 70's. For the last 40 years we've been making the same colors. We've actually introduced very few new colors, because literally...we already make too many colors. There is a logistic problem with having so many colors. It's one of the reasons why we get bogged down with orders so often. People don't realized, for instance, every one of those colors has to be made from scratch. We only make about one color a day, since we make it in quantities. We have over twenty colors. Now, that means if you order a red chip with a combination of two color spot of a lavender and a green...if we don't have all three colors, sometimes your chip could have been done in a week's time but we don't have that little lavender spot and we're not going to make lavender for the next two weeks, because we circle around where the greatest orders are. If we have a lot of [orders for] red, and we're out of red we're going to make red sooner than we are going to make lavender. So your lavender spot might not be made for two or three weeks, and it's going to hold up your order. This is one of the logistic problems we always deal with. Sometimes, if we get an order where someone orders 30,000 red chips, we might have to roll red for three days, just to get enough red to produce that order. So, it's things like that, which quite often hold up orders that people don't understand why. Many times people will have a 300-chip order, we will have two of the chips done, ready to go. Yet, we're held up on the third chip therefore the order is being held up for one color. Sometimes we can't make that color for two weeks. So that order literally sits on the shelf for two weeks for the lack of one lavender spot color. But, there's no other way to do it. We have to complete the order in total, in order to ship it. Sometimes it gets literally, we'll get down to one color that we don't have that holds up an order.

SV: That's interesting, I'm sure some think that you go to the cabinet, and get the color you need.
JB: People assume that in this modern computer age that you basically walk over to a machine and turn a switch and poker chips come out of the other end of the machine. The reality is that we make poker chips from the raw materials to the finished product. It's labor-intensive, manual operation for all intensive purposes. It's a lot of specialized equipment involved, but every one of those machines is run by a person. There's no level of automation like there is in an injection molding process where you turn a machine on, and the guy can walk away and eat his lunch while the machine is spitting out plastic chips all day long. I only wished it were like that. The reality is that it's a manufacturing process virtually since the 1920's.

SV: That's outstanding in an era today where that is lost.
JB: Right! Someone from the 1920's could walk up to any one of our machines an take over with a five minute prep. That's how unchanged the process is.

SV: Going back to talking about how an order may be held up for one specific color, for weeks at a time, is there any special care that has to be taken to unfinished chips?
JB: No, they're virtually...they could sit around for years without any problem.

SV: Are the bodies made first, then are the spots put in with the inlay?
JB: Right, then it's molded. We do what's called high-pressure, high-temperature molding process. We're using 150-ton presses, and we're using 250+ degrees of temperature. So, the combination of the two gives a very, very sharp detail to our chips. As compared to the common company we get compared to, Paulson. Paulson does just the opposite. They use a low-pressure, low-temperature process and if you put the chips side by side, the first thing you notice is the incredible detail that our chips have compared to the Paulson chip. Paulson chips, quite often, look as if they're worn out when they're brand new. No texture on them, no detail, very washed out colors. This is all due to that low-temperature, low-pressure molding process that they use.

SV: The molds that you use, are they owned by the company?
JB: That's correct. There are companies that own their own molds. We also own a number of molds, including the ones that are on our website.

SV: Are there plans to introduce new molds within the next couple of years?
JB: Yeah... we have many more molds. Again, it's an issue of too many choices. When you give people too many choices, it's hard to make a decision. Every time we give a choice of a mold it requires us to make a set up. Another words, we have to install a mold in a press. That's a considerable job. It takes a couple hours to put one in, and a couple hours to take it out. So, we try to limit the number of choices because it would, ultimately, slow down the manufacturing process. We try to limit it. We now offer more than anybody else, by far. We have at least a half a dozen more that we could introduce, and we may introduce in the future. Sometimes I just like to whip out a mold just to get it back into production to remind myself how nice it looked. One that I'm thinking about bringing back, which has never been in the home market, is a 43 mm A-mold. Which we have never offered, but I may very well bring that out, just to make some oversized chips with it. Of course those would be offered on Chiptalk.net, they wouldn't be on our website. But it might be something that we do for Chiptalk.net, only.

SV: How many chips are pressed at one time?
JB: Either 20 or 25.

SV: It's not something where people can think that all 1000 chips are pressed at once.
JB: No...I wished it did!

SV: Has anyone outside a casino requested a custom mold?
JB: The only people that have ever requested a custom mold are people who sell gaming equipment, which we call a distributor or, casinos. Other than that...see the difference between the mold that we make and a mold that you'd get from a Blue Chip or Paulson is their mold is that they don't actually produce a mold. What they make is a set of cups. And a set of cups is several thousand dollars. A mold that we produce might cost 20K. The difference is, they're making orders because they're able to produce [chips] with no temperature and low pressure. They would make, if you have Blue Chip design a mold for you, they would make a couple chips at a time. We have to make 20 or 25 at a time, because our process takes 500 times longer than their process to cycle a chip. It takes so much longer to do it the way we do it that if we did not produce at least 20 at a time we could not produce them. They could produce them very, very rapidly. So they don't need a 20-cavity mold. They can get away with 2 cavities.

SV: Certain brand x formulas have come into question. How would you feel that might affect the home market and the professional market?
JB: We've known, and it's been inside knowledge that Paulson, TR King, Blue Chip, which was Paulson...the Endy family. They've been using the lead weighted chip. We took a look at that process and we realized that it's not safe to use lead in chips. It's not really an issue an issue of handling lead, because lead, by nature is not absorbed through the skin. The danger comes in the manufacturing process, breathing lead. That's the most difficult part of it. Then again in the after market, if kids were happen to get a hold of a set of Paulson chips and put them in their mouth. The dangers are breathing or ingesting. There's a significant health hazard. We determined many years ago that it made no sense to do that.

SV: How closely will you allow someone to oversee the process of the chips being made? Will you allow someone to visit his or her chips during the process?
JB: Generally, no. While we have an office and we have a showroom that we sell stuff in, and I'm always happy to entertain people who come by. The factory is at a different location, and we don't allow people to wander around the factory. The factory is not set to entertain people, to show them around. As far as people stopping by our office, and our showroom, I'm more than happy to entertain. And people do stop by, people from Chiptalk.net who happen to be in Maine, they stop by to say hello.
PART 2 :

SV: Have you seen a rise in the home market of chips with the poker boom of the last five years?
JB: We have seen an increase in the home market. To be honest, the increase happened about two years ago. It has leveled off. Part of it is, I believe, the economy. The economy is not as strong as it was two years ago. There is a way to monitor website, as to traffic. We've monitored our website, along with our competitors, and what we've seen is a 20-40% decrease to all the websites over the last couple of years. There is a definite downturn in the amount of interest, and I believe it's an economy issue. There's been so much uncertainty in the economy. We have the housing crash with all these reposed houses. The dollar has sunk to new lows against the Euro. There are a lot of things that are making people uneasy. We've been around long enough now, so it's not that we're not going to get business. It's that the wild, happy, and carefree days a few years ago are over, and it's probably a good thing. So many of the people who went into business with the idea that they can make a killing have already gotten out of the business. These guys who are selling the Chinese chips and importing that stuff...most of these guys, probably 90% of them are gone now. As soon as business started to tail off, they got out. They were not in it for the long run. We're in it for the long run. We don't rely on the excitement of the WSOP for our business, we never did. We were in business long before there was a WSOP on TV. With any luck, we'll be around a lot longer than that (laugh). A lot of these guys that were in the business just to make a quick buck, as soon as things slowed up...they bailed out.

SV: Being in it for the long haul... any plans for the 100th anniversary?
JB: That is a thought. I haven't thought about that seriously. I have thought about it, but we can, and we do, trace our history back to when the Burt family moved to Portland, Maine and set up a company called the Portland Billiard Ball Company. Which in about 1935-1936 became the Burt Company. In 1988 when I purchased it, personally, became Atlantic Standard Molding, which is the name we manufacture under. In the late 90's I acquired that web address, pokerchips.com. That's sort of a capsulated history.

SV: With the company starting almost 100 years ago as a billiard and gaming supply company, any vision toward expanding out and making other gaming supplies?
JB: Not really. What happened, and I'll give you a quick history of the company, The Burts used to work for a company called Albany Billiard Ball in Albany, NY before 1913. There probably was a great grandfather, let's say there were a couple generations that worked for Albany Billiard Ball. Albany Billiard Ball was the premier American billiard ball maker, by far. They were the Chevrolet of ball making company. The Burts were inventors and owned patents on the billiard ball production that the Albany company used. At some point in time, they decided to branch out on their own, and they moved from Albany to Portland Maine. They set up the Portland Billiard Ball Company which was a competitor to Albany. Albany was still using some of their patents for their manufacturing. When they moved up here there were actually two generations of Burst. There was Alonzo Burt and his two sons. The primary one was also Alonzo, but he was called A. L. Burt and he took over from his father in 1945. What happened was they were primarily billiard ball manufactures, but they were also making poker chips as early as 1930, that we can document...and possibly earlier. But I can document at least 1930. In the 1930's and before, the major power for making the high end chip for the casino or the club was US Playing Card. They manufactured poker chips starting around 1900, and they bought out a couple companies before that. Certainly by the 1920's they were producing poker chips along with their cards. They produced chips, and Burt produced chips in the same time period. Burt produced chips at a high volume, certainly not a complicated chip. Not a very secure chip, no printed center. The chips were mass produced and he sold them in stores. If you're familiar with early chips, there's a chip called "The smoothie." It's a smooth chip with rounded edges, those were probably made by the Burt company in the hundreds of thousands. The Burts also produces a unique line of chips that used a metal die cut center. Very unique, no one else did that, very difficult to produce. They produced a form of plastic chip in the time period. When the second world war broke out, chip production stopped, because you could get the ingredients to make the chips. The ingredients were tied up with the war, and were in production for that. The Burst company produced products for the government for the war. After the second world war US Playing Card made a decision that their chip manufacturing process was not significant enough, and decided to get out of the chip business. The sold all their equipment to the Burt company around '46 or '47. Just about the time that Las Vegas took off. They literally sold out after the war, after making no chips during the war. They sold out during '46 or '47 and they Burt company started to produce chips. As luck would have it, just about the time that Las Vegas was to take off. The first major casino in Las Vegas, Bugsy's Flamingo, the chips were produced at the Burt company. That really started Las Vegas. When that was successful, the Burt company produced virtually all the chips used in the casinos from about 1947 to 1975. It was a major part of timing. The company that would be their major competitor decided that their card business was more profitable, since they made cards during the war. That's just the thing that soldiers would carry with them, are decks of cards. Where the Burt company was providing ammunition cans, and no chips during the war. That really is what got the Burts from producing Billiard balls from the their mainstay, and having a sideline of chips to, guess what, there's a lot of chip business with a lot of casinos being built. The ball business literally started to peter out in the early 50's, and the increase of interested in the chips started at the same time. The only other company of consequence at the time was TR King who started in '33 or '36. They never did produce much of the casino market. They were even too small, or for whatever reason they never produced much. They did produce a few small issues, but they were never a major player in Las Vegas like the Burt company was.

Benny "Bugsy" Siegel used the Burt Co.'s chips when he opened the famous Flamingo Casino in 1946.
SV: There are brand x companies who are casino oriented who are now making chip sets for the home market. On pokerchips.com there are the eagles and the cleopatra chips, any plans for producing "sets" for the home market?
JB: We actually did have plans; the problem is we never seem to be able to accomplish them. We always seem too busy doing something else to actually produce that. The Cleopatra chips were chips that have been at the factory for a couple of years. They were produced for an actual casino in Trinidad that couldn't get licensing after they ordered the chips. So we ultimately ended up with the chips. We tried to introduce other sets but, we just can't seem to find the time to produce them.

SV: Any plans on expanding the company to meet the demand?
JB: If the economy were stronger, I think we would certainly produce more chips. Our workforce is like any other workforce. It's like an accordion. We go up and down based on the orders we have. If a casino came and ordered 100,000 chips, we would have to put more worker on. We're truly not looking for that market. We're satisfied with the niche that we have and we don't think that anybody else is interested in that niche. Therefore we're pretty comfortable where we are now.

SV: What are the largest private orders? Has anyone come across and said that I need 15,000 chips?
JB: 15-20K chips is a ma and pop casino. That's a lot of chips. We produced around 20K chips for the Cleopatra chips, and that was a minor casino in Trinidad. I think the MGM Grand opened with 350K chips. A big casino order would be a 250K and up.

SV: Any message that you would like to send out to the home market?
JB: What I do see is a tendency for people to think that what's being imported now from China is, while it's a great value today price wise, it's, in my estimation, history will judge it to be not of any significance. Today there is great value placed on early chips produced by real craftsman. There hasn't been anything that has any long-lasting value coming out of china since the Ming dynasty. (laughs) They're great at copying the innovations of what other people have done. The reality is that the value of a mass produced, send it to the US by the container load chip, in 20-50 years from now, everyone will have them. But few will say, by God I was lucky to get a set of chips from TR King while they were still in business. Now, there was a craftsman! The chips we produced for the early casinos in the 1950, 60's are the most valuable chips to collectors that were ever produced, or ever will be produces. The stuff that was made by our company, if you had some of those early chips...you could trade one of those chips for a brand new corvette. That's the value and the collectability of those early chips. You will never, ever, ever see that on a Chinese set of chips. People will look back, even chips produced 10 years ago, by companies no longer in business like TR King, they will say, Man I was lucky to get a set of chips from that company, because there is so much quality, and there is so much pride in that manufacturing that went into those chips, that's not in these Chinese chips. Sometimes I get frustrated, and I try not to comment on it, because I don't want to be like sour grapes, when I hear guys talk about these Chinese chips, like the Chinese invented poker, and like these are ultimate chips. When the first Chinese chips came in and there was a big washer molded, they were molded around a big washer so they were heavy and 11.5 grams they were advertising them as clay chips, it was only after someone told them, "Hey these are not real clay" just because someone says they're clay doesn't mean they're clay. It's frustrating when you see a Chinese copy of one of our solid wooden cases, advertised as mahogany, when it's not mahogany and in reality it's not a solid piece of wood, and it's a piece of junk, compared to what we manufacture which is solid wood, American made, using the finest hardware. Sometimes I want to scream when I see somebody say, I just saw a nice case on eBay for 9.99 compared to a case I sell for 100. I wonder if people understand there is a difference. There is such a thing as pride of manufacturing. I don't think that level of quality is coming out of china. I think people assume that if it's half the price, it might be the same quality. It's like when the Yugo came out. It was a hell of a good price, but after a few years people realized they were a piece of crap. However, if you bought a 1960 corvette for $6000 you could probably get $50K for it today. Which one was the better investment? The Yugo, or something with better quality? The reality, people will be better over time with the more quality item. There is a difference with these imports and a real quality item.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope it helps the community understand what the "ASM World" is about.
Dec 28, 2007
Good read! Some points still relevant, others probably less so. Though I will surely love to own a custom CPC set made with those original machines, using their original materials and processes, just so I can have my own bit of poker chip history. Am very much taking concrete steps to realize this, too.

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